Thursday, June 8, 2006

World Cup Group H

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Spain writeup
The perennial underachievers in the World Cup, they easily have the highest ratio of historical talent to historical performance in this competition. The more I have read and learned about the Spanish game in the last two years, the more I buy into the theory that perhaps the national teams struggles are down to a lack of team unity and chemistry. Regional factionalism runs way deeper in Spain then most places, and Catalans, Madristas, Basques might get along in a superficial way when the national team gets together, but not in a chummy enough way to create the team spirit and belief neccessary to win at the highest level. This regionalism is deeply, deeply engrained in Spanish society and has alot to do with the Spanish revolution and 40+ years of rule under Franco. Or it is just dumb luck.

The Spanish league is one of the three best in the world (England, Italy) and it's hard to argue that currently (and over the past few years) it is not the best. Both the Champions League trophy (Barcelona) and the UEFA Cup (Sevilla) currently reside in Spain. The point is that talent abounds, young and old.

The most well known player is striker Raul, who has been around for Spain and Real Madrid forever. I almost shit my pants not long ago when I read that dude is only 28. He's been around at the highest level so long I always assumed that he was like 33 or 34, but he just broke through to the highest levels at a very young age. Some are writing him off as over the hill and past it, mainly down to a less than prolific season at Madrid, but I am not so quick to write him off. Madrid has been an absolute mess the past two years in every sense of the word, and he is the highest goalscorer in Spanish history. Write him off at your own peril.

Over the hill at 28? I don't think so.

Speaking of breaking through at a young age, look out for 18 year old Cesc Fabregas, who broke into the first team at Arsenal 2 seasons ago and ably replaced Patrick Vieira last season. He has tons of experience at a the highest level for his age, and his performances in the Champions League this spring wowed everyone in Spain - he, like Messi of Argentina, is currently all the rage. He plays the creative midfielder (quarterback, basically) role and plays it amazingly well. Another young Spanish Arsenal player is 21 year old Jose Antonio Reyes, who plays out wide on the left as a midfielder. He has tons of pace and runs his socks off every match - he will cause trouble down the right flank of any defense, especially one that is a step slow. He also could easily pass himself off as Tom Cruise's little brother, and back in 2002 when playing in Spain one of his teammates simulated oral sex on him and 'nipped' his dick while celebrating a goal. You think I'm bullshiting you. I am not:

When teenage soccer sensation Reyes scored a blinding goal back in December, Gallardo decided to celebrate it in a very special way. Throwing himself down upon Reyes's Crown Jewels, he proceeded to impart some (pretend) oral pleasure on the unsuspecting striker. While the prudish Marca flew into a comic tizzy, splashing its front page with an enormous headline declaring the act "INTOLERABLE", everyone else just rolled about, and innocent little Reyes was left plain confused. "I felt a little nip", he said of Gallardo's intimate nibble, "but I didn't realise what Paco was doing".

Talented, sane, and like many Calothic boys was
once touched in an inappropriate manner by an elder.

Other quality abounds: Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonsa, Luis Garcia (who I hope doesn't score because his baby thumb in mouth celebration is the stupidest thing outside Robbie Keane's "Rolling Wanker").

I have to also mention captain Carlos Puyol, who not only is the team leader and rock of the defense, but also looks just like guitarist Slash from Guns N Roses, especially once the game gets going and his hair comes down all over his face.

Why did we(GNR) break up? Beacause
captaining Spain and Barca was less stressful
and more rewarding than dealing with Axl's shit.

This team is loaded but must fight its underachieving past and reputation. In their defense, they were absolutely robbed in 2002 in the quarterfinal against South Korea, when not 1 but 2 legitimate 2nd half goals were disallowed, the match remained tied, and they lost in a penalty shootout. This team is due some serious karma, and has the talent to play anybody. I like them to win the group and go very, very far in the knockout stage.

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Ukraine writeup
They handily won the toughest group in European qualifying, besting 3 other teams ranked in the top 20 in the FIFA world rankings: Turkey, Denmark, and Euro2004 champion Greece. This alone tells you that they are a force to be reckoned with. Their best player is Andiry Shevchenko, one of the top 3 strikers in the world (Henry, Eto'o) and a total and complete badass. I really like him, although I suppose that might change with his recent move from AC Milan to Chelsea (although to be honest my beef with Chelsea is really with their management and complete dickhead of a coach Jose Mourhino, not the players themselves, other than Drogba the Diver of course). Anyhow, he and Rebrov have been the backbone of this team forever, since back when they both played at Dynamo Kiev and led them far into the Champions League.

