Wednesday, June 7, 2006

World Cup Group C

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Argentina writeup
One of the pretournament favorites in 2002, just behind clear faves France, they were drawn into the "Group Of Death" (England, Sweden, Nigeria) and didn't make it out to the knockout stages, which was a massive blow to the self-esteem of the nation which had invested even more than usual to try to escape the collapse of their financial system and economy in 2001-2. So 4 years on, and they are in a very similar situation, one of the pertournament faves, just behind heavy favorites Brasil, and once again drawn into what many pundits are calling the "Group Of Death". In between they won the 2004 Olympic tournament, which is for under 23 players (with 3 exceptions), so there is a lot of young talent coming through.

This team is flat out loaded. Up front you have proven striker Crespo, and Cruz and Saviola are good as well, but watch out for Carlos Tevez to really make a name for himself at this Cup. He is probably the best player in South America today. After rising up at Boca Juniors to the point that all the big clubs in Europe were looking at him, he moved to Corinthians of Brasil for a record fee for a South American club. Why not Europe? Chelsea owner and Russian billionaire Roman Abromavich (richest dude in the world under age 40), bought an interest in Corinthians prior to this move, and many observers see the Tevez transfer as nothing more than Abromavich stockpiling talent at one of his two "other" clubs (CSKA Moscow) so that a) he'll be kept off the roster of any other major European clubs that are now rivals to suddenly rich and successful Chelsea and b) it's just a holding tank for the inevitable move to Chelsea at a time of Chelsea's choosing over the next few years. Anyhow, he is a great striker but still kind of under the radar since he hasn't made a name for himself in Europe, but this tournament could be his breakout.

Midfield is equally stacked. Riquelme is the creative playmaker, and Aimar, Cambiasso, and Maxi are all very good, but the one to watch is 19 year old Lionel Messi, who along with Spain's Cesc Fabregas is considered the best teenager in world football currently. After winning the FIFA World Player Of The Year in 2005, Ronaldinho said famously "Best player in the world? I'm not even the best player at Barca", referring to Messi. Unlike Tevez, Messi is all the rage and is widely being hailed as the next great thing. I watched alot of Barcelona matches last season, and they were so much more dangerous with him in the lineup than without. Everyone is expecting him to do big things in this tournament, so we'll see how he lives up to all the hype & pressure. Also worth noting is that he hasn't played since injuring his leg way back in the Champions League quarterfinal 2nd leg against Chelsea, so it's hard to say if he will start the tournament at 80%, 90%, or 100%.

***Update 6/10: Sorry, I'm not very bright. Messi is a forward not a midfielder, which amazingly was not clear to me despite watching like 10 Barcelona matches this season, because they do kind of a "total football" thing where both he and Ronaldinho kind of just go wherever they want. Amazingly, he might be their best player, but with Crespo, Saviola, Tevez, Santa Cruz and himself vying for the 2 (or at a maximum 3 depending on formation) striker spots he might struggle just to get onto the field.

Argentina's best player at age 19?

Argentina's goalie is very good, especially at stopping penalties. If Argentina have a weakness then it would be in defense. Heinze is solid but returning from injury, and the rest are serviceable/good but not holy shit great.

They are not afraid to go forward and play the beautiful game, it's just a matter of not conceding goals in defense. If you are looking for a team not named Brasil to win the whole thing, forget England or Italy and start here. Oh, and if you are into juvenile dick jokes, their manager is named Jose Pekerman.

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Holland writeup
The wacky Dutch - gotta love them just because their fans are so damn crazy. The manager is Dutch legend Marco Van Basten, who controversially remade the team with the good young players coming through and dropped long time favorites Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Jaap Stam, and Clarence Seedorf. But they qualified with ease, not losing a game, so everyone is happy except for the four who were left out.

Everyone knows about Ruud VanDivesAlot, but the 3 young players who may break onto the world scene in this tournent are Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Dirk Kuyt. Arjen Robben has tremendous pace and skill on the wing, and he also is a dead ringer for Patrick McEnroe, Johnny Mac's little bro. As a rabid Arsenal supporter I have seen Van Persie a ton, and although 21 he will be special. Tremendously talented, he can create a goal from nothing by himself, but is also a strong finisher. This should mesh well with Ruud VanDivesAlot, who is a tremendous goal poacher but one-dimensional - he will not create goals out of nothing, run around two dudes and score, or score from outside the box (evidence if this: of his 150 career goals for Manchester United, 149 have been from scored from inside the box).

Patrick McEnroe Arjen Robben likes Holland's chances

What I said above about RVN is true, now onto the subjective: I fucking hate that guy. I dislike him more than any other player in world football, mostly because he is a cheating, elbowing, foot-stamping, diving prick who tries as hard as possible to get away with as much as he can. Yes, I am very biased as an Arsenal fan. But after watching what has done in "title deciders" to Ljungberg, Reyes, Cole, and more, not to mention the absolutely shameful way that he conned the referee into getting Vieira sent off (after kicking out at PV4 in the first place!) in the "Battle Of Old Trafford" match, in addition to his constant propensity to dive and appeal to the referee for fouls and penalties, I have nothing for the dude but disdain. He is a wonderful finisher/goal poacher, but he's a one trick pony and the fact that he was even compared to the dynamic Thierry Henry 2 and 3 years ago is an absolute joke.

