For example, forget about any of the teams representing the African continent. That’s not a slight against them as such, that’s just that feeling that as yet I’m not convinced that the Ivory Coast – who’s arguably the strongest team from the continent – has the whole mix to go all the way and win the thing. I’m sure they’ll make a great fist of it, but they lack that quality, consistency and crucially tactical discipline to beat some of the bigger more established footballing nations – which the Argentina vs. Nigeria game kinda highlighted.
So it’s not going to be a team from Africa. It sure as sugar won’t be a team from North America, not even Mexico. New Zealand for the trophy? Well at least they’ll enjoy being at the tournament and will look to do their country proud. How about the teams representing Asia and Oceania? Again, plucky, disciplined, full of fight, but lacking in killer instinct and pedigree to upset anyone and win the thing. Don’t get me wrong all these teams can cause upsets, all these teams will want to prove a point, but success for these won’t amount to much more than qualifying for the knock-out stages and seeing how it goes from there.
So we come to the South American and European teams. OK lets discount Paraguay, Uruguay (what does the -guay mean?), Chile, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, (what does the Slo- mean? How about a meeting of the Euro-South American dark horses, call them Sloguay!), Switzerland and Greece (ha – when South Korea beats you, don’t think your name’s on the trophy … or could they be famous final words … nah!)
That leaves us with Germany, Netherlands, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Argentina, Brazil … oh … and England.
Now I include Portugal because they have one of the best players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. They have been contenders for trophies recently, their side isn’t shabby. I don’t think they’ll win it though. Then there’s Germany, who are like the Liverpool of international football – they’ve been dominant in the not too distant past, so we’re not allowed to discount them … but I’ll discount them. It would be a shabby World Cup or an overwhelming unbelievably brilliant performance from them to win it.
France! When you have the players available that they have you would have thought they would have been outright favourites to win the thing. Yet the way they’ve been playing – the miserably bore draw that confirmed a lot of concerns about the mood of the French camp. Also the whole Domenech thing, remind me, what has he won in six years as coach of the side? To be fair he made it to the last World Cup final, but again a team like that should have done that and won it, without needing Zidane’s headbutt to ruin things. Really, they have been shocking and in as much as I’d love for players like Henry, Anelka, Malouda to win it. I don’t think they’ll do it. I have no faith in them.
How about the holders – what about Italy? Have you seen the age of their side? I know experience counts for much, but seriously the side makes Dad’s Army look like the youth team. I think they were not the greatest World Cup winners the last time around (I was rooting for France you see). If they ever won the thing this time, though, I would be sick. Seriously, I would be sick (I’d get over it, with paracetamol, therapy, perhaps some repression stuff going down). The type of football, the lack of creative genius, the whole thing. I just hope they’ll retire from their crown with good grace. Preferably in the group stages, but I know football won’t be that generous to me. (If you can’t qualify from a group with New Zealand, Slovakia and Paraguay, then things have to be real bad.)
So we’re left with the Netherlands, Argentina, Spain, Brazil and … errr … ermmm … oh yeah that England. Let’s get the England thing nipped in the bud from now. England can win it. They’re rightfully up there as one of the favourites to win it. They have the squad that can win it. (I’m being serious, no wind up, the squad is as strong as any other.) In Wayne Rooney they have not only a great player but someone who can light up a game and a team as other greats have done before. In Terry, Ashley Cole, Gerrard and Lampard they still have genuine world class players. I even believe they have a better coach now than they have done since Ramsey (and I’m not that enamoured by Ramsey either). So with all that in their favour there are reasons to be optimistic as an England fan. It is possible.
OK have I got the ‘Go England’ bit done? Good. Right, they won’t win it. I have no confidence in their confidence in themselves. The way the crazy English go on from one extreme to the other just baffles me. Every game is taken so seriously, the hopes and dreams are so shallow and superficial that it doesn’t take much for disappointment to set in. That’s not just a cultural mentality, that’s part of the player’s problems as well. Also and crucially just like Manchester United this season, England rely far too much on Rooney. Also like United, England don’t appear to make the most of the options they have outside Rooney. And finally like Rooney, where the problems come in is that there’s no system set up for making the best out of Rooney when he plays. He doesn’t flourish with Crouch and Defoe, he is untested at international level with Gerrard in a similar system to how Torres and Stevie G play.
