The biggest sporting event on the planet, the World Cup is just days away. As countries fine tune their final preparations and hope and pray their star players remain injury free for the month of June (spare a thought for Ghana’s Michael Essien and Germany’s Michael Ballack :)….), many punters are continually asking the question, “Who will lift the coveted prize on 11 July?”.
This week, “The F Word” will get off the fence he proudly loves to sit on and answer that $64,000 question. Well, I will attempt to anyway!
First, a word on my beloved Socceroos. As much as I would love to see our boys win the World Cup, Michael Caton’s catch phrase, “Tell him he’s dreaming” from the movie, ‘The Castle’ springs to mind. Whilst our boys are a competitive and proud bunch, that alone does not win World Cups. Technique, an ability to change tactically throughout a game and squad depth does. That’s not to say the Socceroos don’t have those qualities. But in all honesty, they are no match for the big boys. Getting out of the group of death will be a master stroke and marvellous feat in itself. But more on that topic next week….
Second, a word on the reigning champions and a team close to my heart, Italy. It saddens me to say this but whilst Italy possess a World Cup winning coach and know how to win a World Cup (no, this is not an invitation for you to insert a diving joke here!) they are an ageing team and one in transition. I believe they will not successfully defend their crown. Expect to see them exit the competition at the quarter final stage.
Ok, now for the other pretenders, I mean “contenders”….
A powerhouse team earlier this decade, those days are now behind them. Not even Jose “The Special One” Mourinho could guide them to winning this World Cup. Enough said! BTW – don’t be surprised if ‘Les Elephants’ trample them in the Group Stage.
The French possess some of the best players in their respective positions on the planet and have class all over the football pitch. Nevertheless, harnessing that talent was a struggle at Euro 2008 and will remain so at this tournament. Besides, they say “nice guys come last”. The idealist in me hopes the same fate applies to cheats (the last sentence is best said in an Irish accent….to be sure, to be sure!).
Like Italy and Brazil, Germany has the experience, rich history and aura of a winning team. Nevertheless, Michael Ballack’s omission will hurt them. Whilst Joachim Low pulls the strings from the sidelines, Ballack pulled them on the park. He is a brilliant leader and motivator and will be missed. Further, Germany possess one of the youngest squads at the World Cup (read: “inexperience”). This World Cup may have come a year or two too early for this exciting group of players…..
Yes, they possess the best player on the planet (Lionel Messi)….
Yes, they have an excellent array of attacking talent…..
BUT whilst scoring goals may win World Cups, not conceding them also does (note: Italy won the 2006 World Cup having conceded just one goal in open play!).
Diego Maradona’s coaching ability remains a question mark and his stubbornness to overlook defensive stalwarts and Champions League winners Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti will come back to haunt him. Vai con dios, Diego…..
The Local Lads
World Cups, especially those staged outside Europe, have a tendency of throwing up a wild card or surprise. Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the World Cup in 2002 and unfancied South Korea and Turkey went all the way to the semi finals. I hope and believe this tournament will also throw up a surprise. If so, I believe the surprise packet will be an African nation.
The host nation? Probably not. Very few players ply their trade in Europe and bafana bafana will be like a fish out of water.
Ghana? Chelsea star Michael Essien may be absent but the Ghanaians reached the final of the African Cup of Nations earlier this year without experienced players Essien, Appiah and Muntari, amongst others. Socceroos BEWARE 9again, more on this next week….). Nevertheless, and like Australia, getting out of the group of death will be an accomplishment in itself for the Ghanaians.
I believe the real ‘local’ threat will come from the Ivory Coast. Yes, they are in the “other” group of death, but frankly, any team boasting Didier Drogba as the man leading the line up front and who is supported by the likes of the Toure brothers is worthy of respect. If the Ivorians do get out of their group, their self belief will be sky high and as such, would back themselves to get beyond the round of 16. The idealist in me would love to see Drogba & Co go far. It would benefit the African Game and the “World” Game.
Finally, the teams I expect to go very far…..
The Samba stars wear five yellow stars on their shirts. No, not becuase they did their maths homework or study astrology as a pastime, but becuase they’ve won it five times. They have the aura, experience, history, squad depth, technical and tactical ability and self belief to win World Cups. In fact, they believe it is their God given right to always win the World Cup! Heck, they’ve won it five times so who can argue with that?! A sixth time? I think I’ve already argued the point….
England have a wealth of talent playing at the highest level all over the football pitch. John Terry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney are all in their prime. Another major reason for optimism is their coach, Fabio Capello. Capello has a wealth of experience at club level and knows how to win trophies (his CV includes successful coaching stints at some of Europe’s finest clubs such as AC Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid). Capello is thorough, organised, disciplined and values the team ahead of the individual. Further, he has managed to get all the abovementioned individual stars to gel and has found a system that accommodates all those big names. Many are predicting this is England’s best chance in a long time to deliver on its promise. I am one of those people.
Whilst they have never won a World Cup, the reigning European champions have an enviable blend of brilliant individual talent with a strong team mentality boasting players like Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Andreas Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa. Further, Spain play a patient, short and fluent passing game. The Spanish call this style of play “tiki taka”. I prefer to call it bold and brave. In an age when football is (arguably) becoming too defensive and physical, Spain’s exploits at Euro 2008 illustrated that trophies can still be won whilst playing an attractive brand of football where the little men of the game can still make great leaps. Spain’s only enemy is immense public pressure. How good are they? Good enough to win the tournament.
The Ace in the Pack – Holland/The Netherlands/”Total Football”/The best team to ‘never’ win a World Cup
Call them what you like but this team, this time around, appears to be the real deal. Ranked number 3 in the world and boasting a wonderful array of attack minded players blended with defensive solidity, it’s no wonder Football Federation Australia continually employs Dutch coaches in the higher echelons of our game and is attempting to emulate a Dutch footballing model and culture in Australia. The proof is in the pudding. Like the Spaniards, the Dutch strive to play a beautiful game matched with blistering pace. But why have they not won a World Cup yet? It’s arguable the reasons lie in matters off the field, rather than on it. The only thing that will stop the Dutch from going very far in the tournament is egocentric individuals and factions in the dressing room (both of which have dogged a number of their previous World Cup campaigns). The Dutch have a history with the host nation, South Africa. Dutch traders landed in South Africa in 1652 establishing a stopover on the spice route between Holland and the Far East. Can they now right the wrongs of the past and re-write a new chapter in their football history? The purist in me certainly hopes so.
My tip(S!) (hey, I did say I would ‘attempt’ to get off the fence!)
The realist in me says an Italian (albeit, one calling the shots from the sidelines) will have the last laugh and hold the World Cup aloft on 11 July. England’s time is now so throw a lobster ($20) on the Poms.
I however, am a purist and dreamer.
And World Cups are where dreams are made and fulfilled (read: minnows South Korea and Turkey gatecrashing the party in 2002 and recall Timmy Cahill punching the corner flag in that ‘amazing eight minute spell’ in Kaiserslauten on 12 June, 2006). I dare to dream and would love nothing more than to see the free flowing Spaniards meet the crafty and pacy Dutch in the final. The midfield wizardry of Xavi vs the classy movement of Sneidjer, the potent finishing of Torres and Villa (take your pick!) vs the speed and guile of Robben ….the list goes on.
Who will win?
Because if these two teams meet in the final a new chapter in World Cup history will begin and there will be one true winner.
The beautiful game.
The “World” game.
Mark “The F Word” Fiorenti – discussing all things concerning the World Game