The first time I was able to watch any of the World Cup was back in 1982. I don't remember if is was because the games were on in Canada, or I watched some of them on a spanish language station, but I have been hooked ever since. Being one of only a few American soccer fans over 50, I feel obligated to write a bit about this year's cup, which starts on Friday.
Teams and Players Worth Watching
The best player in the world is Argentina's Lionel Messi, and amazing little guy who seems to be able to change directions instantly at full speed without ever losing control of the ball. He is worth getting up at 5:30 AM to watch, except that Argentina is coached by their last World Cup hero, Diego Maradona. Maradona, famous for the "Hand of God" goal against Germany in 86, was a brilliant player, but is certifiably insane, and not at all professional as coach. Thus, you can expect him to be unable, despite an enormously talented team, to figure out how to find his star player a way to get the ball, as every opponent will be focused on Messi. With a professional coach, I would be tempted to pick Argentina to win.
Like Argentina, Portugal will be worth watching if only for the amazing Cristiano Renaldo. Spain, the European Champion, plays a beautiful game, and has quite a few players who can create magic, and is picked by many to win it all. But the Euro champ seldom wins, and some of their stars are pretty banged up. AND, they lost to the US last year, which means I can't pick them.
Other fun teams to watch are The Netherlands, who have some great talent and love to attack, and the African teams, who all have some talent but lack the disciplined defense to win. But they sure are fun to watch.
North Korea might also be fun to watch. Because they are so withdrawn from the world, nobody knows much, or expects much, from them. But, these guys might be the only North Koreans without bad pompadour haircuts who you'll even see.
4 years ago the US was in the "Group of Death", with Italy, the Czech Republic and Ghana, and got their asses kicked. This year, our boys are in an easier group. The are unlikely to beat England in their opener, but you can't count them out. The pressure on the English side, who may expect to win (not me!) is immense. But if we can't beat Slovenia and Algeria everyone comes home in disgrace. So expect the Yanks to make it through to the second round.
Two things will decide the fate of the US: 1) Can our suspect defense hold up at this level and 2) can the inexperienced set of strikers we are sending finish their chances. Good results in those 2 areas could carry the Americans a long way. But if the D breaks down, or the forwards don't finish the chances they'll get being set up by Landon Donovan, then it ain't gonna be pretty, and the folks at Disney are going to cry.
I am going out on a limb here and picking......BRAZIL! First, cups played outside Europe have always been won by a South American team. People are sick of seeing Brazil, Italy and Germany always in the late rounds, but you can probably expect them to be there again (although I would love to see Italy, and their negative style, go home early). But Brazil has the most talent, and they have adopted the type of defense that will make them very hard to beat. So, sorry folks, but until someone proves they are better, I gotta go with the Samba Boys.
Whatever the outcome, this is THE big sporting event in the world, and I will be getting up early to watch every game, or recording those I can't watch. There will be upsets, surprises, drama, comedy, and a few bad calls by the refs that folks outside the US will talk about for generations. Don't miss a minute!