It doesn’t take much for a team to stop England from playing and to be fair England can help out a lot of teams by reverting to their usual cautious and uncertain play with the lacking killer instinct. Therefore, England will do well, but that will mean disappointment at getting knocked at some point in the knock-out stages. I reckon it would work a lot better in England’s interests if they spent more time developing a realistic mentality more on allowing players to express themselves without pressure to perform from unrealistic jingoistic, nationalistic demands.
It would also help a great deal if English players overall were actually good not just technique-wise, which is crucial, but mentally. Why are Lampard and Gerrard able to do it at club level, mentality-wise, and yet on the international stage … ho hum, the old John Barnes syndrome. They are world class players, no doubt about that, maybe at this time more than any other they can live up to their own billing.
So not England then. Leaving us with Spain, Argentina, Netherlands and Brazil. I believe anyone of those four teams can win it. They are that good. Now the Netherlands might come as a bit of surprise especially because of their traditional internal squabbles and their track record of always being the bridesmaid and never the bride. There’s just something about them this time, that leads me to believe they will do a lot better this time, maybe even … winning it.
Argentina have Messi. They also have Veron in great form. In Milito, they have the striker who helped his team win the treble in Europe this season. Mascherano is a great player, really is top class and in as much as I’ll miss him if he joins Inter Milan, I acknowledge him as a truly superb midfielder not just as a holder. There are some questions about the defence, but when you have an attack like that, there’s no reason for that to be too much of a hassle.
Oh, but who is to say the Argentines can hold it together. Their success is based on the star man getting the service, which means to stop the service, you starve the star man. Now of course there’s far too much quality to just be a Messi team, and stopping him is easier said than done. Yet at the same time, a good team could really get on top of them and break their rhythm and break their rhythm, you could break their discipline and an indisciplined team will not win the World Cup. (That’s right isn’t it, Mr. Z. Zidane?)
Brazil. Usually the team I love to follow. I didn’t bother with them in 1990, who did? They were rubbish. I like the Romario and Bebeto deal in 1994, I thought they were desperately … desperate in 1998, but an attractive side. In 2002 again they were good to watch with the exception of that awful Rivaldo set up against Turkey. In 2006 maybe they ran out of ideas or whatever, but I still enjoyed their commitment at heart to the finer side of the beautiful game. The footballing magicians, the wizards of the game who wove spells in the game that made me love it more than any other. Italy were not entertaining, Germany were functional, Argentina were far too temperamental, but Brazil – ah wonderful stuff, glorious stuff.
Until now. The players are still there, the rhythm will not be broken, but now their coach Dunga has adapted a more ‘pragmatic’ approach to Brazil’s play. The star is the team, no longer the individual. That should be applauded … to an extent. Can you really trust the groundsmen to do the creative work that makes the difference in the tough spots? The foot-soldiers are good for the scraps, the discipline is great when things are not going your way, but what about the pickpocket moment of brilliance? Is that being left to Kaka? Is he meant to do that on his own? Other than that they deserve the position of being among the hot favourites.
Spain undoubtedly are outstanding favourites. Their side has broken the back of the trophy winning deal with their brilliant 2008 Euro Champs success. Some may argue that they’ve actually improved since then. A strength across the various areas of the pitch, solidity, creativity, goals from here, there and almost everywhere. It’s almost an issue of where the weakness is. Yet that old pressure thing might work against them again. They are not indestructible and I’m pretty sure that some team might catch them out. All it takes is a bad day at the office in a quarter or semi-final and all that promise might blow up in smoke. It’s all I have to grasp onto, because they have an outstanding team.
Those are my ratings anyhow, for what that’s worth. I’m going for the Dutch this time. I just fancy a bit of orange to do the surprising thing in the tournament. The favourites – Spain, Argentina and Brazil – are the ones to watch and are the source of good entertaining football as well. Yet overall my hope remains that the tournament is a chance to see some really beautiful football. Superb goals, great pieces of play, individual turns of wonder, tactical masterstrokes and a general overall view of football that leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth.
As I mentioned seeing the old men from the Old Lady win the World Cup four years ago didn’t leave me with a great taste in my mouth, but I guess that was to be expected from a World Cup based in the heart of functionality that is Germany. Here’s hoping in the land of more colour and excitement that there will be a display to match.
Not too much to ask for.