Thursday, June 29, 2006

Six Aristocrats and Two Upstarts

As I explained in what seems like a hell of a lot longer than 4 weeks ago, the fraternity of World Cup winners is quite an exclusive club. Of the 205 accredited soccer playing nations on Earth, only 72 have ever qualified for the World Cup Finals, only 11 have ever made it to the final match, and a mere 7 have ever lifted the most cherished trophy in world sport.

Forget passwords or secret handshakes;
you need a World Cup trophy to get in here.

Six of those 7 World Cup winners qualified for World Cup 2006, with only 2 time champion Uruguay missing out - they lost a 2 legged playoff with Australia in a penalty shootout after playing the Socceroos even for 210 minutes. The six that made it are all in the quarterfinals, so the chances are pretty good that the exclusive fraternity will not be accepting any new members this time around.

Your pledges trying to break into the club are Ukraine and Portugal. The aristocracy shouldn't dismiss the pledges out of hand and neither should you, as both are capable of getting to the final. Portugal have tons of talent and a great coach and from what I have seen of them thay are capable of beating any team left in the tournament on any given day. Ukraine have been disappointing thusfar, but are certainly capable of catching fire and riding on Super Sheva's back all the way to the final. I am reminded of Italy in 1982, who played poorly but advanced, and then in the knockout stage rode Rossi's suddenly white hot hand foot all the way to the title.

What these two will have to overcome is not playing at home: 5 of the 7 champions won their first World Cup when they hosted the tournament (Uruguay 1930, Italy 1934, England 1966, Argentina 1978, France 1998), and West Germany won their first World Cup in 1954 at their next-door neighbor's house (Switzerland). Only Brasil (1958, Sweden) won their first world Cup far away from the comforts of home.

So there it is. If you like pulling for the underdog, and you are bummed that underdogs T&T, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and finally Australia were knocked out, then hitch your wagon to either Ukraine, Portugal, or both.

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