The French team is made up almost entirely of black and Arab immigrants from the poor suburbs, so a win for France is a giant fuck-you to perennial presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. Their coach, Raymond Domenech, does not win the Craziest Coach Award, due to the existence of Argentina’s Diego Maradona (see below). Domenech once dropped a player because of the player’s astrological sign. France has a lot of good players, and could go far if they can keep it together.
On the one hand I feel like I should root against Mexico because they are our main soccer rival and every time the US plays in Mexico the Mexican fans throw stuff at the American players. On the other hand, they mainly throw stuff at Landon Donovan, who once peed on a Mexican field.
The hosts are not very good at soccer. Being banned from international play during apartheid might have something to do with it. If you want to seem cheerful, mention to your friends how cool it is that Africa is finally getting the World Cup it was supposed to get in 2006, and how well South Africa seems to have moved on from apartheid. If you don’t, mention that, despite all the hype to the contrary, hosting major sporting events rarely proves to be an economic boon, and wonder aloud whether a really poor country with crushing social problems should be spending all its money on state-of-the-art soccer stadiums designed to look like calabashes.
Decent but not amazing, with good forwards but no real talent anywhere else on the field, they might reach the second round, but that’s about it.
Argentina has the world’s best player in Lionel Messi, and lots of other talent. They also have a coach, the legendary Diego Maradona, who is bat-shit crazy. Maradona recently had his stomach stapled because after he quit using coke he got super-fat. When Argentina qualified for the World Cup, he held perhaps the greatest press conference in the history of sport, during which he repeatedly told the Argentine press to (in my very rough translation), “Suck it and keep on sucking it” (Que la chupen y sigan chupando). The next day he apologized to all the women in the world who heard him say these things, especially his mother, but pointedly not to the journalists he had repeatedly insulted. He recently had two (2) luxury bidets installed in his hotel room.
The ‘good’ Korea is better at soccer than the ‘bad’ Korea, but not by much. Asia has a lot of qualifying spots relative to the quality of its teams, because the Asian soccer powerhouses are either wealthy and influential Middle Eastern countries, or wealthy and influential Korea and Japan. That’s why South Korea always goes to the World Cup, but it rarely does well.
Like the Ivory Coast, Nigeria decided that their best strategy was to fire their coach right before the Cup and replace him with a Swede.
While compiling this preview, I forgot about Greece and had to look them up when I realized I was one country short.
USA! USA! We should be decent this year, and we drew a favorable group. The casual USA fan admires Landon Donovan. The more discerning USA fan knows that Donovan is Cristiano Ronaldo Lite—overrated, overexposed, and a bit of a whiner. The US actually relies on Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard, all of whom are equal to or superior to Donovan in ability but for various reasons less marketable.
Slovenians are excited that their tiny country has qualified for the World Cup.
England is always surprised when they lose, as they think they invented soccer. They have a good coach (an Italian) and some good players, most notably the great Wayne Rooney, but eventually they will lose and be shocked and hurt as always. England has won the World Cup before, but that was when they were hosting in 1966, and host countries always do well. That said, they weren’t a fascist country. Fascist host countries do really well; witness Italy’s win in 1934 and Argentina’s in 1978. Apparently creating a hostile and frightening atmosphere for opposing nations, and being able to threaten your players and/or the referees with horrible fates, helps your chances considerably.
Beat rivals Egypt in a playoff to qualify. However, some of their players will be suspended for the first game as a result of having committed violent acts in that game against Egypt. Egypt and Algeria hate each other, in part due to a fight after a heated 1989 game where an Algerian player allegedly blinded an Egyptian doctor with a broken bottle. Also they are the Americans’ main competition for second place in the group, and as such, our most important opponent.
Ghana was the only African team to make it out of the group stage at the last World Cup, and expectations are high this time around. Unfortunately, their best player, Michael Essien, is hurt and will not play, but the team has talent, and they seem to be free of the organizational difficulties that plague other African teams—i.e., they have not fired their coach in favor of a Swede.
It is tempting to describe the Australian team as a bigger, better version of the New Zealand team. I am going to succumb to that temptation.
The team that never underperforms, never suffers from any sort of self-doubt or mental angst. They win their penalty shootouts; they consistently beat plucky underdogs. One of the great things about sports is how they can serve to eliminate or at least undermine national or ethnic stereotypes, but sometimes Germans come along, play with the cold mechanical efficiency of a Mercedes engine, and then sports don’t do that.
The best of the second-rate European teams. They keep mentioning how they are proud that this is their first World Cup as independent Serbia, as they used to compete as Yugoslavia and then later as Serbia and Montenegro. Their fans are really scary and hardcore and some of their players are too, especially Nemanja Vidic, who looks and acts like a Soviet bad guy in an ’80s Bond film.
