Monday, June 05, 2006


This blog will serve as a sort of running diary of my thoughts on the 2006 world cup. As soccer fans from around the world descend on Germany, I will be posting my thoughts from Los Angeles. By way of introduction, I will go through my thoughts on the favorites and some teams that may surprise us in the coming month.


1. Brazil: Any discussion of the world cup must start with Brazil. As five time winners, they are the masters of the beautiful game. This time around they are as likely to win it as ever. With Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Adriano and Kaka, Brazil boasts probably the most exciting attacking lineup the world has seen in decades. Their ability to play together will likely what makes the difference between whether they are winners or also rans. My main concern is how will Kaka and Ronaldinho play together. Both players are at their best when the ball is at their feet and they are orchestrating everything from midfield. It will be interesting to see if one ball will be enough to share for Kaka and Ronaldinho. In either case, they are blessed with world cup marksman Ronaldo who is two goals shy of tying Gerd Muller as the world cup's all time leading scorer. I picked Brazil to win the cup. They are the only non-european team to ever win a world cup in Europe and I expect them to repeat that in Germany.

2. Argentina: The Argentines are one of the few countries, along with France, who do not fear the yellow jersey of Brazil. Much like Brazil they are blessed with Amazing attacking talent: Crespo, Tevez, Messi, Saviola, the list goes on. There will be no question as to whether the Argentines will be able to score goals. They are solid at the back with Roberto Ayala anchoring the defense. Their ability to progress in the tournament, though, falls on the shoulders of one man: Juan Roman Riquelme. For Americans, you can liken Riquelme to a quarterback or a point guard, he is always at the center of what the Argentines are doing. He can slow a game down, he can speed it up, make the incisive pass, whatever is necessary to win the game. Unfortunately, the manager, Jose Pekerman, may favor a more conservative approach which will shackle Riquelme's talents. If Riquelme is allowed the free reign to pop up wherever he feels in midfield, the Argentines will be hard to stop, especially with Juan Pablo Sorin cleaning up in midfield behind Riquelme.

3. Italy: Talented team. Their best player, Francesco Totti has been out injured for the past four months so it will be interesting to see how he recovers and if he will be fit enough for the tournament. Totti, historically, has underachieved in big tournaments (he was sent home for spitting at an opponent in Euro 2004). Luca Toni is the player to watch. Had a good season for his club. Big player, hard to beat in the air. He's come out of nowhere. I'm not really sure how he will handle being on the big stage. In midfield the Italians will need something extra out of Andrea Pirlo and Del Piero to pick up the slack if Totti is still out injured. There's no need to mention the Italian defense because, as ever, they are strong at the back with Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta. If the Italians are able to overcome the media speculation about their own corruption, I think they are one of the teams who will be there in the end.

4. France: I won't say much about the French except they have as much talent as anyone else, except Brazil but something does not seem right about this team. They don't appear to have the proper balance in midfield to truly threaten the opposition. Not to mention the fact that many of the players they are depending on -- Zidane, Thuram, Makelele and Vieira all have their best years behind them. If, however, Zidane and Henry are at the top of their game I see no reason why they couldn't make the finals and give us a rematch of 1998 with Brazil. This might be too much to ask, but since Thierry Henry is my favorite pl ayer I have the French making it at least as far as the semifinals where t hey will lose to Argentina.

5. England:

Traditional also rans. The English team always seems to show up at the major tournaments overhyped and then eventually crash out sheepishly. This time around, however, things may be different as the English team features a crop of world class players who are in their prime. Steven Gerrard is as good as any midfielder in the world and the same can be said for John Terry in central defense. David Beckham's passing will be instrumental and the unpredictability of midfielder Joe Cole will give the English team an element of surprise they've lacked in the past. Two things make me cautious about picking them to make it beyond the quarterfinals though:

1.) Where will the goals come from? Michael Owen has been out since January and hasn't played a competitive match in months. The game against Jamaica can hardly count as competitive since the English walked all over my homeland 6-0. Wayne Rooney the other top English forward has been out with a broken foot for four weeks. His return to the squad may be a little premature and risky. This puts a lot of pressure on poplocking(watch out for his breakdancing if he scores in the cup) forward Peter Crouch who is previously untested at the international level.
2.) Pairing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard may prove to be a disaster. Both players on their own are probably among the top 10 midfielders in the world. However, their qualities are so similar, they both like to attack, that it may leave a gaping hole in the midfield if they both go forward. It would be best if England played Gerrard with Michael Carrick, a naturally defensive midfielder instead of both Lampard and Gerrard. But it would be hard to justify leaving out a player of Lampard's obvious quality. Because of these two question marks, I have picked the English to go out in the quarterfinals against Portugal, much like in Euro 2004.

6. Germany: Home teams always do well in the cup. Home field advantage should be enough to propel an inexperienced German side to the quarterfinals. Players to watch on the team are Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Michael Ballack will of crouse be influential as always.


1. Cote D'Ivoire: Every world cup is blessed with an African team that impresses everyone with their play. Last time around it was the Senegalese. In '94 it was the Nigerians. In 2006 look for the Elephants to fill that roll. Team Captain Didier Drogba will prove a lot to handle and Arouna Dindane and Arouna Kone could frustrate opponents with their trickery on the ball. In the end, though, overcoming a group pairing with Argentina and the Netherlands may prove too much for the Elephants.

The Ivory Coast is actually the only team I can see upsetting the balance of the tournament. Ultimately, I think the usual suspects will advance through the group stages, but if there's one team that may be able to throw a monkey wrench in everyone's preditions it may be le Cote D'Ivoire.

Tomorrow I will post and explain my entire bracket for the world cup.


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