Thursday, July 1, 2010
I may have gotten all excited about these two days off but let's be honest, it's been terrible. I need World Cup and I need it now. Luckily, what lies ahead over the next 2 days is sure to be some of the most mouthwatering football you've witnessed yet. South America will take it's pride to the test against Europe (and Ghana). It's an incredible story our neighbors in the southern hemisphere - they brought 5 teams to this tournament. With a combined record of 14 wins, 4 draws, and 1 loss up to this point, a whopping 4 of those teams still remain. As for Europe, 3 of 13 are left.
For me it's a love-hate relationship with these continents. I hate South America for the barra bravas, corruption, and violence. I hate Europe because of it's sense of entitlement.
Yet, Europe provides me with the greatest superstars on the planet, the best domestic leagues, proud football history, and a trashy media that is second to none. As for South America, I love its unmatched passion. Nowhere else on this planet will you find a continent so stark-raving-mad about football. Unstable governments and widespread poverty cater to people's love of this sport. It is their only outlet from the harsh realities of life.
So whether you are an idealist, or simply a fan of the game, sit back and enjoy this incredible clash of styles over the next few days. Here's how it will pan out.
URUGUAY VS GHANA
While everyone jumped on the Chile bandwagon, I stayed with Uruguay. I've always been a fan of this team (not least because of their powder blue jerseys) primarily because of Diego Forlan. Watching him play every season in La Liga - scoring with his right foot, left foot, or his head - there is nothing more appealing than a ruthless finisher. One thing we learned about Uruguay this tournament is that they can defend, probably better than any other team. If they don't want you to score, then it's safe to say that you won't. Only 1 goal has gotten past them so far (which is tied with Paraguay...see the trend?). And when they want to score, start praying. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez have been the premiere strikers, with Forlan sitting a bit deeper behind them. It's is suicide to give one guy too much attention, because the others will make you pay.
As for Ghana, they are playing for the pride of Africa. There will be no neutrals at this game - you are either a Uruguay supporter, a Ghana supporter, or a South African throwing your support to Ghana. After all that, I just don't think this team is that good. When the U.S. decided to play against them, it was incredibly one-sided. The man who set up the winning goal, Andre Ayew, is out due to yellow cards so playing from the back will be tough. Jonathan Mensah, their stiff nosed central defender, is also out. Not to mention their lone striker Asamoah Gyan is fighting to be fit. Frankly, I never thought this team was that good other than being extremely organized and creative.
Uruguay is too strong. Those frailties at the back for Ghana will be exposed by Suarez and Forlan. Don't see this one being too close. 3-1 Uruguay.
PARAGUAY VS SPAIN
Spain are finally starting to hit their stride. Starting to hit their stride. Against Portugal we saw their best performance of the tournament but definitely not the best by their own high standards. 1-0 was more than enough as Portugal failed to threaten, but all too often we saw possession given away in the midfield way too easily. That said, everyone on this team is getting better each game, except Casillas of course. Two years ago he was the world's best keeper. It is a bit baffling how he has fallen from grace. The real question will be whether Del Bosque sticks with Torres. I think he should. Among other things, the 4-2-3-1 formation DOES NOT WORK. A lone striker with a cluttered midfield has always left Spain lacking space to operate. I think Torres deserves a chance to play again - at least for an hour. He's due to score at some point and this is a game that suits him very well. If you replace him, any confidence he thought he had will be lost.
As for Paraguay, they're coming off arguably the most boring game of the entire World Cup. As I said earlier, defensively they are rocks at the back having only conceded once. Yet they couldn't get one past New Zealand or Japan. They won their group having scored only 3 times! It doesn't bode well for this South American squad.
I will expect Paraguay to play the same way Switzerland did against Spain - defend, defend, defend. Only difference is, this is the quarterfinals and the European champs have business to take care of. There is nothing to suggest Paraguay is a threat to score, but Villa will surely draw double if not triple teams throughout. Here is where I think Torres will have plenty of opportunities to shine. He's been a dud out there but should find space with everyone else drawing attention. A complete 2-0 Spain win with 76% possession (quote me).
GERMANY VS ARGENTINA
I am licking my lips. This is surely going to be a classic. At its lows, Germany fumbled against both Serbia and Ghana - in fact, they looked really awful. At their best though, this team has provided some of the most fluid, creative, attacking football we've seen this tournament - the kind of stuff you'd reserve for Holland or Brazil. Obviously Mezut Ozil is the kid to watch out for...unfortunately the biggest star of this World Cup has a target on his back and marking him will be Javier Mascherano. Klose and Podolski up front should have the advantage against an Argentina central defense that is not it's greatest strength.
On the flip side, it will be up to Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger to try and win the battle of the midfield. Unfortunately, you can't stop Messi. Argentina, like the Germans, have played equally attractive football so far, scoring 10 compared to Germany's 9. Higuain has been ruthless in front of goal, Tevez does his thing, and Di Maria is still trying to impress.
This one is really tough to call. Legit tough. Both teams are incredibly suspect at the back. Lahm vs Di Maria. Heinze vs Mueller. Demichelis and Samuel vs Klose and Podolski. Mertesacker and Friedrich vs Higuain, Messi and Tevez. Mascherano vs Ozil. Those are your individual match-ups to watch. There will be nothing cagey about this game and a goal-fest could be on tap. This is so tough to call and not throwing my support behind Messi is hearbreaking. But it's impossible to pick against German efficiency. 3-2 to Germany.
BRAZIL VS NETHERLANDS
This is usually the stage of the tournament where the Dutch implode. As of the other day when Van Persie was taken off, they seem to be on track for that again. While they are always the team I look forward to watching most in any tournament, they have fallen short of expectations. Appearing surprisingly dull and lacking the quick, fluid, movement of the ball we have always come to enjoy, the Netherlands have picked the wrong time to try and create something magical. Kuyt is average for me and won't do much up front. Van Persie and Robben are the key to getting in behind the Brazilian defence. Wesley Sneijder and Van Bommel in the middle will have to find away through whomever is placed in their way - Gilberto or Felipe Melo or Baptista.
Brazil on the other hand have hit their stride, and that does not bode well for anyone. As erratic as Luis Fabiano is up front, the guy knows how to score. Kaka FINALLY had a good game against Chile but he'll need to be careful with his yellow cards. At the back, I don't think we've ever seen a more dominant defensive unit in a long time. My only problem with this team is Julio Cesar in goal with his stupid XXL baggy shorts and jersey. He looks like he belongs on the Globetrotters.
It hasn't always been pretty from Brazil, but joga bonito still courses through their veins. Expect Robinho and Kaka to put on a show against a defense that isn't the best. It will be hard for the Dutch to push forward as Maicon and Bastos push up from their defensive positions to serve as extra attackers. However there-in lies the key. Quick counters and incisive passing from Sneijder to exploit those open spaces are the only way the Netherlands can get an attacking advantage. Playing a possession game will be imminent defeat.
At the end of the day Brazil are simply too much in every aspect. 3-1 Brazil.
That leaves 2 South American and 2 European teams in the semis.
Posted by footyforthesoul [at] gmail [dot] com at 11:33 AM