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“Squeaky Bum Time” in Group E

Group E

Netherlands

Denmark

Japan

Cameroon

Group E could be a tight contest, as the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon are all options for advancing.  Japan don’t have as much firepower as needed to advance, despite the fact that the Blue Samurai’s manager, Takeshi Okada is aiming for the Semifinals.  A bold claim, seeing as how the other teams Japan is grouped with have some world class talent.

Cameroon –

The big news out of the Cameroon Camp right now is Samuel Eto’o and his displeasure at the comments made by Roger Milla.

The Arsenal youngster will be out to impress in South Africa.

Should Eto’o decide to not participate in the World Cup, Cameroon still have a capable squad and have a chance of advancing.  That said, there is no way Eto’o won’t participate.  The World Cup is the biggest stage in football, it only comes along every 4 years and Sammy is 29.  He’ll be 33 next time around…this is his time.  He just needs to stop being a baby and suck it up.  Eto’o will play and he will have a good team lining up behind him.  Jean Makoun of Lyon and the fleet-footed Alex Song of Arsenal marshall the central of midfield with Stephane Mbia floating on the left wing as well.  Tottenham’s Assou-Ekotto and Bassong, and former Real Madrid, Chelsea and Newcastle defender Geremi and Rigobert Song will compose the back line.  Cameroon has the pace, technical skill and physical presence to boss around lesser teams.

Japan –

It’s always hard when a team has unrealistic expectations placed on their shoulders.  Unfortunately, that is exactly the case that the Blue Samurai are under with their Coach shooting for a Semifinal berth.  However, the team shows a serious lack of firepower and will struggle with the physical nature of the Danes and Cameroonians.  There is hope, though, in the form of talisman Shunsuke Nakamura, the freekick wizard and veteran midfielder.  Also, Yasuhito Endo was the Asian Player of the Year for 2009 and has had a fantastic year in the J-League.  He will partner Nakamura in midfield and could provide some brilliance going forward.  The one to watch is Keisuke Honda.  Honda is a tricky out-and-out winger who will terrorize right backs in Group E.  The Samurai will end up building their team around the 23 year old, and he will definitely be an interesting one to watch in South Africa.

Denmark –

The Danes are wild card for the World Cup.  They have several great players, but still have some glaring worries approaching June 11.  The spine of the team consists Stoke City keeper Thomas Sorensen, Simon Kjaer & Daniel Agger, Captain Jon Dahl Tomasson and Nikolas Bendtner.  To say the least, they are fully capable of attacking opponents as Coach Morten Olsen is so fond of.  Denmark is the only team in Group E who could be exposed by the quickness of Japan and the techincal ability of the Netherlands and Cameroon.  Problems for the Danes include their wingers, who are young and largely untested and Christian Poulsen.  Poulsen habitually finds himself in trouble by stepping on, punching and verbally taunting opponents.  If he plays against Cameroon, program the DVR, because, odds are, he’s going to do something rash against their physical midfielders.

The Netherlands –

What do you do with the Oranje?  Packed with talent, and oozing with potential, the Netherlands are always contenders for the

Back from injury, Van Persie will line up against Arsenal teammate Alex Song.

title…until they play in the later stages.  The Oranje are renowned for choking when they need to pull out a win.  In Euro 2008, the Dutch cruised through their first three games and then fell badly to the Russians in a 3-1 loss.  A demolition of their group should be guaranteed for them in Group E, but when it comes to the later stages, who knows?  Where to begin with their talent?  They have several world class players in Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and youngsters Eljero Elia and Ryan Babel.  The Dutch also have veterans in Dirk Kuyt, Rafael Van Der Vaart, and Mark Van Bommel who they will look to for experience and to steady the ship.  All things considered they should run their group and end up playing Slovakia or Paraguay in the next round which is a nice thing to think about if you’re a Dutch fan.  However, keep in mind their ability to blow it.  It could happen.

Prediction –

1. Netherlands

2. Cameroon

3. Denmark

4. Japan



United States v. Turkey

The United States Men’s National Team got a big time send off in Philadelphia as 50,000+ fans cheered the Yanks on to a great victory over a Turkish side not devoid of talent.  Guus Hiddink, Turkish manager to-be, watched as the Turks gave up a lead to lose 2-1 at Lincoln Field.