For a Scandinavian team, the Danes are exciting to watch.
Led by star striker Samuel Eto’o, a three-time African Player of the Year and all-around badass, Cameroon is not quite as talented as the Ivory Coast, but has a kinder draw and could do quite well.
For a small country, the Dutch produce a staggering number of world-class players. They are a little smug about this fact. Look for them to play good soccer and register big wins early in the tournament, then lose to the first team that realizes that while their strikers and midfielders are quick and skillful, their defenders are manifestly not.
Japan is not very good at soccer, but it has the world’s highest average life expectancy.
Italy is the defending champion, but they didn’t deserve to win last time around and play cynical, joyless soccer. You know when people who don’t like soccer complain about all the diving and cheating, and how nothing happens over the course of a match? This is not true of soccer in general, but it is true of Italian soccer. Thankfully the Italian team this year looks old and shitty.
New Zealand qualifies for the World Cup out of the Oceania region, which used to consist of New Zealand, Australia, and various tiny island nations, with the winner (either Australia or New Zealand) having a playoff with a team from another region for a World Cup place. Now Australia qualifies out of Asia, and so New Zealand’s qualifying campaign consisted of beating up on teams like Tonga and the Solomon Islands and then winning a playoff against Bahrain. New Zealand beat Serbia in a friendly, and the Serbian fans were so embarrassed to have lost to New Zealand that they rioted. Or else they rioted because they were Serbian soccer fans—it’s hard to say.
Slovakia is one of several European teams that normally are overshadowed by a geopolitical rival that plays better, more entertaining soccer (in this case the Czech Republic), but have qualified instead of their rival this year. Other examples of this type are Serbia and Slovenia (Croatia) and Greece (Turkey).
See Uruguay, above.
The favorites, along with Spain, they have the two best right-backs in the world in Dani Alves and Maicon. Their coach controversially left Ronaldinho off the squad, right after Nike released an awesome commercial featuring the stars of the World Cup who wear Nike, including Ronaldinho. He used to be the best player in the world, then got fat and stopped caring and lost his place in the Brazil team. This year he was skinny and tried hard again, but it was too little too late.
Brazil games are the ideal moment to expound upon the role of the attacking fullback in the modern game, and the revolution in tactics this has brought about. Fullback used to be where you stuck players not good enough to play anywhere else, so no good players developed into fullbacks. Then coaches figured out that if you had a quick, skillful fullback he could attack as well as fulfill his defensive duties. Now all good teams rely on fullbacks who can overlap and join the attack to great effect, and often play without the traditional wide midfield players.
The Portuguese team includes several naturalized Brazilians who aren’t good enough to play for Brazil. They are led by Cristiano Ronaldo, a native of Portugal who wears too much hair gel. There are only two acceptable reasons for liking Ronaldo: either you find him sexually attractive, or you are Portuguese. He is the Alex Rodriguez of soccer. Paparazzi once snapped pictures of him making out with Paris Hilton in a nightclub. It was a tan, vapid match made in heaven. Do not root for Portugal.
It’s trendy to root for African teams, but it’s also the right thing to do, because they have traditionally been fucked by FIFA, and they play entertaining, attacking soccer. The Ivory Coast is the best African team. Unfortunately, they’re in an extremely difficult group, and they impulsively fired their coach two months ago and hired a Swede. But they’re still the most likely team to send Portugal home early. Did I mention that I don’t like Portugal?
North Korea celebrated their first World Cup qualification in forty-four years by drawing three good teams that will crush them. It will be a struggle to find highlights to show on North Korean television.
It’s great that Honduras was able to qualify against long odds (beating out more established regional power Costa Rica on goal differential) in the midst of a destabilizing coup at home. But this feel-good story won’t last long.
Chile qualified in second place in South America behind Brazil, and unlike some other South American teams they didn’t have the advantage of scheduling their home games at altitude (a tactic that helped Bolivia beat an exhausted Argentina 6-1, an unimaginable result at sea level).
Watching the Swiss play is almost as painful and degrading as being an immigrant living in Switzerland. Will they lose in a dull, cowardly manner in the first round, or will they lose in a dull, cowardly manner in the second round? The world awaits the answer.
Spain games are a good time to show off your knowledge of the regional and linguistic differences within Spain and explain how tensions between various ethno-linguistic groups have undermined Spanish teams in the past. Be sure to make this point early, as it will come to seem less insightful when a Catalan, a Basque, and a Castilian combine beautifully to score Spain’s fourth goal of the match. Spain will win it all.