Thursday, June 8, 2006

World Cup Group E

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Italy writeup
No nation is looking forward to the World Cup getting underway more than Italy, who would like nothing more than to get their minds off of the massive scandal that has been uncovered in Italian soccer involving match fixing, appointment of referees, gambling, and more. There have long been rumors of such improprieties in Italy, but now thanks to some cell phone conversations involving Juve director Moggi being caught on tape, things are going from bad to worse, with senior national officials resigning, the entire board of Juventus resigning, Juve looking at the distinct possibility of being relegated, and more that I won't get into here. Anyhow, it is literally a national scandal that keeps getting stinkier as each layer of the onion is peeled back, and the World Cup will be a welcome respite from the daily furor in the Italian media over this.

Italy has never been my favorite mainly because their style of play, the famous catennacio, or "bolt", which is designed to contain, shutdown and stifle the opponent and hope to nick a goal on the counter-attack. It is a defensive minded strategy that is often very effective but just never has appealed to me personally. That being said, they always have a great amount of talent and this year is no different (it would just be nice if all that historical Italian talent was unleashed in a more appealing way). On paper they are arguably the 3rd best team afer Brasil and Argentina, and maybe even 2nd depending on who you ask.

You can read about players and tactics anywhere, so instead I am going to give you two of the better lookalikes in the whole tournament. Defender Marco Materazzi looks just like Kramer from Seinfeld, but his personality is much different. To use a hockey analogy, he is a either a rugged, hard nosed defender (if he plays for your team), or a thug and a goon whose job is to bump you around and make you pay if you come into his space (if he plays for the other team).

Best I could find; looks
more like Cosmo in real life

Next up is midfielder Mauro Camaronesi, who is a dead-on ringer for Furio from the Sopranos.

He either just scored a goal,
is expressing his anguish at not
being able to openly love Carmela

They say Milan is the center of world fashion, but once again their kits are horribly, horribly bad. In recent years they wore these skin tight body suit shirts made by Kappa that just looked silly. Those are gone, but the new Puma ones are just as bad. For starters, they are again going with the gold numbers/letters on the back of their blue kits, which just looks tacky in a gold-chain, IROC driving, Vinny from New Jersey kind of way. On top of this, they have copycatted Real Madrid's recent use of all lowercase letters for the names on the back of the jerseys, which just looks amateur, like they were designed by the winner of a 3rd grade art class competition. But the coup de grace is the faux sweatervest on the white away jersey, which makes them look like it's 1983 and they are going over to the Country Club to play a few sets of tennis with their good buddy Biff Templeton, III. Horrid, horrid, hideousness from the alleged leaders in world fashion.

Tennis anyone?
I know who Jim Tressel is rooting for.

For whatever reason I just don't see this team making it to the semifinal or final, and I think as the 3rd favorite to win the cup they are an overbet favorite. And they definitely need to figure out a way to wear their blue kits in each match and avoid those sweatervest atrocities.

Czech Republic
Soccernet Team Page
LD's Czech Republic writeup
This is a great team with tons of talent that never gets as much pub as the other great European teams because they don't have the same name recognition. They seemingly peaked in 2004 and had a great chance to win Euro2004, but like so many others they crashed out to the pesky Greeks inthe semifinals. All of the stars from that team reamin, but the bulk of the squad is in their 30s so they may be already starting to slide doen the slippery slope of their sunset years. The five stars are 6'8" striker Jan Koller (could you imagine him and Peter Crouch on the same front line?), striker Milan Baros, leading scorer at Euro2004, midfielder Vladamir Smicer, who will miss the cup with an injury, midfielder Thomas Rosicky, who has just moved to Arsenal, and their best player in a generation, Pavel Nedved. Nedved is the creative midfielder and can score goals as well, and he was voted the European Footabller of the Year as recently as 2003. He is also my favorite lookalike in all of soccer. I cannot look at the dude and not think of Jeff Spicoli, ever. I can just see him showing up late to practice and saying, "Sorry I'm late Mr. Brukner... wicked line at the vending machine."

It's so dead on Spicoli, I couldn't narrow it down past these 3.

"All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine..."

As good as they are, they are an old team, and they injury bug has been biting them all over. Smicer is out of the cup, and Rosicky, Baros, and Nedved have all picked up semi-serious knocks. This does not bode well if they are not 100% fit, becasue the group is no joke. Their talent would make them favored to go through with Italy, but if they are not healthy I don't see them getting out of this group. I see them as an aging, wounded animal, still talented but very vulnerable to the other animals in the kingdom.