The United States lined up in a somewhat interesting fashion with Benny Feilhaber on the left wing, Landon Donovan on the right, and Clint Dempsey playing the floating striker role behind Jozy Altidore.  Within seconds, Dempsey combined with Donovan to play a cross into the Turkish area, but it was some of the only attacking for the States all half, as the Turks pressed hard against the US back line that many were asking questions about.  Captain Carlos Bocanegra filled in at left back, Johnathon Spector at right back, while Jay DeMerit and Clarence Goodson were paired in the center.

With the States pushing forward in numbers, the Turks were happy to counter attack with blistering pace through Arda Turan and

The tricky winger proved a handful for the United States back line.

the veteran Tuncay Sanli.  Sanli cut open the US back line on more than one occasion, and it looked to be a long afternoon for the Yanks, especially after Arda Turan broke down the left and slotted past Tim Howard to give his side the lead.

Jozy Altidore provided the lone high point of the first half, as he craftily slipped through three defenders and laid the ball across the face of goal only to have Dempsey fail to connect with it.

The second half brought significant changes as Bob Bradley used 4/6 of his changes allowed. Feilhaber (who was mediocre in the first half) was replaced by the relative unknown at the international level Robbie Findley, Onyewu came on for Goodson, Cherundolo for Spector, and importantly Jose Torres replaced Ricardo Clark.

“Night and day,” was how Bradley described the two halves.  Anybody who watched would be compelled to agree.  Robbie Findley’s work rate was immediately evident as he chased down every ball and made it clear he wants to make his mark in South Africa.  Torres became a key player in the United States game as he pulled the strings on several occasions in attack.

Within a few minutes of the first half, Michael Bradley had a near open goal but his shot was blocked but a towering Servet Cetin.  From then on, the Yanks pressed hard into the final third.  WIth that pressure, the Turks were happy to counterattack and nearly capitalized on more than one occasion.  However, In the 59th minute, Robbie Findley played a lovely chip over the back line to Landon Donovan who danced around the Turkish keeper to set up Jozy Altidore for a tap in and a great goal.

After the goal, the fans at Lincoln Field began to find their voice and encourage their men on forward.  Dempsey came close, hitting the outside of the post after a fantastic run and cutback from Michael Bradley.  Torres hit the same post with a whipped in freekick minutes later.

If you're a United States Soccer fan and don't like Clint Dempsey...that's just absurd.

Finally, in the 75th minute, Steve Cherundolo threw in to Donovan who picked out Dempsey on the left side of the Turkish 18 yard box.  The ball bounced off Dempsey’s hip and into this path, where he kept his composure and slotted under the onrushing Demirel.

After the second goal, the Americans played with a sense of ease that the Turks simply could not cope with in the second half.  What was the difference?

One can’t help but feel that the problem with using Ricardo Clark with Michael Bradley in the center of midfield, is that Clark is the same type of player as Bradley…but worse.  They both are players who can break down an attack and start one of their own.  What helped was replacing him with a playmaker like Torres, who was able to move the ball around much more and was more mobile than Clark.  Torres and Edu should be contending for a starting spot alongside Bradley.

Robbie Findley was a refreshing sight for American fans as his work rate and pace somewhat resembles fallen star Charlie Davies.  Findley’s pace got the better of him a few times and he probably should have gotten a cross in, but instead he ran the ball out to the goal line for a Turkish goal kick.  He’s still young though, and will find that awareness in time.

If you had asked before the game, who would you rather see at left back: Jonathon Spector or Steve Cherundolo, most would probably opt for Spector.  The young right back plays Premier League soccer for West Ham and would seem a more competent pick.  However, Cherundolo quickly proved adept as he stifled winger Arda Turan, who had previously given Spector a serious problem.

Some glaring issues would be Bornstein, Clark and Spector.  Bornstein literally looked like a high schooler and got turned over more times than you could count on one hand.  In no way, shape or form does anybody feel comfortable with him on the pitch.  Clark isn’t a bad player, Bradley is just much better and it is superfluous to have them both on the field.  Spector may just need time to adjust, however, like Bornstein, he struggled significantly with Turan and only triumphed when aided by DeMerit or another player tracking back.

