Friday, May 28, 2010
Classes (Nearly) Over + 2010 FIFA World Cup
begins in two weeks, on June 11, running till July 11, in South Africa. This is the most watched sporting event in the world, and this is the first time it'll be held in Africa, with the host country leading a group of 32 national teams, including prior winners England (1966), France (1998), Italy (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006), Germany (1954, 1974, 1990), Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002), Uruguay (1930, 1950), and Argentina (1978, 1986), and stalwarts such as Netherlands, Japan, Portugal, Mexico, Denmark, Cameroon, South Korea, and, interestingly enough, North Korea. Though the opening matches, pairing South Africa and Mexico, and Uruguay and France, will be held in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively, subsequent matches will be held all over the country, culminating in the third place match at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, and the championship match at Soccer City in Johannesburg.
The 1994 host of the tournament, the United States, will also field a participating team this year, having made it through the qualifying rounds for the North/Central American region to finish first, with 20 points, just ahead of Mexico's 19. The US ended up in the Tournament's Group C, which also includes one of the tournament's best teams, England, but also Algeria, which barely edged into first place in its Africa Group 6 matches, over Gambia and Senegal, and Slovenia, which finished second to Slovakia in its European Group 3. Getting by England (ranked 8th in the FIFA World Rankings) will be the US's (ranked 14th) major challenge, and few online commentators I've read give the US team much--any--chance of achieving this. Yet the US team had one of its best summers in 2009; in the Confederations Cup, the US ended up in Group B, with Brazil, Egypt and Italy, yet after losing to Italy (3-1) and Brazil (3-0), the US came back to finish second in its group, and reached the semifinal on tie-breaking goals, surpassing Italy. In the semifinals the US beat Spain, then atop the FIFA World rankings, 2-0, losing to Brazil in the final 3-2, though they were up 2-0 at half-time, and had the game in hand. They must capitalize on any leads in South Africa, and do everything they can to keep the ball out of their defensive area, which is where they're far and away weakest.
23-person World Cup squad, recently finalized by coach Bob Bradley, comprises a number of veterans from the 2008 campaign, in Germany: star goalie and Everton (English Premier League) mainstay Tim Howard, forwards Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey (above left), midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Bradley, and defenders Oguchi Onyewu (at right) and Steve Cherundolo. Newcomers include Jozy Altidore (the 20-year-old sensation who scored a hat trick against Trinidad and Tobago in a qualifying game), Robbie Findley (top of article, right), José Francisco Torres, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, and surprise picks Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez. In a little remarked change, nearly 1/3rd of the US team are black, and 1/2 of the team are either black or latino, a first for the US. The forward and midfield core are especially strong, and can hang with some of the best teams (except perhaps Brazil, Spain, and Portugal), but the US's defense remains an issue. Unaggressive play and defensive mistakes have doom the US, as does the absence of players competing in the world's top leagues, but the latter has gradually changed, and the US's own major league, the MLS, has gotten stronger with each passing year. If the defensive corps can keep mistakes to a minimum, they do stand a chance with Donovan, Bradley, Altidore, Findley, and Dempsey going hard.
It'll be interesting to see if host country South Africa gets a boost, as has often happened; France (1998), Argentina (1978), Germany (1974, as West Germany), England (1966), and Uruguay (1938) have won the tournament when hosting it, and most recently, Germany finished 3rd in 2006 and South Korea finished 4th in 2002 when serving as hosts. Moreover, the multibillion-dollar new stadiums and infrastructure the South African government has built have been controversial in a country still suffering from severe gaps in income equality, and the threats of terrorism, violence and crime are also pressing. Just recently, on May 25, the Colombian team, which had not qualified for the tournament, were robbed in their 5-star Johannesburg hotel of about $2600 in money and other personal goods. South Africa has repeated assured visitors that it has security and safety issues under control. Let us sincerely hope they do.
I will be certainly be watching closely and rooting avidly for the US and other teams, including Brazil. My prediction for the finals: Brazil 3, Portugal 2.