A little less than 2 weeks away and in one word I can sum up my anticipation, excruciating. I’ve been trying to avoid any coverage because it’s a tease.
If you’re a regular ESPN viewer, you’ve probably seen the commercials.
This commercial gets me so pumped that I’ve been changing the channel because the excitement is getting a little ridiculous. Now I don’t recall many World Cup commercials but I have full confidence that this is the best one of them all. Maybe I just have a Bono bias but it’s worth a watch. The one by Nike is pretty cool too, even though it includes Ronaldinho who won’t be suiting up and it’s more like a short film than a commercial.
This volume will include the last groups I haven’t discussed. Groups E, F and H, one of which may include the winner.
Group E includes the eventual home favorite and if all goes well, the team Africa will be rooting for (assuming South Africa doesn’t make it out of group stage), Cameroon. The Lions could potentially be in the semis. Cameroon has superstar captain Samuel Eto’o who should be in contention for the golden boot if they will have any chance. Cameroon’s problem is they are too aggressive with tackles. With FIFA cracking down on dangerous challenges, Cameroon defenders like Tottenham’s Beniot Assou-Ekotto will have to be on their best behavior.
The group favorite will be the Netherlands who boast more attackers than they have room for. Illustrating this point, they left off Ruud Van Nistelrooy from their World Cup roster. There won’t be a team that engages the football imagination like the Oranje. Maybe it’s their jersey color but I’d like to think its their innovation and skill that will do the trick. If they have a weakness, it’s their defense that is past their prime, and with all these stars and not enough positions, could there be some behind the scenes meltdowns?
Denmark could potentially be the surprise of this group. This team will not bow down to the Dutch and may be able to surprise them with a result. Danish forward Nicklas Bendtner filled in for the Oranje’s Robin Van Persie during Arsenal’s season and quite well scoring 12 goals and doling out 7 assists in 31 appearances. The Danes have had an impressive road to South Africa, beating Portugal 3-2 and beating rival Sweden twice. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Danes make it to the knockout stage.
Sadly, Japan is in the wrong group at the wrong time and may be happy to get 1 point out of this group. I’m a huge fan of Shunsuke Nakamura and being 31, it may be his swan song for World Cup play. He is a dynamic, playmaking midfielder who is as dangerous as anybody in the world on a free kick. The Oranje and the Lions may make Japan’s defense look silly at times, but Japan can rest easy knowing they can beat either country in baseball.
Group F features the defending champs Italy. The Azzurri are a little bit older but remain a favorite due to their style of play. They simply do not give up goals. Led by Captain Fabio Cannavaro, the Italians will look to repeat and it wouldn’t be the first time. Italy won in 1934 and 1938. The Italians have a blueprint to make it deep and it has worked, 4 times.
Paraguay is flying under the radar after an impressive qualifying campaign. They beat Argentina 1-0 to secure their place behind Brazil and Chile in their qualifying group. Paraguay will be playing with tremendous inspiration due to Salvador Cabañas’ incredible recovery from getting shot in the head in Mexico City earlier this year. Similar to Charlie Davies, his recovery timetable will not let him compete for a spot on the team. I hope he will at least get a chance to accompany the team in South Africa. He would have been one of the premiere strikers in group F.
New Zealand’s style of play may pose a problem for Italy. The Kiwis are strong in the air, and as you might have guessed for a Rugby country, they are also very physical. This is only the 2nd appearance ever for New Zealand. DC United fans might remember Ryan Nelsen who is their stand out defender and also a threat on set pieces. Nelsen played 4 years in the MLS before moving on to the EPL’s Blackburn Rovers. Celtic forward Chris Killen will provide the spark upfront. With such a surname, New Zealanders will hope that’s what he does to any defender in his way.
Slovakia will make its first appearance. A little history lesson sprinkled in, on January 1st 1993 Czechoslovakia split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. So even though Czechoslovakia has considerable World Cup history, it is technically not the same. They may be the “happy to be here” team but with skilled players such as Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel and VFL Bochum’s Stanislav Sestak, the Slovaks could pull an upset or two. They play a similar style to Italy meaning if they score, they will sit on it and defend like crazy. Like the U.S. Slovakia is playing with a father-son, coach-player combo in Vladimir Weiss.
When the games are played, I expect Italy and Paraguay to move on to the knockout stage.
Group H has 3 Spanish speaking countries, which might be a useful nugget down the road when you’re at your local bar on “Trivia Night” and they pull out the World Cup category. Oh, and consensus tournament favorite Spain headlines Group H as La Roja looks to win their first World Cup. Fernando Torres is back training and if he plays, Spain will possess the best attacking duo in the tournament. David Villa makes up the other half and his star shines bright on the big stage. With the best distributor in the world, Xavi, providing pin point passes, Spain might be unstoppable. Let alone, they are stacked in the back with Pique and Puyol strong in the middle and Captain Goalie Iker Casillas between the pipes. Spain will be hard to score on and even harder to shut out. Spain is the EURO 2008 champs and were riding an impressive unbeaten streak into last year when the United States beat them in the Confederations Cup. (World Cup warm-up, of sorts)
The 2nd team to come out of Group H will be between Chile, Honduras and Switzerland. This group is going to be fun to watch and there will certainly be a lot of goals scored.
Honduras, who is luckier than France in terms of getting to South Africa, will be playing with house money essentially. They have some ex-MLS players in attack that people might be familiar with, Amado Guevara and Carlos Pavon. Along with Wilson Palacios and Edgar Alvarez, they may score some goals. Their weakness is their goalkeeper.
Chile is pretty much the same story only a little better at attacking, a little younger, a little faster, but they will also give up a few goals. (22 in qualifying)
Switzerland is the wild card, are they good? We know their U17s are. Does Roger Federer play soccer? No. Can they carry…… NO, they can’t have Swiss army knives on the field with them. The Swiss are going to surprise some people if they are in form. With a dynamic midfield and Alex Frei and young phenom Eren Derdiyok up top, it might be the perfect combination of offense to get out of this wild group.