Rambling thoughts from the first round of games:
= Spain still looked like a top-5 team even in loss. In this new offensive world in football, teams will lose those games. Every now and then, the boys don’t finish what they usually would, and the pipes are unusually mean. That is all. It happened a year ago in the Confederations Cup last year, it happened again. Sure, there was probably some complacency also, but Spain is still ultra-talented and ultra-set going forward.
= This does set up one interesting thing: The top four teams are as of now, in my mind, Brazil, Spain, Netherlands and Germany. In a perfect world, those four could play each other in the semifinals. As it was, Netherlands and Brazil, assuming they both win their group, were set to play in the quarterfinals, but with Spain a likely group runner up, Spain is thrown into that same quarter. Yes, Spain would probably play Brazil in the round of 16, and then the winner would likely get the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. Talk about the real group of death (this is a lot like in 2006 when France, Spain and Brazil were in the same quarter, except in 2006 there were a lot more great teams out there).
= Big winner through one group game: Germany. The Germans already make it to the quarterfinals regardless of whatever happens, because you know, they’ve done it consecutively pre-Hitler and post. But the soccer Gods could not have been nicer. Unless Spain wins its group, here are the likely teams on Germany’s half: Argentina (Group B winner – this was written before I knew of Gonzalo Higuain’s hat-trick), one of the France, Mexico, Uruguay trio, one of the England, Slovenia, US trio, Japan, either Italy/Paraguay, Ivory Coast/Portugal and Switzerland. Yes, that’s right. The bottom half would likely contain Japan, Italy/Paraguay, Ivory Coast/Portugal and Switzerland. Germany is getting it much, much easier.
= Of course this all depends on those silly Swiss. They need to hold onto the group to create what would be the most lopsided knockout round in World Cup History (I’m guessing). Switzerland was actually the country that did this as well in 2006, when they won France’s group, sending France into the Spain/Brazil quarter. The Swiss have now not given up a goal in four straight World Cup Games, as they were knocked out of a goalless PK loss in 2006. Italy might be a more famously defensive team, but as Italy seemed to attack and attack some more in their opening game, the Swiss looked like the doorbolt the Azzurri usually are.
= There was a weird dichotomy in Switzerland beating Spain. After winning the French Open, Nadal was asked if he would make a wager with Federer for the game, and Nadal responded something to the effect of, “Why? Federer’s never made a bad move in his life, except for his choice of bride. Why would he take that offer?”. Who could blame Rafa for being cocky, but Federer’s influence evidently goes much further than we tought.
= I guess sooner or later I would have to address the two Elephants in the room.
= L’Affaire Vuvuzela: I actually don’t mind them anymore, which is why I hate that ESPN is supposedly muffling their sound in the broadcast. Of course, like most things at ESPN, it didn’t quite work, but even then, they are stripping the South African World Cup of its uniqueness. The games so far have been duds. The players have been duds. Lord knows the ball is a dud, so why try to ruin what seperates World Cup South Africa from the rest, their vuvuzelas. These vuvuzelas were used in last years Confederations Cup. FIFA knew what they were getting into. Also, I love the singing and drunken chanting as much as the next ‘lad’ but there is something oddly idyllic about the tooting of a colored water buffalo horn.
= The lack of goals: This is getting scary. There is really no real explanation. In my A-B-C’s of the World Cup, I said that ‘D’ was for ‘Defense?’ saying that is defense going to become a lost art. Obviously not. Now, there are a few games, like the Paraguay-Italy game, and definitely the Spain-Switzerland game, that did not feature so much great defense as just shoddy finishing, and were played quite wide open, but to think that only two teams have crossed the three goal limit is appaling. It may be the ball (I doubt it), it may be the altitude (possible, but it’s not like Altitide has never stopped anyone before (Broncos, Denver, from 1975-1998). To me, the best explanation is that it is a curious case best explained by randomness and a small sample size. People say that it is because “the teams just don’t want to lose, and are happy with a point”. If that’s the case, how do you explain the Champions League this very season, that had its highest scoring season in years. My guess is that the goals will even out over the next two group matches.
= The best player so far: Diego Forlan (again, written before Higuain’s hat-trick). Lionel Messi looked good, but not great in his opening match. Cristiano Ronaldo was his usual diving/flopping/choking self for his country, and Wayne Rooney was not on the field. (He was? Are you sure?) Forlan was great in Uruguay’s opening draw with France, and was the best player on the field yesterday. There is a long time left, but as of now, the Uruguayan is tops.