With actual photos like this,
who needs Photoshop?

So yes I am torn on Holland because I have always liked them, I like them now, I like their fans, and they are probably the best soccer nation to never win the World Cup (they made it to the final in 1974 and 1978 and had to play the host nation each time). But VanNistelCheat makes my blood boil. I wouldn't wish injury on anyone, so I guess my fantasy scenario would be for him to get red carded and or suspended for diving or a horrible foul, and Holland to kick ass without him and for Van Persie to step up and make a huge name for himself as the next great Dutch striker.

Oh, and one more thing: look no further for the greatest name in this year's World Cup: Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. That is just old-school badass. By old school I mean Middle Ages.

Best player? No. Best name? Absolutely.

Ivory Coast
Soccernet Team Page
LD's Ivory Coast writeup
Ivory Coast qualified at Cameroon's expense when Cameroon's Pierre Wome missed a last minute penalty kick off the post that would have sent Cameroon to the World Cup. To rub salt in Cameroon's woulds, Ivory Coast beat them again in the quarterfinals of the 2006 African Nations Cup in a 12-11 penalty kick shootout, where remarkably every single one of the first 22 kicks in the 11 rounds were converted (including goalkeepers). In the 12th round Eto'o missed, Drogba made, and The Elephants advanced over the Indomitable Lions again. It was the longest shootout in international soccer history. They made it to the final where they lost out to hosts Egypt on penalties.

This is Ivory Coast's 1st world cup, and as the ESPN commercial celebrates, their qualification has caused a cease-fire in their longstanding civil war(the tragic part is that as soon as they are eliminated the civil war will probably resume). Cote D'Ivoire have 3 "known" players: superstar striker Didier Drogba of Chelsea, Arsenal's rock of a centreback Kolo Toure, and quickly up and coming Arsenal right back Emanuel Eboue. Most of the rest of the squad is not well known (recent Chelsea signing Bonaventure Kalou will be soon), but I am sure that by the end of the group stage several will be. Kolo Toure has been saying for a while that his little brother Yaya is even better than him.

In each of the last 4 World Cups an African team has burst onto the scene and taken the tournament by storm (Cameroon 1990, Nigeria 1994, Cameroon 1998, Senegal 2002), and every pundit is predicting that the Ivory Coast will be that team this time around. They are being built up as Africa's only hope and therefore will be under some serious pressure, but they are capable of hanging with the best in the world. If they make it out of this difficult group it will be a wonderful accomplishment.

One Ivory Coast story that bears repeating: At the African Nations Cup in 2000, all four teams in Group A(Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo) finished level on 4 points (1 win, 1 draw, 1 loss). Ivory Coast ended up 3rd based on the tiebreaker of goal differential, so they did not advance to the knockout stage. Upon their arrival back in Cote D'Ivoire the team was literally imprisioned in a military camp by dictator General Robert Guei, who saw fit to punish his players' early exit and give them time to "think about how they had shamed their country". No I'm not making this up. Maybe the threat of imprisonment might get the USA Men's Basketball to play with some pride in the next Olympics.

No pressure, but you better win

Serbia & Montenegro
Soccernet Team Page
LD's Serbia & Montenegro writeup

They won their European qualifying group over Spain (the rest of the group was pretty weak). They tied Spain home and away, both went unbeaten, but S&M won out by 2 points as Spain sleptwalked through a few games.

No, not THAT S&M

Everyone thinks they are going to be really tough based on this qualifying. I won't pretend to be an expert on them since I have never seen them play, but for some reason I have a sneaking suspicion that they are not nearly as good as everyone else is making them out to be. Their group was really soft with the exception of Spain, and I think Spain took things for granted. I think that S&M might get rolled in all three of their group matches, but we'll find out soon enough.

One thing that might really affect the team is that just this week Montenegro voted itself into independance from Serbia, so very soon these will be two different nations. Apparently the vote was very close, and a large portion of Montenegro is pro-Serb, and this is a very contentious issue in Montenegro (and I assume in Serbia as well). This might be a distraction, and there is a chance that team chemistry in the locker room is less than unified.

Call me boring but I like the chalk here too, as I think unlike some of the other favorites (England, Italy, Germany) Argentina and Holland (along with Spain) have a great chance to win the whole shooting match. This is assuming that they play well. If either team play poorly then Ivory Coast will march through at their expense. S&M will get whipped in all 3 matches, pun intended.


moin said...

I absolutely cannot stand Horseface either. But I have to admit that he's probably the best finisher in the world today. If you have a team of creative players in midfield and on the wings (like the Dutch always have), you couldn't wish for a better player in front of goal to finish things off (well, aside from the diving, the terrible terrible diving). One thing about RVN, the dude is HUGE. He's bigger than Vieri. Which shocked me.

