Thursday, June 08, 2006

World Cup Fever

What could possibly console you when you return from fun-filled adventure in the steamy Amazon to the cold, dead world of a Wellington office job in winter?

Well, the beginning of a football World Cup makes a pretty good start. Tomorrow night (NZ time) Germany 2006 kicks off when the hosts play Costa Rica, followed by six weeks of what we all hope will be skill, excitement, and lots of goals.

When I last posted on the football, I was still hanging on the outside chance that one of my "home teams" might sneak into the finals. In the end, none of Peru, Guatemala or Colombia got through, though Australia did secure an historic place for Oceania, and I suppose we're honour bound to support them.

With a reasonably dispassionate eye, then, who do I think will win the tournament?

As usual, it's very hard to go past the big four of Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Germany. A year and a half ago I was picking Argentina, who have developed a fluid, attacking style based on the elaboarate linking of individual skills. But they seem to have lost confidence a little since then, and Brazil have been beaten them on every occasion that's mattered. Even in the Copa America final, a Brazil team missing its stars was completely outplayed but managed to scrape a 2-2 draw and win on penalties.

As an article in the weekend Guardian pointed out, whoever wins the tournament will need to find a bunch of goals from somewhere, and no one appears to have a better guarantee of this than Brazil, with four or five players likely to make their mark on the scoring sheet. Though it is claimed that not all the stars are at their best, it looks a more complete team than in 2002, when they won relatively easily. If they maintain a half respectable defense, they have a good chance of taking another crown.

Germany seems to be on the decline, and is the despair of many of their fans. But it would be a foolish mistake to write them off: they made the final in 2002 while looking pretty ordinary, and have a funny habit of coming back from the dead. Home advantage will be a major boost.

Italy is my another story again. Though they are rarely among the glamorous sentimental favourites, with every Italian team you can be sure that they will give nothing away, and that they will convert the oppotunities they get with skill and ruthlessness. As always, they have a strong defense, and it will just one of their attacking players to discover himself for them to have a very good tournament.

England is being talked about in many quarters, and it is true that they have their best team (playing XI at least) for a very long time, with strength in defense, midfield, and attack. But I feel that at the top level they rely heavily on Wayne Rooney as a creative link between midfield and attack, as well as a goalscorer. He is being rushed back from injury and is not yet 100 percent. Without Rooney at his best, I doubt they will go past the quarterfinals.

Of the other European teams, I doubt that France will go close to repeating their 1998 success, unless Thierry Henry breaks with tradition and performs in a major international tournament. My other "second favourites", Portugal and Holland, will once again flatter to deceive. The Spanish national team will again fail to reproduce the flair and confidence shown by its players at club level. The Czech Republic played the most attractive football at Euro 2004, but its squad may be past its best.

Japan and South KOrea will turn in some good performance, but I don't think they will repeat the heroics seen on their home soil last time around. Of the African teams, Ivory Coast looks the strongest, with good goalscoring potential.

For a dark horse, I'll go with Serbia and Montenegro, who look pretty solid and could embarass Argentina or Holland in the "group of death", Group C. The United States is another that is underrated.

My pick for the final? Italy vs. Argentina, with Italy having knocked out Brazil in the semi-finals - as in 1982, a star-studded Brazilian team defeated by the more clinical Italians. I'll be cheering for Argentina, but won't pick a winner.

I just hope it doesn't come down to penalties. At that point it's a lottery, and I won't be watching.

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Susan said...

Well as Norman Kirk famously said - a person needs only three things to be happy; food on the table, a roof over their head, and something to look forward to. Seems as if the World Cup will fill the last of those roles for you even with the big come-down after the exciting and exotic Amazon to Wellington in mid winter.

Cecilia said...

Simon, I miss you, oh favorite brother of mine! Thanks for posting such regular updates on your status...

Should you be looking for anything else to get fixated with this (northern) summer (NZ winter), there is alway the 2006 Tour de France. Seriously, a major contender in the agony & ecstasy stakes - even without Lance. Seriously, you should watch (and then get a bike!)