The Time Has Come...


Written on 6/10/2006 07:06:00 pm by sikapitan

I could have started with the over-used “once every four years…” but I won’t simply because you would know I was talking about the World Cup. It has reached a stage where even a 70-year-old grandma would have an inkling that the World Cup is on the way. At this very moment, Poland v. Ecuador is showing live on Astro. I watched the highly entertaining Germany v. Costa Rica match with my fellow “pundits” at the obligatory mamak. It was great to be out there, with a bunch of guys who share the same passion for the beautiful game.

The fact that I’m in the midst of my semester break, and the European timing not that dissimilar to English Premier League matches make this THE World Cup for me. Think about it, by the time the next World Cup in South Africa comes around, I would be working. Unless it’s my god-damn company or the boss has some weird idea about productivity, I doubt I would be able to catch the entire tournament as I could AND would this year.

Let’s not waste any time now, and start with some early predictions (and hopefully, a light-hearted one).

Group A
I wasn’t surprised at all when Germany was drawn in this group, one of the relatively easier ones. Like France in ’98, it appears that the European Union has been more effective in getting favorable draws for their members than actually running a “Euro-republic”.

If Germany don’t qualify, expect to see some defects in your BMW or Mercedes as German workers might finally give up at the ineptitude of the German government who can’t even get a football team right. It’s amazing how far they’ve fallen from their football throne, and also their economic might. Perhaps they need the Klinsmann approach to their economy – go Americana!

The second spot is a bit tougher to choose. Most would go for Poland, simply because they’re European based. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Ecuadorians doing well as they seem to have adjusted to the lower altitude in Germany. I guess this whole “altitude” stigma was stuck as the Ecuadorians seem impenetrable at their home 4,000 meters above sea-level. But I think the European summer weather is not dissimilar to the Latin mountains, so they could have adjusted better than most expected.

Group B
I hate to say I’m an England supporter simply because there’s too many of them in Malaysia, and people usually equate us as being EPL lovers who only support England because we only know English-men. I’m sure that is true for some, and I do admit the EPL has somehow imparted a very “English” frame of mind in analyzing football. However, this year, I truly believe the English squad has the necessary personnel to at least go to the quarter finals, where they would either meet Holland or Argentina.

What I hate most about supporting England is the whole hype surrounding the team. It seems like every teen-wonder is the saviour from God, and the average centre-back being made like a colossus. I’ll take Vidic anytime over Rio Ferdinand, or Schwen-susah-nak-eja over Theo “Who?” Walcott. Nobody knows who Bastian Susah-nak-Eja is, or for whom Nemanja Vidic is playing for BUT everybody knows Theo Walcott plays for Arsenal and Rio missed a damn drug test. England are good, but way over-hyped.

Sweden will be second in this group, unless Paraguay springs some nasty surprise. I would not be surprised that the second placed teams would be sorted out through goal difference. Trinidad & Tobacco…sorry, Tobago…are here to chill out and enjoy themselves.

Group C
This truly is the Group of Death. Most Malaysians will probably underestimate Ivory Coast and Serbia but trust me when I tell you, there could be a surprise coming from this group. The two leading nations, Argentina and Netherlands will cancel each other out and then it’s up to the two remaining matches against teams which are made to be physical.

I believe that Serbia and Montenegro could upset either one of the big names. But realistically speaking, Holland and Argentina head into this World Cup as the outside favorites thus there’s every reason to expect them to qualify. In Pekerman, Argentina has a manager who is experienced in such competitions, albeit for a different age group. However, it is extremely important to have a manager who is used to such tournament and in Pekerman they have a tactically adaptable coach who has turned Argentina into a more fluid, attacking team harking back to the days of Maradona. Unfortunately, they have not been impressive in friendlies against European teams in Europe.

Which I why I would go for Holland as the group leader. They have a young, exuberant coach, Van Basten, who makes up for his inexperience by being tactically astute and strong in will. Holland has one of the youngest, least experience squad heading to Germany, but their qualifying campaign in a very strong group suggest that Van Basten couldn’t care less who played, as long as they play his way. The Ajax system of the diamond 4-3-3 is favored, though there is more emphasis in protecting the back line than pouring forward. Total football needs team work rather than individual brilliance, which the Dutch appears to be lacking, what with injury to the stylish playmaker Van Der Vaart, but they will do well in this group.

Group D
Mexico, not Portugal, is the seeded team in this group, which I believe, would suit Portugal well. There appears to be a common belief that the Portuguese are good enough to trash the minnows, but not good enough against the big boys. I beg to disagree. The Portugal squad is the dark horse in this tournament, more likely to do well than the over-rated Czechs. Most importantly, the have Big Phil Scolari as their manager. It can never be underestimated the worth of having someone with experience leading the team.

I like the fluid 4-2-3-1 formation favored by Scolari. Particularly keen to impress this tournament would be Christiano Ronaldo. Though his club form has been somewhat patchy, Ronaldo appears to be at ease with Scolari’s system which seems to bring out the best in him.