Argentina always got a bad rap, to me, because of how cynical they can be on defense. But creatively, I think they play as beautifully as Brazil. Even Pele recently conceded that Riquelme is the type of player that used to drive Brazil, as opposed to the skillful forwards that does now. I'm not a huge fan of Crespo but I will concede he's a very good poacher, like RVN. Saviola and Tevez will probably take time from each other as the 2nd striker. Messi... has me excited. :D

I agree with you on the Ivory Coast being the wild card here. I can definitely see them drawing both and then beating S&M to go on (while the loser of Netherland-Argentina goes home). Impossible to say really, 3 matches can almost be viewed as a toss up. I'll got with the Ivory Coast and Argentina. I never liked the orange unis much anyways, guess I never found the Dutch to be as appealing as everyone else does.

Kanu said...

Moin - what do you think about these would be Real Madrid presidents talking about signing Fabregas and Reyes? I think they are baked. Reyes maybe one day, when he gets sick of the cold-ass winters and shitty food, btu I cannot imagine that Cesc, a Catalan boy, lifelong Barca fan, Barca yourth academy product of two Barca supporting parents, will ever wear the all white kit. I assume that these dudes are just talking shit and pandering to the masses about the 2 young flavors of the month. Interested to hear your thoughts because I know that you are a Madrista...

moin said...

It's all BS to get votes. It started when Perez gained an impossible victory by claiming and somewhat proving that he is guaranteed to sign Figo if elected. Since then, every election was like this. 2 years ago, there were various candidates promising Rosicky, Baros, Nedved, Ibramhinovic, Thuram, Maniche, Wenger, etc. etc. It's just things people do as campaign promises really. Another candidate is talking up signing Kaka.

Personally, I hate it, it doesn't address of change the problem at Madrid to be signing big names like these. Though... Fabregas would help alot. (And Reyes would have ended up in RM anyways if not for Arsenal.) But if I were you, I wouldn't count on supposed Catalan loyalties of Fabregas. Figo was the symbol and leader of Barca when he joined RM. Xabi Alonso, a Basque boy, was on the verge of joining RM had Perez not treated him like the backup option if he couldn't get Vieira. Money talks. After all, despite being all Barca, Cesc screwed Barca over by joining Arsenal didn't he? I don't think you are really on any kind of moral high ground on that one.

Oh, and in case you are wondering if RM candidates approaching players without club permission is illegal or not, it's not. It would be illegal if they were Presidents or VP or whatever of the club, but since they are merely candidates, well....

Overall, I don't think you have much to worry about until said candidate get elected. Which is... well... right now it's just drawing names out of a hat really. But money talks, don't be surprised if those guys jump ship.

moin said...

Surfed online, someone was nice enough to go thru the trouble of compiling who/what each candidate has promised(fantasized):

Ramon Calderon
Sporting Director - Mijatovic
Coach - Capello
Player - Kaka, Zambrotta, Ibrahimovic

Arturo Baldasano
Sporting Director - Del Bosque
Coach - Eriksson
Players - Fabregas, Reyes, Joaquin

Lorenzo Sanz
Sporting Director - ?
Coach - Del Bosque
Players - Ibrahimovic, Trezeguet, Cannavaro

Juan Palacios
Sporting Director - Camacho
Coach - Del Bosque
Players - Ibrahimovic, Zambrotta

Juan Miguel Villar Mir
Sporting Director - Eriksson
Coach - Wenger/Eriksson
Players - Messi, Reyes, Fabregas

Well, you can see what kind of a contest this is.

Kanu said...

Amazing. I wonder if they all get baked together in one room or if they smoke up seperately.

Do the Madrid faithful eat this shit up or thumb their noses in disgust at how ridiculous it is?

Probably some of both I would guess. We are talking some passionnate fans: I read that when they signed Beckham and he flew to Madrid to take his medical test, they televised it, and it was the 2nd highest rated television broadcast in the history of Spain, only eclipsed by Princess Diana's wedding or funeral, can't remember which...

moin said...

Well, other than that one time when Perez defeated 2 time Champion's League winning Sanz with the promise of Figo (and come on, let's face it, IT WAS HEART OF BARCA FIGO), the promise of signing players isn't exactly a major part of most sensible fan's decision process (at least, from what I gathered). Perez got re-elected not by promising to buy players, but by going out and buying a defender (Walter Samuel). And besides, since every candidate seems to be coming from the same nut-house, how can anyone decided which candidate would bring the better players? I think most fans decide on other things, like how they seem to do business, their attitude, etc. Ya know, they decide on personality.

But I mean, you can tell which one of those guys are even more clueless than others. Like the guy who wants Wenger and Erickson to run things. Wenger ain't going and Ericksson would be a disaster, etc.

Though the thought of Cesc + Reyes + Messi + Robinho + Zlatan excites me to no ends.