All-in-All, it’s great that the Yanks are carrying a win (albeit a meaningless one) to South Africa.

Projected Line-up for Australia

———————–Howard———————–

Cherundolo—–Onyewu—Demerit—-Bocanegra

Dempsey——Bradley—-Edu/Clark—Donovan

—————-Buddle——-Altidore—————-



No Ballack. No Essien. Group D is an Open Book

Group D –

Germany

Ghana

Serbia

Australia

Group D will be one of the most entertaining groups, as each team is fully capable of advancing out of the group to the knockout round.  Powerhouse Germany will be favored to take the top spot, however a devastating injury to their talisman, Michael Ballack, could shake things up.  There are some fantastic players scattered throughout the group, several world class at that, and it will be a treat to see it unfold.

Australia – The Socceroo’s are bringing in one of their most talented squads in some time.  After narrowly missing out on a

The Everton midfielder will go for the knockout blow in South Africa.

chance to advance to the Quarterfinals in Germany, the Aussies will be hell bent on avenging their unjust ousting four years ago to a certain diving Italian.  Lead by the industrious midfield maestro Tim Cahill and anchored down by a defensive trio of Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton and keeper Mark Shwarzer, Australia has every chance of advancing.  If they play a resolute defensive game, look to abuse their physicality  and ability to score off of set pieces, we could see a very open group.  Harry Kewell is a very talented who has been bogged down by injuries, but is now fully fit and itching to rebound on the international stage.  Be wary, though, Kewell hasn’t performed well on the big stage for a good deal of time.

Serbia – The Serbs are a loaded gun.  They have talent in about every area of the pitch, but not just in the players you hear about every day.  Yes, they have one of the best defenders in the world in Nemanja Vidic, also Branislav Ivanovic and seasoned veteran Dejan Stankovic to lead the team forward.  However, sleepers like Milan Jovanovic, Neven Subotic, and Milos Krasic could well be the standout performers for the Serbians.  Their biggest problem is their striking department.  The giant Nicola Zigic (6’8”) will no doubt be the target on their set pieces, which they perform quite well.  Whether Zigic performs or not, Serbia has dynamic wingers in Zoran Tosic, Krasic and Jovanovich that will wreak havoc on defenses in Group D.  They’ll also be desperate to make up for past performances on the international level.  But their attacking play could be a refreshing sight in South Africa.

Ghana – As I write, Michael Essien has just been ruled out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with injury.  A horribly devastating blow to a side who were hoping to build on their 2006 World Cup success.  That said, the Black Stars still pack a punch with a strong midfield (with or without Essien), a moderately firm back line, and good options going forward.  Sulley Muntari is now the biggest name on the team sheet, as the Internazionale midfielder will look to bring the team together in the absence of their fallen star.  Asamoah Gyan, the Rennes hitman, will be looked to for goals as will Muntari, who netted two goals in their qualifying run.  Adding more experience to their back line is John Paintsil, who is coming off a highly successful Europa League run with Fulham and will be on a high.  Verdict for the Black Stars?  Down, but definitely not out.

Germany – Die Mannschaft (“The Team”) will be looking to fill the hole left by Michael Ballack, much like Ghana but with

Shweinsteiger will look to emulate his form from 2006.

better options.  Whatever tournament they enter, Germany will always be a contender.  Their squad depth, abundance of skill and experience will make them a card carrying member in South Africa this summer.  Despite some flimsy draws against Finland and a few wins grinded out at home, the Germans were still undefeated in their qualifying campaign.  Miroslav check in with seven goals, the most on the team (Podolski – 6, Ballack – 4, Shweinsteiger – 3).  Germany will pound lesser opponents and their stingy defense will provide any attacking threat with something to think about, but up against formidable opposition could send Germany reeling.  Their physicality at the back and technical ability up front is the blueprint for a perfect team.  Players like Bastien Shweinsteiger will provide Die Mannschaft with the creativity and killer pass/cross in South Africa and is the type of player who will thrive there and become a standout performer.  Another player that should be on your radar is Mesut Ozil, a dynamic attacking midfield of Turkish descent who plies his trade at Werder Bremen.  Ozil is the cutting edge players who knows how to split open defenses with his clever passes and foot skills.  Expect the Germans to topple lesser sides, but they could look suspect in the latter stages of the tournament as their bench is quite barren.

