Thursday, June 8, 2006

World Cup Group G

Before I start, I just want to say that when the draw was made this was the most disappointing group because France and Switzerland just spent 18 months in the same European qualifying group, surviving what became the 2nd toughest group at the expense Ireland and Israel. Now they play each other all over again; anticlimatic.

Soccernet Team Page
LD's France writeup
Full disclosure: being an Arsenal fan kind of makes me a France fan as well, being that the core of their team in the Wenger era has been French (Henry, Vieira, Pires) and has also included Frenchmen Anelka as well as current players Flamini and Clichy. Also it's hard for anyone not to like Zidane, so unlike most Americans I unabashedly like France in general and their national team specifically.

Les Bleus won the World Cup as hosts in 1998, then turned around 2 years later and won the European Championships in 2000 with pretty much the same team. They were the clear favorites to win World Cup 2002, but talisman and iconic captain Zidane got injured and missed out, they were shocked by Senegal in the first match and never recovered, crashing out without winning a match or even scoring a goal. Although some holdovers from that team are still around, 2002 spelled the end of the road for the team that conquered the world and then Europe for good measure, and this team is kind of a 1/2 and 1/2 between that one and new talent.

This is Zinedane Zidane's swan song not only in international competition but for his entire playing career as well, which is reason enough to check out France's matches if you can. "Zizou" as he is known is the best player of his generation, and you could argue pretty damn strongly that he is the best player in the world in the time period stretching from the end of Maradona's career to today. Amazingly skilled and all that, he has this thing about him, this aura, where he always seems to rise to the occasion in the biggest games and always do the job. The best comparison I can make is to Michael Jordan in basketball, who always seemed to shine brightest on the biggest stage. Zidane put France on his back on World Cup 1998, especially in the semifinal and final, was the driving force for them in Euro 2000. Four years later in Euro 2004, in the biggest group stage match (France-England), he single handedly turned a 0-1 defecit in the 91st minute into a famous 2-1 win, first by burying a stunning free kick from outside the box and then by converting a penalty just a minute later. There is also the matter of this insane gamewinning goal in the 2002 Champions League Final, the biggest stage in club football. He is the man, and and although he is a bit in decline, any chance to see him play before he hangs up his boots for good should be taken advantage of.

The French word for badass, as
oxymoronic as that sounds, is Zizou.

The successor to the French throne is Thierry Henry, generally regarded as one of the two best players on planet earth currently (Ronaldinho) if not the best. He is an absolute terror for Arsenal, and although he has scored 33 goals in 78 matches for France (1 goal every 2.4 matches), he has generally been regarded as a bit of a disappointment for France in that he hasn't matched his ridiculous output at Arsenal. I think the main reason for this is that at Arsenal the team is built around him and everything offensively goes through him, and the idea is to feed him the ball, preferably in open space, and let him do his thing with pace. France on the other hand is built around Zidane and everything feeds through him; he tends to slow the game down a bit and pick and choose his spots, so Henry for France has not been used in a way that makes him most effective. He plays more as a target man, which does not cater to his strengths of running at people and using his pace and skill to make them look foolish. Once Zidane retires after this tournament the focus of France's attack will change to Henry and this may very well change. Either way, many are looking to Henry to have a huge tournament to validate all the talk that he is the best striker in the world, but it may be more of the same with Zizou in the squad. I have read claims lately that Henry has never scored from a Zidane assist, which is almost unbelieveable. I think Zidane, and France, will go out of his way to get Henry the ball more in his element, and that Henry will score a bunch of goals.

Titi is my pick for the Golden Boot.

The other central midfield spot belongs to one of my very favorite players Patrick Vieira, former Arsenal captain and from about 2000-2004 regarded by many as the best defensive holding midfielder int he world. Having watched PV4 through the years I am amused by all the talk in the last 3 about his France teammate Claude Makelele and how he is so great that the defensive holding midfielder role is called by some the "Makelele role". This is garbage: Makelele is a poor man's Vieira, end of story, and literally half the man to boot (compare #6 to #4 in the picture below).

"Makelele role" my ass. Vieira role is more like it.

What else? Henry' strike partner David Trezeguet is like Brasil's Ronaldo, in that he is kind of lazy and will go entire matches without doing a single thing, only to pounce like a cobra if given one scoring chance. Goaltender Fabian Barthez rocks the Telly Savalis chrome dome, and is prone both to amazing circus saves as well as howling blunders. Coach Domenech has left out of his squad Robert Pires, Ludovic Giuly, and Nicolas Anelka. 3rd striker Djibril Cisse broke his leg yesterday in their final exhibition match and will miss the whole tournament. I was really suprised that Giuly was not called up, let alone Pires or Anelka, to replace him (he instead went with Sidney Govou). I cannot imagine what those other three must have said to the coach (or done with his wife) in the past, especially Giuly who every time I see him play for Barca runs his socks off and looks dangerous down the right wing (playing style very similar to Freddie Ljungberg of Sweden).

