Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rarefied Air: Could We Be On The Verge Of
An 8th Member Of The World Cup Club?

As I explained in what seems like a lot longer than 4 years ago, the fraternity of World Cup winners is quite an exclusive club. Of the 205 accredited soccer playing nations on Earth, only 74 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.

The Seven:
Brasil (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Italy (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
Germany (1954, 1974, 1990)
Argentina (1978, 1986)
Uruguay (1930, 1950)
France (1998)
England (1966)

A quick look at the draw from here on out reveals that of the 8 remaining teams, only 4 are in the exclusive club of World Cup winners: Uruguay, Brasil, Argentina, and Germany. And Argentina play Germany on Saturday so one will be gone. The teams striving to get their Members Only jacket are Ghana, Netherlands, Paraguay, and Spain.

What these four 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. Of course, given that Ghana are playing for the entire continent of Africa, it could be argued that they qualify on home grounds, although one could also argue that it's a bit of a stretch.

So there it is. If you like pulling for the underdog, and you are bummed that underdogs USA, Chile, Slovakia, Mexico, and Japan have all been knocked out, then hitch your wagon to Ghana, Netherlands, Paraguay, or Spain- they would all be great stories.

Ghana- playing for an entire continent, and trying to become the first African team to ever advance to a World Cup semifinal.

Netherlands- Everyone's 2nd favorite team, and widely and mistakenly regarded as the best team to not have won the World Cup (correct answer is 1954 Hungary) when their "total football" teams of 1974 and 1978 were the darlings of the world but ended up losing in the final to the home nation each time, each under fairly extraordinary circumstances.

Paraguay- the ultimate underdogs, just beating Spain would be a massive achievement nevermind getting to the final or winning it. This is their first ever appearance in a World Cup quarterfinal.

Spain- after a full 40 years of always a bridesmaid but never a bride, the reigning Euro 2008 champions boast perhaps the best team on the planet, are certainly the best team at possession and controlling the ball, and have the best goalkeeper to boot. This is the best chance they will ever have to win the World Cup, which if they did would cement them as one of the great teams of all time.


Chris said...

Only Spain or the Dutch have a proper chance of winning the cup, and really Spain would be the only side that I would bet any money on.

The one thing that I can never understand about Spain though is why Cesc is almost always relegated to coming off the bench. I understand the Spanish Midfield is beyond talented but I remember watching the Euro 08 and every time Cesc was brought on it seemed like Spain got a spark they were missing. Just amazing to me that he isnt starting and that Spain can play a game like against Switzerland where you dont bring him on.

Kanu said...

Agreed. I think Netherlands are the only team in Brasil's half of the draw that can beat them, and I think Spain can certainly win the whole thing- more on that tomorrow. Also, I did bet on Spain and I stand to win a considerable sum of money if they do in fact win the whole thing (or even if they make the final provided that Brasil do not).

Yeah the Cesc thing is tricky. I mean you could argue that he's the best player in the premiership(you'd get an argument, but you wouldn't be dismissed as a lunatic), and yet he can't get on the field.

Obviously with Xavi & Iniesta & Cesc, Spain may well have the 3 best players of that position in the world on the same team, so picking 2 of 3 is always going to be tough. I think part of it is seniority- Xavi is 30, Iniesta is I think 27 or 28, and Cesc is 22 or 23, so perhaps the thinking is that he still has alot in front of him whereas this may well be Xavi's last world cup. Also, it's a different coach than Euro 2008 and a little different system (Senna was their MVP in 08 and didn't even make the team this time around). Also, Cesc is coming back from a broken leg, whereas in 2008 he was 100% healthy. Whether he is currently at 100% or 90 or 8o or 70% no one nows but the coach, the players, and Cesc himself.

And finally, the last 2 games Spain has had a 1-0 lead as the game got into substitution time (60+ min). I think if Spain were tied or behind, then it would be more likely for Cesc to be brought on to try to unlock a defense with his creative spark and more direct offensive threat than Iniesta, but in the past 2 games with a 1-0 lead, the coach chose to make other tactical substitutions. I suspect we will indeed see Cesc if Spain are tied or behind at the 60 minute mark from here on out.

moinllieon said...

To put it succinctly, Cesc doesn't get on because he's an all-rounder in a system of specialists. He doesn't pass/control/dribble as well as Xavi and Iniesta, he doesn't tackle/destory/distribute as well as Xabi Alonso or Busquets, he doesn't score/attack as well as David Villa or Silva or Mata or Navas. Granted he can do all of that, just not as well as the specialists. Who would you rather play the 2nd striker off of Torres, Xavi, David Villa, or Cesc? Who would you rather be the anchor of the mid-field, Xabi Alonso or Cesc? That's Cesc's problem. Iniesta and Xavi combined to set up David Villa for the goal against Portugal, that's a tough nut to crack my friend.

2008 argument doesn't really wash when examined in detail. Against Italy: Cesc came on at 0-0 and the match went to penalties. Against Germany Cesc came on with Spain leading 1-0 and it ended 1-0. Wins over Greece and Sweden were results of last minute long bombs down the field chased down.

So let's examine Cesc's contribution in the match against Russia (the only match where Cesc really made a tangible impact). Cesc came on in the 34th minute when Villa had to go off due to an injury. Xavi then scored on a volley via a cross from Iniesta in the 50th minute. Cesc played well and was involved in the build up in the next 2 goals, but the fact remains that he was not involved in the key moment of the game: Xavi and Iniesta was. No amount of Cesc/Arsenal/EPL homerism can cover that up.

Same can be said for Diego Milito for Argentina, the talisman for the treble winning Inter side is literally the 4th choice forward on his team. In the end, he just doesn't fit his team's system as well as his club team's.

Kanu said...

And that, my friends, is why Moin has the best blog within the comments section of another blog on the entire internet. Damn you and your never-ending river of facts! (shakes fist in the general direction of East).

moinllieon said...

Thanks man.

Actually your point about the different system is very valid as well. If Del Bosque went with a single pivot midfield instead of a double pivot, Cesc could get in a very much Ballack role. But even then, it could be argued that Xabi Alonso kinda defined that role playing alongside Mascherano/Lassa Diarra. But as you said, it is only a matter of time for Cesc to take over. Xavi can't keep doing what he is doing forever, there's a reason besides nostalgia and ego for Barca to pursue Cesc so intensely this silly season.