Thursday, 12 June 2014

11 STARTERS - WORLD CUP DAY 1

11 STARTERS ABOUT THE WORLD CUP

It’s World Cup Opening Day! Four years of listlessness purged with one tiny kick, and our lives have purpose again.

To celebrate, here are eleven things. Some are facts, and will already be known by the initiated among you; some are predictions, and are thus doomed.
  • THE WORLD CUP IS NOT GREAT BECAUSE OF THE SOCCER

    The best soccer in the world is played year-in and year-out in the UEFA Champions League. Mostly as a result of being the highest-paying event, this is a contest between all-star teams, each of which trains arduously year-round, honing their understanding of their tactics and their teammates as they pursue greatness.

    The World Cup? Not so much.

    These are national teams, whose methods of roster-building are constricted by passports. Groups of men who get together every few months, for maybe a week and a half, and try their best to build something cohesive in the time they are allotted. Then, every four years, 32 of those teams get to duke it out for a longer stretch.

    So the World Cup simply cannot be as high-quality a soccer product as the Champions League. Rest assured though, it is unequivocally a greater event.

    Why? One can argue a few reasons, but for me, the most important factor is simply the amount of people who care, and the extra drama that comes therefrom. How many events are there that draw the simultaneous focus of half of our splintered world? Not even the Olympics, with it’s broader, less concetrated spectrum of events, can come close. The world comes together for the World Cup and the World Cup only. With each passing four years, this fact becomes more and more incredible.
  • FOR A BETTER TOURNAMENT, ROOT FOR BRAZIL

    It’s always more fun when the home team is doing well. The longer Brazil can stay in, the better for us all. Also, the less likely it becomes that Brazil will then go up in flames, which would be a drag.
  • RULE #1: DO NOT LOSE YOUR FIRST GAME

    It is an important rule of thumb in football tournaments- no matter who you are, no matter who you’re playing: do NOT lose your first match.

    This is true even if you are a big team facing a small one; lots of crazy things can happen in these tournaments, and getting behind the eight-ball after one match is usually death.

    Grant Wahl of SI.com ran the stats, going back to the 1998 World Cup, when the tournament was played in it’s current format for the first time:

    Of the 46 teams that lost their first game, only four have advanced. Of the 46 teams that won, only 6 have failed to go the next round. Teams that drew, appropriately, still had about a 50/50 shot.

    We have been hearing since the draw that the US’ opener against Ghana was a “must-win” due to the difficulty of their group. But in real terms, that’s just not so. The most important thing, in a team’s first match, remains to not lose.
  • BRAZIL BEATING CROATIA IS NOT A CERTAINTY AT ALL

    Heavy favorites fail to win the tournament’s opening match ALL. THE. TIME. Most recently, reigning champions France took a 1-0 from Senegal on the chin in 2002, and soon enough they were out of the tournament. The pressure on Brazil will be immense, and Croatia is a very, very tough side.
  • SPAIN WILL FAIL TO GET OUT OF THE GROUP STAGE

    Gonna go out on a limb here- I think Spain’s run of dominance will come to an end, or at least one hell of a long stop. For two reasons:

    For one thing, I think Spain will lose to Holland in the opening match. There was very little to separate these two teams four years ago, when Spain took the title in extra time of an incredibly dramatic final. Each has made one key addition to tip the scales further.

    For Spain, that addition is striker Diego Costa. You may have noticed Costa kicking ass for Atletico Madrid this last season. He is a true powerhouse of a player, and one that any team would love to have. One of those teams is Brazil, because Costa, despite turning out for Spain, is a Brazilian. He has taken up Spanish nationality as a bit of a fuck-you to Brazilian football, who took far too long to recognize his talents with a call-up. Costa’s revenge, I feel, will come at a cost. No matter how much of a hard-ass he is, it’s quite a thing to be booed mercilessly by your own countrymen.

    Meanwhile, Holland has added the legendary coach Louis van Gaal, a strong improvement over Bert van Maarwijk. I’m thinking the addition of LvG outweighs the extra sumpin’-sumpin’ Costa provides, and Holland takes that match.

    Meanwhile, Chile will be beating the tar out of hapless Australia in the group’s other opener, and the Socceroos bring the charity of their opposition to the Dutch in the second round of matches. By the time the Spaniards get their turn to beat up on our Antipodean friends, it will be too late; Chile and Holland will be going through.

    (Then again, I lived in Holland for seven years and am an unapologetic Holland fan, so take what I say with a million grains of salt.)
     
  • ALL OF THE SOUTH AMERICAN TEAMS WILL ADVANCE (BUT ONE)

    While we’re on predictions… I think all of the South American teams will take advantage of their home comforts and advance to the second round; except for Ecuador, who just won’t have the horses, I fear. 
  • THE USA IS FUCKED

    Before the tournament began, it was clear which slot in the draw was the worst slot to land; in terms of travel and weather, Group G, Slot 4 was the worst thing that could happen to a team, and that was even before the rest of the teams in the group were known.

    Sure enough, G4 befell the US, who will travel more than any other team in the tournament, in three different climates, to play three of the toughest teams they could possibly have drawn. For those who haven’t even gotten that part yet, the US will face:

    GHANA - The African powerhouse that knocked the US out of the last two World Cups

    PORTUGAL - A European mainstay that may enjoy a kind of de facto home field advantage in Brazil, and happens to feature the reigning World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo

    GERMANY - Three-time winner, coming off two straight semi-final berths, #2 ranked team in the world, not here to party

    There is simply no reason to expect that the US can get out of this group.
  • THE USA CAN DO IT THOUGH, AND HERE IS WHY

    When the US team gets together to play World Cup qualifiers, they often take plane journeys comparable to the ones they will “endure” in Brazil, and also are often asked to play in drastically changing climates from match to match. While it’s certainly unfortunate to have pulled the worst slot possible, there may be no team more capable of rolling with those particular punches then the Yanks.

    As for the quality of their opposition, crazier things have happened before. It will take excellent performances and a lot of luck. But no matter what you hear, it is far from impossible. (I am picking them to advance.)
  • WHEN IN DOUBT, WATCH ENGLAND

    If you’re never sure what match to watch on a given day, can only choose one, and see that England are playing, watch them. It's been a long time since they were appointment viewing, but I think those days are back. They’re not the strongest team, though they are young and fun. The reason to watch them is that in seemingly every World Cup, England can never fail to create drama where there need be none; be it through an amazing goal, deplorable officiating, or historically shoddy defending, we only know that with England, it reliably ends in tears.

  • BRAZIL WILL NOT WIN THE WORLD CUP

    This is not a controversial position I’m about to take. I am among quite a few who believe that Brazil will make the final, then surrender to the ghastly pressure a demanding nation will put upon them, as they infamously (but not necessarily relevantly) did in 1950 when they were upset by Uruguay. This time, I see the honors going to Argentina.
  • ESPN, I SALUTE YOU

    This will be ESPN’s last World Cup for a while, as they will be turning things over to Fox for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 (location TBA). They have done an immense job of highlighting this tournament, and helping America more fully participate in this unique global event. The World Cup is now part of American culture, and ESPN is a massive reason why.
AND NOW THE DAY IS COME. Have a great month, everyone. May your team win. Unless your team is Portugal. Portugal is the worst.

- Brendan Hunt

EDIT - first version of this blog had a section mistitled, reading "Spain will fail to reach the group stage," which is clearly incorrect. Only the title of the section has been fixed, all other text remains as first posted.

1 comment:

  1. This blog is awesome and I am so glad you are picking it back up for this WC.

    ReplyDelete