France have too much talent not to top the group, especially considering their embarrassment the last time around. They will be motivated to reverse that lackluster performance as well as some lacklucster performances in qualifying, and I like them to win the group.

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Switzerland writeup
I followed them a bit in qualifying, and they are certainly a young team that is legit: after finishing 2nd in the 2nd toughest European qualifying group, they survived a battle of a 2 legged playoff against 2002 World Cup semifinalists Turkey (mmmmm... Turkey & Swiss. Throw in Hungary and you would have one hell of a group*). I know about centreback Phillipe Senderos from following Arsenal, and know that at only age 20 he is a very solid defender and for Switzerland he even gets forward and scores some goals (and he also looks like my college roommate JV aka Shabba). I can't add much more that you won't read elsewhere. Hard not to like the country that is peaceful and neutral (although kind of hypocritically they will secretly hold any rotten bastard in the world's money) and small, gives them kind of an underdog, good guy, hero kind of shine. They proved themselves through a tough group and a the toughest of playoffs, so I like them to carry that on and go through with France here.

*Solon's joke originally, not mine

South Korea
Soccernet Team Page
LD's South Korea writeup
Co-hosts in 2002, they rode amazing home fan support, a great tactical coach (Huddink, who now coached Australia), and some abysmal officiating in their quarterfinal match against Spain, all the way to the semifinal before bowing out to Germany. Plain and simple they will not repeat that feat no matter how many crazy fuckers set themselves on fire, kill themselves, and leave a suicide note that they are doing it to help South Korea by becoming a phantom 12th man on the pitch (in defense of this, it did work against Italy and then again against Spain -where the hell was this guy in the semifinal? Did he go on a phantom bender and miss his wakeup call that day?).

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Togo writeup
Shocked Africa if not the world by qualifying at World Cup 2002 darling Sengal's expense. Considered among the rank outsiders that should just be happy to be here. Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor was the leading scorer in all of African qualifying and is their star player and main threat. Tangent: When Emmanuel Petit played for Arsenal a few years back, the fans sang his chant as loud as any "He's blonde, he's quick, his name's a porno flick, E-man-u-elle, E-man-u-elle..." When arsenal signed Adebayor I was hoping that he would inherit a version of this song, but I have not heard confirmation that this happened, and I didn't hear it at the match I attended in March at Highbury. Anyhow, it would be cool if Togo fans sang this song, but I assume that they are more proper than that. Oh well...

"He' strong, he's quick,
His name's a porno flick,
E-man-u-ell! E-man-u-ell!"

I also like Adebayor because he is Nigerian born and idolizes none other than Kanu, going so far as to wear Kanu's number both for club (25) and country (4). He has a very similar stature, movement, and overall game - he looked eerily similar to Kanu in his Arsenal duds this past season. Anyhow, I hope he does well.

That's about all I know about Togo, so we'll just leave it at that.


AGS said...

That left-footed volley from Zidane might be the most disgusting goal I've ever seen. Just sickening.

moin said...

Some other great RM goals for ya to see (my personal favorite is the Butragueno goal):

Other great goals in general (let me apologize ahead of time for the soundtrack):

Please keep an eye out for 2 INCREDIBLE goals by Roberto Carlos (one from a FK and another from the goal-line). Also the one by Seedorf is amazing as well.

Solon said...

If, someday, they are ever drawn into a World Cup group with Turkey, Chile, and the Swiss, expect Hungary to eat them all up.

Kanu said...

Ags- Given the occasion, a 1-1 game in the Champions League Final (at the time), it is just insne. If it's notthe best game winning goal in Champions League Final history, then it's not far behind whatever is.

Solon - damn that is a tasty group.

Kanu said...

Moin- sweet vids. That Butragueno goal is sick. Reminds me of Kanu's 3rd against Chelsea, only way better.

That fucking Giggs one made my throw up in my mouth a little though...

moin said...

Yeah, figured you wouldn't like that Giggs one too much, but at some point you just gotta tip your hat and go: "Fuck that was fucking sweet."

I'm still not too sure how the Butragueno one happened. It shouldn't be that easy to dribble past a keeper and stay inside the touchline.