Mexico will do well in this group, with the most likely competition coming from Iran, and even then not a strong one. I have a problem with this group because simply both Mexico and Portugal would qualify, at the expense of bigger names pooled in tougher groups like Group C or Group E.

Group E
People say that Group C is the Group of Death, but I find it hardest to predict the qualifiers from Group E. Old favorite Italy is under-rated at this tournament, and yet I believe the pessimism surrounding the team is understandable considering the lack of big name stars in the line-up and the decline of Italian football in general.

However, Lippi has done well in moulding a proper team, rather than a collection of egocentric individuals. Gilardino and Luca Toni are not household names, but by the end of the tournament I believe they will be the new Vieri and Inzaghi. The most problematic aspect of this Italian team, unbelievably, is the lack of world-class cover for the pairing of Nesta and Cannavaro.

The problem for them is the fact that the rest of the group consist of teams who play differing styles and play them effectively. The United States play a fast running game, full of physically fit and well-conditioned players. They are the up and coming team in World Football.

The Czechs are over-rated in my opinion. It’s not that they’re bad, far from it. Nevertheless, to say they are one of the outsiders for the Cup is a bit far-fetched. Their moment of glory was in the Euro 2004 Qualifying Rounds where they notched up impressive wins to top their group.

My bet to be this year’s Senegal would be Ghana. Physically strong and imposing, Ghana now possess some fine names which would undeniably warrant more attention from the general public. They would fight for the second spot, with probably goal difference separating them.

Group F
There is a reason why everyone thinks Brazil is the firm favorite to be World Champion again. Unlike other contenders, the majority of the players in their first 11 can arguably be said to be the BEST in their position. Emerson, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cafu, Lucio, Ze Roberto, Dida and even old Roberto Carlos would arguably walk into most side in their respective position. Genuinely world class in every sense of the word, it would surprise me if they didn’t get maximum points from this group.

Choosing the second team would be a harder test. My heart says Japan, but they lacked the teamwork in play like they did in 2002. This is probably because they now believe they have the players who can dictate the game without using the traditional minnows tactics of running their socks off and all-out pressing. It would be foolhardy to discount the Japanese, but the face stiff opposition, not from Croatia but from Australia.

Australia’s strength is not their players, as often believed, but their tactical guru Guus Hiddink. He has harnessed a squad that has experienced playing a South American powerhouse (Uruguay) and defeating them. Tactically, the Aussies have capable players who are adaptable, but they lack the fluency that is often the hallmark of Hiddink’s teams. This they compensate by being brutally physical, but their lack of class in defence would prove to be their undoing.

Group G
People write off France because of their lackluster campaign to World Cup and their ageing stars but they have failed to realize, like Portugal, the draw has been favorable to the Les Bleus. Drawn in a group which contains Togo, South Korea and Switzerland, it would be a surprise if they did not finish first. It’s often been said that their trump card is Frank Ribery, but I wouldn’t put it past Thierry Henry to exercise the demons which haunts his play in the national team. If Henry can play like he did with Arsenal, then Zidane’s lackluster display would be irrelevant.

Second place would go to either South Korea or Switzerland. Unfortunately for Asia, I predict that Korea would struggle, especially against the very impressive and physically imposing Switzerland. The Swiss plays with a quiet efficiency that tends to make others take them lightly. They have no big name stars, with the most famous player being Senderos! Just like their banks, watches and cheese, the Swiss will do things quietly but effectively.

Group H
This has got to be the weakest group in this whole tournament. I would even say that if Sweden were in this group, they would come out tops. The only big-name team in this group is Spain, and we all know how they choke when it comes to big tournaments. They have failed to impress me in qualifying, with Aragones seemingly unable to harness the young talents available to work as a unit. Everyone would love to see Fabregas play, but Aragones would most likely stick to Xavi and Alonso. Torres is over-rated, while Raul is struggling to find his form. Nevertheless, it would be a huge upset if they’re not first.

There is of course the possibility that they would not even qualify to the next round, as this group also contains Ukraine and Tunisia. Tunisia??? Yes, Tunisia. Unlike their previous appearance where they were drawn in tougher groups, this time around Tunisia has as much of chance to qualify to the next round as Ukraine. Ukraine rely too much on Andriy Shevchenko, but if teams mark-out Sheva, then the whole set-play would crumble.

Players to watch
Bastian Susah-nak-eja (Germany), Lukas Podolski (Germany), Luca Toni (Italy), Joe Cole (England), Riquelme (Argentina), Kaka (Brazil), Nakamura (Japan), Landon Donovan (USA), Beasley (USA), Essien (Ghana), Rosicky (Czech), C. Ronaldo (Portugal), Sneijder (Holland), and of course Ronaldinho (Brazil).

If you enjoyed this post Subscribe to our feed

No Comment

Post a Comment