Thursday, June 12, 2014

My 2014 World Cup Thoughts


Today begins the greatest team sports tournament on earth- the World Cup.  Like the Olympics, this epic contest occurs only once every four years.  Futbol (soccer) is the global game.  Almost every country plays.  For four years teams have been working to qualify for this moment.

There are eight pools of 4 teams to begin the tournament.  Only two teams per pool advance to the knockout stage, which is your classic bracket style, single elimination tournament.

I think the strongest teams, in order, are:

1. Brazil
2. Argentina
3. Spain
4. Germany
5. Columbia

Who will win? Argentina has the weakest pool, and should advance easily, and well tuned.  They have crafted their team and style around the greatest player of this generation (maybe of all time), Lionel Messi.  If they hit on all cylinders and Messi produces, not even Brazil can defeat them.  Germany is always a threat to win, being the most consistent national team over the decades.  Brazil is powerful, talented...and young.  If the tournament was to be decided by sheer talent, Brazil would win.  Pressure to win will be intense in their homeland.  Brazil has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to have the World Cup in their country.  While soccer is adored there, paying so much money for World Cup preparation and support has angered many citizens of the relatively poor country.  Failing to win the Cup would be considered a HUGE disappointment for Brazil at any World Cup- but losing in their homeland would be unbearable.  I cannot rule out Spain, despite an aging line up.  Some of the greatest players on earth are Spanish- Villa, Xavi, Picque, Puyol, etc. Columbia is a strong team, but minus their superstar, Falcao (knee injury), it will be tough for them to knock off a team like Germany.  They are still dangerous and could contend for Cup glory.

How will the U.S. do?  This is their strongest team ever.  Klinsman's choice to leave Donovan off the roster was a mistake, in my opinion. It was a gutsy move by the German manager and we'll see if it pays off.  For this World Cup to be a success for America, the team must advance to the knock out round of 16.  I can't see this happening.  They are in a brutal pool.  Germany-Ghana-Portugal!!!  They play Ghana first, and MUST win.  Then, they need at least a tie with Portugal, which is no small task with Cristiano Ronaldo and several other talented players on their roster.  If they get a win and a tie in the first two games AND Germany comes in to the third game (against U.S.) with two wins, maybe the Germans will put out their "B" team having already secured a place in the round of 16.  If that happens, we have a chance.  On personal and local note- I really want to see KC native, Matt Besler do well in this Cup.  Likewise, Sporting KC player, Graham Zusi is playing a key role and carrying the pride of our city on his shoulders.

Who is the player to watch? I know most would say Messi or Ronaldo.  High scoring, attacking players get all the focus and lots of the glory.  There would be no goals scored, however, if it wasn't for the midfield.  In particular, those central players who stays in back of the charge and guide the mids and forwards in the attack.  We're talking the Iniesta-type players.  The box to box midfielders who are the engines of the team.  NOTHING happens without these kinds of players. My favorite of all time, in this role, is Andrea Pirlo (pictured above).  I just don't think there have been too many better- and certainly for not as long.  He's been dominating the "regista" position for fifteen years.  This is his last World Cup-his fourth overall.  He was a key reason Italia won the Cup in 2006.  Pirlo has received high praise over the years, but something Boniek said not too long ago sums him up- "To pass the ball to Andrea Pirlo is like to hide it in a safe."

Concentration will be difficult for the next month because the World Cup has begun.  May the best team win, and may every player compete in each game like it's the last one of their life.


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