I admit I wasn’t really that excited about the World Cup until it got started. Now, with so many traditionally unexpected teams doing well, I’m enjoying it. Despite my predictions below, I stick by the four favourites I mentioned (not in here) before the tournament began – Argentina, Brazil, Netherlands and (Spain). Spain got brackets because although they have the talent it often doesn’t gel for them in the World Cup. Having watched a few games now I’d put more money on Argentina and Netherlands than the other two. Maradona’s a drug-addled git but they love him = passion plus a wealth of talent. Netherlands have now gone, what is it? 23 games unbeaten and look like they intend to add a few more. Spain can fall apart at the drop of a hat and Brazil, brilliant as they are, can sometimes lose the plot if it gets frustrating for them – I give as evidence Kaka’s stupid red card elbow.
I wonder what the odds were on both France and Italy not making it out of the group stages? Not forgetting the hosts South Africa as well, sad for them. I think the first time the hosts have not made the knock-out stages but then they were never expected to be a very strong team anyway. France failed in such a spectacularly mardy way (look it up) that Napoleon has demanded an enquiry and the Italians were just pretty crap. They were VERY nearly joined on the plane by European league colleagues England and Spain who had terrible starts but pulled something out of the bag. England celebrating the unspectacular 1-0 win that got them through over the mighty nation of Slovenia as if they’d won the final itself. There’s a school of thought, and not a bad one I feel, that suggests the European leagues are just too hard on the players so they all turn up at the world cup well and truly shagged out compared to other nations. I’d like to see some analysis of player performance in the World Cup against the domestic league they play in. I’ll bet English Premier League players are bottom of the rankings.
England have played horribly so far and show every sign of carrying on that way unless they wake up and start playing beyond their full potential. We’re a bit short of goal scorers and the midfield that should be frightening is just, well, not. The only “magic” player we’ve got is Rooney and he’s clearly knackered. Even when he’s on top form he’s still not got the same impact as some others in the tournament can have. The optimist will say that the slow start is a good sign and we’re just going to get better and better and win the cup. The realist will say that we’re crap and the minute we meet a decent team we’re going to get stuffed. I think the next game will give us all the answers we want! Let’s face it, even if we beat Germany we’ll most likely be playing Argentina next and anyone who thinks we can beat them both is smoking something much stronger than I am!
African hopes now rest with Ghana who put up a strong display this evening to send the Yanks home. It would be nice to see an African nation progress further but whilst Ghana are pretty solid they lack any real spark and have a couple of key players suspended from their match against Uruguay so I think they’ll get no further. Top marks to our American friends though, they get better every time and always put in that special “team USA” effort. If they can ever improve the quality of their domestic leagues we’ll have to get used to them at least making the semis every year.
Nice to see less European dominance this year and the re-emergence of old World Cup favourites such as Uruguay. In the knock-out stages we have a great mix of geography (with an obvious concentration on areas where football is traditionally strong):
EUROPE – 6 teams
SOUTH AMERICA – 5 teams
OTHER – 5 teams (2 Asia, 2 Americas, 1 Africa)
There are some superb “grudge” matches to look forward to in the knock-out stage, primarily: England v Germany, Spain v Portugal and Brazil v Chile. These are all bound to be very tense affairs and whilst predictions can be made they are probably the hardest to call. It takes a brave (or stupid) man to commit his predictions to print and leave himself open to hindsight analysis but, what the hell! ;)
KO 1 – Uruguay 2-1 South Korea
KO 2 – United States 1-2 Ghana
KO 3 – Germany v England (If Rooney wakes up it’s impossible to say but otherwise it’ll be Germany, like always)
KO 4 – Argentina v Mexico (Argentina in extra time, pity because I quite like the Mexicans)
KO 5 – Netherlands v Slovakia (Netherlands, easily. Slovakia are only here thanks to a Poland own goal in qualifying)
KO 6 – Brazil v Chile (Chile, the shock of the knock-outs)
KO 7 – Paraguay v Japan (Japan)
KO 8 – Spain v Portugal (The hardest one to call but I’ll say Spain on penalties)
If my predictions are right then the quarter finals are not as exciting on paper as the previous round. Perhaps the most anticipated will be QF3, Argentina v Germany.
QF 1 – Netherlands v Chile (Netherlands)
QF 2 – Uruguay v Ghana (African dreams end here)
QF 3 – Argentina v Germany (Bye bye Deutschland)
QF 4 – Japan v Spain (Say goodbye to Asia as well)
If those predictions work it will start to be clear what an easy route the Netherlands have had versus others, again pulling a relatively weak team in the semis. The fitness of Arjen Robben will now start to be a significant factor for the Dutch.
SF 1 – Uruguay v Netherlands
SF 2 – Argentina v Spain
Which should all lead up to a thrilling final, with Maradona finally being expelled from the bench for abusing the ref.
Netherlands v Argentina
I have no idea who’ll win that final. So much of it will depend on what has gone before in terms of injuries, suspensions and morale but as a European, I’ll be shouting for the Dutch.