Prediction –

1.  Germany

2. Australia

3. Ghana

4. Serbia



Maradon’t
May 27, 2010, 12:33 AM
Filed under: International | Tags: ,

“If we win the Cup then I will run naked to the Obelisk in Buenos Aires.”

– Diego Maradona

….please don’t.  I think I speak for all of us when I say, that the statement alone will project the appropriate amount of excitement you would feel.

Only 50% naked, and I'm 100% sure I don't want to see any more.

And if that doesn’t get your blood going, maybe this will.  Maradona’s omission of World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi, in their friendly against Canada was explained to the player by saying,

“If something had happened to you in that match, I’d have been shot – you know where.”

Not sure how necessary the last little bit is.  If he had just said, “I’d be shot,” you think that would get the point across.

Thankfully, Argentina aren’t exactly odds on favorites to take home the Cup in South Africa.  Barring some upsets, Diego should stay fully clothed.



American Revolution Revisted – Group C

Group C –

England

United States

Algeria

Slovenia

In Group C, many pundits will be speculating that it should the final standings for the group will look just as they were drawn.  However, injuries, histories, and inspirational performances could see some shock upsets and turn this group on its head.  It is by no means a sure thing, however, this group could be quietly surprising.

Slovenia – The Slovenians qualification campaign should be considered a success in and of itself, however, as they find

Robert Koren will give the Slovenian faithful hope...if there is any to be had.

themselves underdogs in a more experienced group, they will need to rely on the talents of Robert Koren, Miso Brecko and Milivoje Novakovic to carry them through.  Slovenia turned the tables on what was looking bound to be a lackluster qualifying campaign when they beat Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland to take second place which qualified them for the two leg play off against Russia.  A playoff that they surprisingly won and Slovenia became a topic of discussion for football fans everywhere.  One of the biggest bonuses for the Slovenians is their spirit under Matjaz Kek.  The manager has instilled a fighting spirit in his side second to none and could be essential to their success (if any).

Algeria – Similar to Slovenia, Algeria were never given much of a chance to make it to South Africa, yet, they could still have a word in Group C.  After playing in one of the more passionate games football has seen in some time, Algeria ousted Egypt to make it to the World Cup Finals.  Yazid Mansouri, Nadir Belhadj and Madjid Bougherra will be looking to add experience and skill to the starting line up.  If they have more passionate displays like the one against Egypt in them, then they may have a chance at escaping Group C.  Rafik Saïfi has been their go-to in the past, however his age will probably be a factor as they turn their attention towards Siena hitman Abdelkader Ghezzal to bag a couple goals as well.  However, against the stout defense of England that could be a tall order.  That said, the injury hit defense of the United States could prove prime real estate for a striker looking to sneak in and nick a few goals.

United States – The Yanks won’t feel aggrieved with their draw as second place should be fully within their grasp.  Injuries will

The Haitian-American hitman will relish the chance to show off his skills.

hinder their chances as Charlie Davies didn’t even make the squad, and key defensive figures Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay Demerit are all question marks over fitness.  The United States will bank on veterans Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (only 20 years old) and Tim Howard.  All have European experience and plenty of international experience between them.  England will obviously be the biggest challenge for the Yanks, but, possibly to their benefit, they will play England first and get them out of the way.  Their front line is now barren after the omission of Charlie Davies and will rest heavily on the shoulders of Jozy Altidore.  Altidore has notched some impressive goals against the likes of opponents such as Spain and has demonstrated his scoring ability in qualifying.  Scoring veteran Dempsey may be moved up alongside Altidore with Holden playing out right, but the question remains…who will replace Dempsey and Altidore when they get tired?

