No one can decide whether Brazil or Spain are the odds-on favorites to lift the cup on July 11. The bookies seem to favor Spain just a little bit: bet365 and Paddy Power have Spain at 4-1 and Brazil at 9-2. The belief comes from Spain’s strong showing in the Euros of two years ago, where they won all 6 of their games, scoring 12 goals and letting in only 3.
Xavi finished as the Player of the Tournament, but there were similarly strong performances from almost every other member of the team as well. David Villa got the Golden Boot with 4 goals, Fernando Torres scored the crucial winning goal against Germany in the final, Iker Casillas stood strong throughout, including the penalty shootout against Italy, and Carlos Puyol was a monster in defense. Most notably, however, was the quietly controlling holding-midfield work of Brazilian-born Marcos Senna. Many thought the Villareal midfielder, and not Xavi, deserved to be named Player of the Tournament after a near flawless performance, acting as a stabilizing lynchpin, grounding Spain’s attacking flair through tireless ball-winning and exquisite distribution. Though Senna’s past season has been hampered by injuries, many were surprised by Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque‘s omission of the midfielder from the 23-man national squad. It remains to be seen if the new Spanish lineup will be able to compensate for the absence of such a quietly important player.
Judging from the performance in a friendly with Poland a few days ago, Spain are looking very strong indeed. The 6-1 win was magnificent, with this absolutely bonkers second goal inciting fawning praise from journalists around the world:
This kind of cohesive, technical, and effective team play will need to be flawless to cut apart defenses stronger than that of the Poles.
Apart from the familiar faces from the Euros, Sevilla winger Jesus Navas and his alien eyes have been having a breakout season, and will be looking to cement his rapidly-growing reputation with a strong international showing. Barcelona tumbling champion Sergio Busquets, will be looking to somewhat make up for Senna’s absence, playing a holding midfield role behind denter-mid tag-team of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, although Xabi Alonso is probably the more solid (and balanced) man for the role. Cesc Fabregas was given the number 10 shirt, which seems to indicate the certainty of his position in the starting lineup. I can’t really figure out where he’ll play, however. Maybe in a more attacking midfield position? Or maybe next to Xavi, with whom he shares the same DNA, allowing Iniesta to operate more as a winger?
However Spain lines up, they are probably the most talented side in South Africa, and judging on their pre-tournament performances, the bookies are justified in picking them as favorites. There are still some doubts, such as questions about the tiredness of the squad, which was blamed for their embarrassing defeat to the USA in last summer’s Confederations Cup (USA! USA! etc.). If all goes according to plan (or probability), it could end up Spain v Brazil in the final: Nu Brazilian Pragmatism vs. Hyperactive Spanish Rebirth… Could be majestic.
Before thinking about the 2010 Chile team, let’s take a trip down memory lane to 1989, the infamous “Maracanazo” incident. Losing 1-0 to Brazil in a World Cup qualifying match at the Maracana, Chilean keeper Roberto “El Condor” Rojas took the opportunity of having a firework thrown in his vicinity to remove a razor blade hidden in his glove and slice upon his face. The referee abandoned the match. When the trick was later discovered Rojas was given a lifetime ban by FIFA, and Chile were banned from taking part in the 1994 World Cup. Classic stuff!:
In 2010 Chile are coming off a spectacular qualifying run, finishing second, just one point behind Brazil. Despite having a head shaped like a bowling ball Humberto Suazo finished as top scorer of the qualifying rounds, netting 10. Despite such a strong showing the international press seems completely oblivious of Chile’s presence in South Africa. I guess this makes them actual dark horses, as in horses that are so dark that a team of 11 horses can enter an international football competition almost invisibly.
Apart from Spain’s inevitable top position, competition in Group H is pretty open for the second slot. If Chile continue their fine form, they could easily edge out the Swiss and the Hondurans.
Apart from Suazo’s goals, Chile rely on their speed, such as that fro exciting youngster Alexis Sanchez. They’re a bit shaky at the back, and will have to solidify their tactics to get through their group. Their games should be attractice to watch, at least. Also I like their chants:
“Somos los hinchas, más anarquistas, los mas borrachos, los más anti-fascistas ..”
It’s getting close to deadline time and I don’t have much to say about Swiss football. Apologies to the Swiss people. but this will be brief.
Switzerland are a young, organized and efficient side coached by German legend Ottmar Hitzfeld. Big man Gokhan Inler will work alongside Tranquillo Barnetta to retain possession in midfield. Their strength could make it hard for teams like Spain and Chile to ping the ball upfield with their usual panache. Young guns Gelson Fernandes and Eren Derdiyok could provide the Swiss with, for lack of a better word, firepower going forward.
In short, this young Swiss side will probably prove more of an obstacle to some of the pretty possessors they’ll come up against, although I don’t see them making it through.
It is wonderful to see Honduras in the World Cup again, having only qualified once before, way back in 1982. Honduras has produced some exciting new talent in recent years, and they could be the most promising little fish to make a proverbial splash in the, uh, big international pond? (Sorry)
Midefielder Wilson Palacios is Honduras’ high-profile player. After an impressive season anchoring the Wigan attack, Palacios was bought by Tottenham, where he has continued to impress. Rumors abound now of Barcelona’s interest in Palacios to fill the Yaya Toure role, the gobbler-up of loose balls, the sparker of attacks, the supplier of emergency tackles. Palacios’ efficient midfield work, alongside his very-old-looking ex-Wigan teammate Hendry Thomas will be key to Honduran progression.
Maynor Figueroa, also of Wigan (very curious to know ore about the Wigan-Honduras connection… is Tegucipalga a sister city or something?) is very strong in defense as well.
Up front, as we learn from this grammatically-extraordinary headline, Carlo Costly is not available! Cagliari legend David Suazo and the ancient ex-Napoli striker Carlos Pavón will be responsible for getting the goals.
This is really the best Honduran side of all time, and with Group H’s second spot seriously up for grabs, don’t be too surprised to see these ultimate dark horses making some waves in the knockout stages.
••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: Spain, Honduras