Their team spokesman should be that guy on the subway in the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Newman take their ongoing game of Risk onto the train. That dude is epic:

Kramer: Oh, stop stalling. Come on.

Newman: I can't think, there's all this noise.

Kramer: Or is it because I've built a stronghold around Greenland? I've driven you out of Western Europe and I've left you teetering on the brink of complete annihilation.

Newman: I'm not beaten yet. I still have armies in the Ukraine.

This comment perks up the ears of what appears to be a Russian immigrant.

Kramer: Ha ha, the Ukraine. Do you know what the Ukraine is? It's a sitting duck. A road apple,
Newman. The Ukraine is weak. It's feeble. I think it's time to put the hurt on the Ukraine.

Ukrainian: I come from Ukraine. You not say Ukraine weak.

Kramer: Yeah, well we're playing a game here, pal.

Ukrainian: Ukraine is game to you?! Howbout I take your little board and smash it!!

The Ukrainian pounds the game board, destroying it and sending army pieces flying.

I should have more to write for a team this good, but I really don't have anything to add that you won't already learn by reading the Soccernet preview and LD's preview. Oh, Sheva is great and may very well win the Golden Boot. There.

"Ukraine is game to you?"

Soccernet Team Page
LD's Tunisia writeup
Won their African qualifying group at Morocco's expense. I don't know anything about them other than what I read here. Sounds like they are capable of making noise so you have to think that they have a shot at going through in what is essentially a 3 team group. I distinctly remember coming back to work after watching the World Cup draw. I showed the list of teams to one of my coworkers, who knows next to nothing about soccer. He picked Tunisia because the original Star Wars movie was filmed there. Nerd alert! I had no idea. I guess this is George Lukas' side then.

Saudi Arabia
Soccernet Team Page
LD's Saudi Arabia writeup
I don't know jack shit about them, but I feel that I know all they need to know. They are waaaaay out of their depth here and will get rolled in every match. I watched them get rolled in 2002 and I cannot imagine that the same will not happen again. There, that was easy.

More chalkiness, Spain and Ukraine go through, and not neccessarily in that order.


Anonymous said...

I can't say for tournaments I don't recall, but of the ones I saw, Spain hasn't been choking in tourneys, they just have an incredible string of bad luck.

USA94: Lost out when Baggio did his Baggio thing.
England96: Lost out to England in PK shootout.
Frace98: (drawn into Group of Death) Lost out because their all time best keeper, Zubizereta, let in a howler against Nigeria. Also Paraguay did a catenaccio impression and then proceeded to beat a Nigerian squad that played like it had nothing on the line.
Euro2000: Lost out to France (best team in the world at the time).
WC2002: You covered that already.
Portugal2004: (drawn into Group of Death) Lost out to the hosts in the Group Stages. The group produced both finalists.

What can you do? Terrible luck. It's just one of those things.

Kanu said...

Well said Moin. I have picked Spain to win the whole damn thing this time around in one fell swoop of karmic revenge.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Raul, many people don't remember (mostly because Spain crashed out), but he scored a stunning goal against Nigeria in France98. Basically, he did what Bergkamp did against Argentina. Except what Bergkamp did in 3 touches, Raul did in one.

And yes, he was 20/21 at the time

Kanu said...

Being that Nigeria are my favorite team, I remember that one well, although I like Oliseh's winner as well:

What a great match that was, (unless you were the Spanish keeper of course).

Anonymous said...

Yeah, fun to watch, definitely. But such was Spain's luck/poor defending.

I still maintain that Nigeria's first half performance against Bulgaria that year was probably the most joyous and playful attacking play I've ever seen in a World Cup. Not only were they constantly attacking, but they were constantly dangerous, stringing together moves and passes into what seemed like a dangerous attempt on goal every 30 second or so. My perception might have been coloured by one particular sequence of about 10-15 minutes or so, but it left quite an impression.

Shame they still haven't learned to defend in that country. :D

Kanu said...

Yup. I just remember Okocha's ridiculous ball skills, and that no one could get the ball off of him.

Yeah, take some of the time practicing all of the circus shit tricks & flicks and work on the defense, boys.