Perennial quarter-finalists (7 times in all!), England are hoping to make up for the disappointing non-qualification for Euro 2008 with a strong performance in South Africa. Pragmatic Italian© coach Fabio Capello has seemingly instilled a sense of discipline into a squad of (it must be said) spoiled, narcissistic underachievers (although considering Steve McClaren’s spectacular success with FC Twente in the Erdevisie, it remains questionable to what extent the coach was at fault for such a poor showing). Expect to see an England side operating through fear (at Don Fabio’s wrath), and attacking, or rather counter-attacking in an obvious Pragmatic Italian© style.
England’s historical football mindset has always been that of entitlement, as the game’s “inventors,” “Football’s coming home,” and such dreck, as the purveyors of a sort of “civilised” football. In recent years one may notice a marked blindness to national players’ on-field chicanery (Rooney’s numerous dives, Gerrard constantly winning free-kicks by barging into defenders and then screaming at the referee with his arms outstretched) while denouncing similar activity in foreigners. Adding to this warped perspective the constant pressure of suicidal national media attention, constantly digging up scandals, indulging celebrity ego-trips, have created a dysfunctional team of 21st century PR-non-humans, playing the sort of football that makes the eyes bleed. If England are to go anywhere in this World Cup it will be due either to the Iron Fist® of Pragmatic Italian© Capello, or the manic brilliance (and diving) of world-class striker Mr. Potato Head.
England won the World Cup in 1966 thanks to a “goal that never was,” and it seems as though they expected to win the thing each year ever since (or, at least, when they qualified). Paul Wilson suggests things are different this year. And if they fail, for the first time in 9 competitions, to progress beyond the group stages, it seems as though they’ve prepared their excuses in advance.
One of my most patriotic moments has to be seeing Big H.A.W.K. rapping in front of DJ Screw’s record store in a promotional video for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
The relatively star-less American side is one of the few American sports franchises that I can whole-heartedly get behind. Clint Dempsey, rapping above, grew up in a trailer park in southern Texas playing soccer with Mexican children. Fresh from another successful season at Fulham (where he scored this contender for goal of the season and became the first American to play in a European final) he will be sure to shine in attack, supporting Jozy Altidore, “the Haitian Didier Drogba” who endeared himself to the Hull City fans with his strength and work-rate last season, despite only scoring twice. Exciting new MLS Pichichi-to-be Edson Buddle (at 29 finally hitting his stride after an injury-ravaged career) may also have a breakout Cup, scoring twice in a friendly against Australia on Saturday to stake his claim at the head of the attack. Landon Donavan, the closest thing the USMNT has to a superstar (if being on Jimmy Kimmel once=stardom) seems to finally be hitting his peak form following a spectacular loan spell at Everton.
Defence will be the USA’s weakest link, as Onguchi “Gooch” Onyewu is struggling to recover form following a lengthy injury, while Carlos Bocanegra is decidedly B-List. The great Tim Howard in goal boosts the American defensive prowess somewhat.
This 2-0 win over European champions Spain last summer to reach the Final of the Confederations Cup (ending Spain’s xx-game unbeaten streak) could be the greatest moment of this generation of American players:
Being picked alongside England is perfect for the kind of post-colonial grudge match that makes international sports so wonderful. England vs USA should be a hot-blooded affair, hopefully evoking that great upset of 1950. Though the Guardian seem to have picked the least optimistic American fan for their Fan Network, I think we have a good chance at reaching the quarter-finals, hopefully embarrassing England along the way.
Walking around Paris last week, it seemed as if more Parisians were excited about Les Fennecs in the World Cup rather than Les Bleus. The French seem to realize that they don’t really deserve to be in the competition, and that they won’t win the thing. But for anyone with Algerian heritage/sympathies, its simply a pleasure to be taking part in the World Cup, since Algeria have in a way already won by qualifying for the World Cup at the expense of their hated rivals, Egypt (or as one French-Algerian I met would have it, the Egyp-chiens).
Algeria looked impressive, “cohesive” Steev said, as they knocked out the Ivory Coast in this summer’s CAN, before looking decidedly unimpressive as they got tonked 4-0 by Egypt in the semis. Algeria lack WC experience and are of unreliable quality, but if they can string together a few solid, organized performances, they could, uh, go through … I guess.
Players to watch: Karim Matmour’s got a nice touch, Hamid “Endless Boogy” Bougherra is “solid” in defense, Chaouchi is comical in goal, Ghezzal might score a goal, captain Mansouri will control the game in midfield, or at least appear as if he is controlling the game because he is wearing the captain’s armband. This will be Algeria’s 3rd WC, and they have never progressed beyond the group stages before.
Slovenia is the smallest country taking part in this World Cup (population: 2 million)! And apparently they are solid in defense (I know nothing about Slovenian football).
Robert Koren impressed at West Brom. “Beanpole striker” Novakovic is prolific in front of goal. At the other end Samir Handanovic only let in a few goals in qualifying rounds. Slovenia seem to be playing with a cohesiveness that other, stronger teams may lack. I’d pick them over Algeria to be the surprise team to go through from Group C.
Added drama (maybe) could arise from the apparent grudge-match-status of SLO-ENG after a controversial loss to England in a friendly last year:
Slovenia have not forgotten the manner of their defeat nine months ago, when Rooney stood accused of diving to win a penalty that led to Bostjan Cesar limping off and being sidelined for two months with an ankle injury. Koren insists there is no talk of revenge, despite Cesar vowing to make the rematch an “unpleasant experience” for Rooney, but a sense of injustice continues to burn.
Go Slovenia! Give ’em Hell!
I await Saturday with a feverish patriotism. “Final nail in the empire,” Dempsey scoring a hat-trick and lifting his shirt to reveal “I belong to Fat Pat,” Rooney to be sent off for cussin’, NEW WORLD ORDER. USA! USA! etc.! etc!