England – The Three Lions will finally have a chance at making a legitimate run in South Africa.  They are loaded in all areas of the pitch and could see themselves in the semifinals or (hold your breath) the final.  Their biggest problem in South Africa should be the striking department.  That is, who partners Wayne Rooney?  They have plenty of able candidates but which will actually perform at the Cup?  With players like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner and Jermain Defoe, it’s hard to imagine them not making a good run out of their squad.  Capello has instilled a winning attitude absent the England camp for years after bad stints in management.  All things considered, they should advance out of their group, but their biggest competition in the group should be the Yanks.  Unfortunately for England, that game comes first and there is a small possibility of an upset as the Lions won’t have much of an idea of how much firepower Bob Bradley’s men are packing.  That said, England will be advancing, one way or another.

Prediction – Just like they were drawn…

1. England

2. United States

3. Algeria

4. Slovenia



Beauty & the Beast in Group B

Group B –

Argentina

Nigeria

Korea Republic

Greece

Group B looks, off the cuff, a tame group.  Who would say otherwise?  Argentina should have a fairly easy task with all three teams, but, I suppose, the second spot is up for grabs.  The stingy Greeks will be defensively stout, as they always are.  Korea won’t have the home field advantage they had in 2002, but will still have a few tricks up their sleeve.  And Nigeria will probably be tipped to take the second spot, but funny things happen at the World Cup and this one should be no exception.

Greece – Probably the most boring team to watch it football.  How they won Euro 2004 is remarkable, but their defensiveKyrgiakos will test the resolve of attacking play resolve and their grinding out of wins got them the trophy.  The Greeks will look towards Theofanis Gekas for goals, Liverpool’s Sotirios Kyrgiakos for defensive leadership and Giorgos Karagounis for everything in the middle of the park as the Captain is also the most capped at 32 years old.  It’s hard to doubt Greece’s ability after their historic upset of the Euro 2004 tournament.  Still though, it’s hard to look past the attacking threats of Argentina and Nigeria.  They will probably watch footage from that 2o04 for inspiration and ideas…seriously.

Korea Republic

Like Greece, the Tigers will be looking to draw on experience and their 2002 World Cup run as the driving force behind this campaign.  Their oldest player and most capped at a whopping 129 games is goalkeeper Woon-Jae Lee and their most experienced at an elite level is without question Manchester United midfielder and captain Ji-Sung Park.  Park will float in right behind Dong-Gook Lee in attack with Chung-Yong Lee looking to press forward on the left as well.  They will have to rely heavily on their work rate to get them through as they are quick but not as quick as Nigeria and not as technically gifted as Argentina.  If they progress it will be because of their hard work and a little luck.

Nigeria – Do not underestimate the Super Eagles in Group B, as they have terrific pace and a lot of experience in the squad.

Obafemi Martins will lead the line against Group B

Three members (Joseph Yobo, Yakubu, Victor Anichebe) of it ply their trade at Goodison Park of Everton in England.  Portsmouth (Kanu, John Utaka), Fulham (Dickson Etuhu), Bolton Wanderers (Danny Shittu) and notably Chelsea (John Obi Mikel) boast Nigerian players.  Obafemi Martins is another player I’m expecting to make things happen in South Africa.  Martins once played for Newcastle and now plays for Wolfsburg in Germany.  His pace paired with the pace of Victor Obinna will give the physical Greeks something think twice about as well as the rest of Group B.  The captain, Kanu, stands the most capped, and his creative play will allow Martins to perform well, however his age has looked more noticeable as of late.  In qualifying they conceded only one goal in six matches and had a perfect run.  With John Obi Mikel steadying the ship in the middle of the park, breaking down attacks, and starting moves forward, the Nigerians are well equipped in all areas.

Argentina – How do you solve a problem like Argentina?  Maradona’s rag-tag group of players look unbeatable on paper, but have failed to impress as Maradona has come under intense scrutiny back in Argentina.  Obvious stand outs for the team are Lionel Messi, who has more individual honors than you can count on both hands, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano and up and comer Angel Di Maria.  Their attack is probably the best in the world with Higuain, Aguero, Tevez, Messi and Milito all big time names.  Their midfield is commanded by the hard tackling Javier Mascherno and their defense steadied by Martín Demichelis.  The only question mark over La Albiceleste is the team chemistry.  For some reason, they have not been able to click into full gear and many are hoping they find their feet soon.  Maradona is taking the majority of the blame as he rotates more players in and out than anybody ever has.  His style is almost similar to Rafael Benitez’s bizarre rotation policy at Liverpool.  Still though, they’re not the best at the tournament, but they are too good to not advance out of their group and past a few more games.

