Monday, May 15, 2006

World Cup 2006

With the start of the 2006 World Cup in Germany approaching just three short weeks away, I thought I'd turn comanche/soul's attention towards northern Europe and the world's biggest sporting event. While Brazil are clear favorites at this point, exactly who will compete against them is very much up for grabs. Some like Argentina to compete, with their Spanish-based core of Lionel Messi, Riquelme, Aimar, et al, but a South American team has only won one World Cup in Europe (Brazil, 1954 in Sweden). England's stock had risen -- right up until wunderkind Wayne Rooney's broken foot threatened to keep him out of the tournament (at best he will miss only the first two games). Germany, as hosts, should compete but on paper look much weaker than previous teams.

Greg Lalas (any relation?) of SI.com sees a few things coming out of this World Cup:
1. the decline of France as a soccer power and 2. the rise of Mexico and Spain as legitimate title contenders. Though he's marginally right in saying that France has been the definitive influence on world soccer in the past ten years, he misses a few key points. First and foremost, one of the two most feared, talented, and coveted players on the planet right now is French (Henry), and it looks as though he is just reaching the peak of his creative powers. Secondly, France's decline is nothing new. They failed to score a single goal in 2002 and went out to Greece in Euro 2004.

As for Spain, this is nothing to place any money on. Spain's potential and failure to live up to that potential are equally well-documented. I like a lot of their players -- Xabi Alonso, Xavi, David Villa, Casillas, Puyol -- but they always fail to develop the chemistry that their talents require. In other words, the jury's still out, but at least this Spain squad has some new faces.

In the case of Mexico, Lalas may be on to something big. Mexico has one of the strongest team spirits in the tournament. They play well together and I've never seen them be truly outclassed by a better opponent. They're comfortably above the second tier talent-wise, but always seem hungry for the respect given to the top tier of teams. Lalas comments that a few of their players are now plying their trade in Europe, but of the three, only Marquez has impressed me while Borgetti has barely stepped on the field at Bolton.

Like most World Cups (see Korea and Turkey as semifinalists in '02), it's all up in the air. But in case you're wondering, here's my World Cup breakdown, as of May 15:

Round of 16:
Germany v England
Netherlands v Portugal
Italy v Australia
France v Ukraine
Sweden v Costa Rica
Argentina v Mexico
USA v Brazil
Switzerland v Spain

Quarterfinals
England v Netherlands
Italy v France
Sweden v Mexico
Brazil v Spain

Semifinals
Netherlands v Italy
Mexico v Brazil

Finals
Brazil by a goal over the Netherlands.

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