United States
Soccernet Team Page
LD's United States writeup
Let me start by saying that I don't watch MLS and don't really follow the US Team that closely, so I am by no means an expert. I have seen Demarcus Beasley play several times for PSV, Jon O'Brien for Ajax, and Claudio Reyna in the EPL. I have seen the national team play here and there since World Cup 2002, so I see that Landon Donovan is certainly legit. Demarcus Beasley's pace will cause problems for other teams on the flanks, and when healthy I think O'Brien is very good as well. I will say that I personally don't understand all the hype over Reyna as the best player for the US and the key to the team. I understand that he holds the ball up, controls the game, distributes, and keeps everying together, but every time I have ever seen him play a match in the Premiership he has looked a step slow and a little bit out of his depth (I will admit that this view is tainted a bit by the fact that most time I have seen him he has been on a rubbish team that is torn apart by the quick passing and pace of Arsenal, which I am sure lends to by perception). Just seems to me that he is overrated, and that it wouldn't really be that diffucult to replace him. I am looking forward to seeing defender Oguchi Onyewu play - he is supposed to be a colossus in the back and having never seen him play I am eager to check him out.

Are they really that good? Yes they had a great run in the last World Cup, and their current FIFA World Ranking is 8. This means they should be able to hang with anyone. Then why did they get rolled 0-4 against not the mightiest Euro-team Germany in March? I am not being a hater and saying that they suck, I just think that all of this "they are as good as anybody" talk might be a little much. For me there is a large unknown or X factor about this team, and I would not be suprised if the went all the way to the quarterfinals or semifinals, but neither would I be suprised if they failed to win a game. I think Bruce Arena is a relly good coach and I think they have a great chance to get out of this group, by all accounts the 2nd toughest. As I said, I think the aging, injured Czechs are very vulnerable, so it benefits the US to play them first. I think the US will battle Ghana for the 2nd spot in this group.

The thing to watch with the US team is how they will travel around Germany like worshipped rock stars, a group of 24 David Hasselhoffs that will be greeted as liberators in every city based on the longlasting reverence and sympathy for the US by the international community since 9/11 as well as all of the international goodwill that the US has spread around the world and their enthusiasm for working with all of the nations of the world to find multinational solutions to the world's economic, social, environmental, and political challenges. Oh, never mind.

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Ghana writeup
Although the Black Stars are one of the traditional powers of African football, this will be their first appearance in the World Cup. Most pundits have written them off and decided that the Ivory Coast will be the "it" African team this summer, but I have to pull a Lee Corso to that and say "not so fast my friend". Don't be fooled by their disappointing performance at the 2006 African Nations Cup earlier this year, where they didn't even make it out of the group stage. They were in the group of death (Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Zimbabwe). They lost 0-1 to Nigeria on a late goal, beat Senegal 1-0, and an own goal hurt them in their shock 1-2 loss to not very good Zimababwe. The trick is that they played this tournament without their best player and talisman Michael Essien, who was injured, as well as Sunny Muntari who was also injured, and star defender Samuel Kuffour who did not play due to a ongoing differences with the manager. All three are back, and together with captain Appiah, known as "the tornado" for his seemingly endless energy, this is an extremely dangerous team when it has all of it parts in working order. Something tells me that the assumption that Cote D'Ivoire will be the African darlings of this World Cup is a bit misplaced; I think it is more likely to be these Black Stars who turn this World Cup on its head. I like their chances to get through this group as a big suprise.

The Black Stars: Kanu's pick for African
suprise team of World Cup 2006

So there you go. Although not my favorite, the Azzurri seem to have too much talent not to get through (although we all thought that at Euro2004, too, didn't we?). I think if Totti can keep from spitting in the face of an opponent not once but 3 different times in the one game, then they should make it out. I am also predicting that the Balck Stars of Ghana will shock the world and beat out the Czech Republic and Sam's Army for the 2nd spot (and you thought I was going to pick the chalk all the way through).


nico said...

One of the reasons Germany shelled us 4-1 earlier this year (and we did get one goal late in the game) is because the team was comprised completely of MLS players (save two guys playing in Germany) over half of which didn't make the team. Arena admittedly took a bunch of green players in against high caliber competition to see if they could hang. Many proved they couldn't. Arena's weird like that.

Kanu said...

Thanks for the tip Nico. I was actually in Barcelona the night of that maych and didn't get to see it, but the highlights that they showed on Spanish television were pretty embarrassing.

The key for the US is that first game against the Czechs. If they can win that thing then they have a great chance to get through. Confidence will be high and a draw against Italy would proabbly only require a draw aginast Ghana. If they lose that fisrt match then they may very well be fucked.

nico said...

I agree with they "we're fucked if we lose to the Czechs assessment." We've never done particularly well with our backs against the wall. Unfortunately I think we're three and out this year. I'd be happy to be wrong though.