Prediction –

1. Argentina

2. Nigeria

3. Greece

4. South Korea



Up for Grabs for Group A

GROUP A –

1. South Africa

2. Mexico

3. Uruguay

4. France

Group A could be one of the trickiest groups to advance from, as every team will have a legitimate shot at clawing their way out.  The hosts will feel aggrieved to have the now-hated France squad thrown into their group.  However, home field advantage can do funny things to teams (Cue 2002 World Cup).

South Africa – The Bafana Bafana could come out deceptively strong in Group A with battle tested EPL players Steven Pienaar, Benni McCarthy and Aaron Mokoena (the captain) pulling the majority of the weight for the hosts.  Playing

Steven Pienaar with striker Bernard Parker

on their home turf will be key for South Africa, as the World Cup should work wonders for national pride (as well as the economy).  If you remember 2002, South Korea surpassed about everyones’ expectations by marching into the

semifinals of the tournament with the aid of their countrymen.  Steven Pienaar will be the spark plug that will ignite the South African engine.  His flair and work rate have dazzled at Goodison Park this season, and he will be looking to emulate his form for the Toffees in his national team colors.  It’s always a great thing to make the World Cup finals, but the nation will be gunning hard for one of the spots that sends them into the first round, and, all things considered, could actually be possible.

Mexico –

Nobody needs a second telling that Mexico are typically a card carrying tournament team.  With their recently returned (heavily) seasoned veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco (37 years old) pulling the strings and up-and-coming sensations Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela doing the footwork, El Tri should be favored to grab one of the top spots in Group A.  It also helps that they have a very adept keeper in Guillermo Ochoa.  However, it will still be a tall order as France is gifted in every position and Uruguay’s physical approach may disrupt their fluid build up play.  It won’t be a cake walk for El Tri, but if they stick to their guns and pass the way they know how, I’ll tip them to take top spot in the group.

Uruguay – Uruguay has two titles under their belt (sure they were in 1930 & 1950) and have a squad that may be capable of upsetting favorites Mexico and France.  Easily their top dogs are Ajax hitman Luis Suarez and Atletico Madrid Diego Forlan.  Forlan will be coming off a great win over Fulham in the Europa League final and will be looking to build off that.  Martin Caceres is a rising star in defense at Juventus and should sure-up the back line but will have his hands full with Nicolas Anelka, Steven Pienaar and Carlos Vela.  The rest of the back line could be relatively leaky for Los Charruas and could be their downfall.  Suarez and Lodeiro represent Ajax at the club level and are both fully capable of find ways to break down defenses in any group and shouldn’t be overlooked as a serious contender for a top spot.  Suarez is literally gushing goals for Ajax (49 goals this season in 48 appearances) and is one of the players to watch in Group A.

France – It’s hard to say anything positive about France still, as the infamous hand ball got them in the tournament

Gourcuff pulling strings for Bordeaux

and, if that isn’t enough, they get placed in the group where South Africa is the top seed.  The big man must really be looking out for Les Bleus.  That said, they should be the easy favorites for the group, but they failed to impress in any sense during qualifying and could flop as hard as they did in 2002.  France is a wild card and it is hard to predict which team will actually show up.  They won in 98, earned zero points in 2002 and made it to the final in 2006.  Nobody will know truly if they have a shot until kickoff, but it’s just so hard to look past their lineup.  When the spine of a team is Hugo Lloris, William Gallas, Lassana Diarra, Yoann Gourcuff and Thierry Henry, they should be tipped to win it all.  Not to mention, they have attacking dime pieces like Nicolas Anelka and Franck Ribery to tear apart defenses.  In terms of who to look out for?  I’ll put my money on the Gourcuff (Don’t believe me? Watch his goal against PSG), the midfield maestro is only 23, was named Ligue 1 player of the year for 08/09, made Ligue 1 team of the year  for 08/09 and 09/10 and was named French Football’s player of the year for 2009.

Prediction –

1. France

2. Mexico

3. South Africa

4. Uruguay