= Hopefully none of this sounds racist, but I am so tire of hearing about Africa. I get it. This is Africa’s first World Cup. I have fleeting memories of 2002, but I don’t think everyone gave two shits that that was Asia’s first World Cup. I get it, Africa’s impoverished. Well, then go play in Senegal, or Chad. South Africa is the richest African nation. If you want to play the poverty card, go all out. And finally, yes, I realize that just 20 years ago South Africa was in apartheid. Again, that is all very good. However, this has happened before. The World Cup was in Spain just 15 years after Franco’s tyrannical regime fell. Africa, honestly, doesn’t deserve any more coverage than any other place the World Cup might have possibly been.
= Kind of related to that last point but, doesn’t ESPN seem to be putting so much more effort in this time, and I love it. Somehow, international football is becoming all the rage in the US. Of course, people always watched the World Cup, but now people know the teams, the players, the rules of the game, etc. So, ESPN followed through on this groundswell by actually pimping out their World Cup coverage. They sent the guys over to South Africa this time (in 2006 they stayed in Bristol). They got actual soccer people (Martin Tyler, Efan Ekoku, Ian Darke, the Scottish guy who sounds so much like Andy Gray from the FIFA games) to call the games. They even got actual soccer players and coaches, including one old superstar (Ruud Gullit) to provide analysis in the hub in Jo-burg. However, I really have no idea why it took ESPN so long to come around to this. I taped some of the matches from the 2006 World Cup (so far, one of the best ones, and certainly the best of my lifetime), and while the games were better, the coverage as a whole was so, so, so, so much worse.
= This is also related to the South Africa thing, but I think only historically football nations should host the World Cup. Putting the World Cup in South Africa (or even the US in ’94 or Japan/Korea in ’02) is like putting the Super Bowl in Jacksonville. The Super Bowl should be limited to Miami, Tampa, San Diego, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Glendale. That is it. The World Cup should rotate between the following: Brazil, Argentina, USA (we are probably a top-20 team now, consistently), France, Spain, Germany, England, Italy. That’s it. Maybe throw in Holland, or maybe even Mexico. But South Africa? Russia? Australia? Greece? Sorry, lads, you don’t get the World Cup (of course, Australia is the favorite to get one of the 2018 or 2022 spots that FIFA is announcing at the end of the year). Those places have quality teams and traditions (so close, USA, so close to making this work). They have the right stadiums. Soccer stadiums need to be intimate and closed. Not necessarily domed, but closed in the make it a quaint, loud setting. These South Africa ones are way, way, way too open air. The German stadiums in ’06 blow Soccer City and the others out of the water.
= Let’s not get too excited about the referees being actually good for once. It is still early. I have no idea if the referees were good in the Group Stage of the 2006 World Cup. Other than the ref in the Italy-USA game, I don’t remember anything fishy in the Group Stage. Just like for the players, it is in the knockout round that the light shines brightest on them, and that is when they have to deliver. The fact that in the biggest game of the first round (Portugal-Cote D’Ivoire (not USA-England)), the referee was average and bought into Cristiano Ronaldo’s diving makes me really nervous.
= The biggest reason that the 2006 World Cup was better (again, so far), was that the teams were better. The only great team, on paper, in 2010 is Spain. Even the Brazilians, on paper, aren’t as great as most earlier Brazilian teams. The fact that the best team on paper lost is another story, but Spain is the only team that on talent alone could compete with some of the great 2006 teams. In 2006, France, Italy, Germany, Brazil and possibly even Portugal were better teams than all of the teams in the 2010 World Cup except for Spain and possibly Brazil. March Madness this year was the same thing. Sure, there were upsets galore, and Duke, a normal winner, won the tournament. But you could make a case that all of the last 12 Final Four teams from 07-09 (Florida, Georgetown, OSU, UCLA, Kansas, Memphis, UNC, UCLA, UNC, Michigan St, UCONN and Nova) were better than any of the four teams in the 2010 Final 4. A similar thing is going on the 2010 World Cup.
= Let’s get too unexcited about the fact that through one round of group games, the 2010 World Cup has been underwhelming. There have been more problems than goals scored. Obviously, lack of scoring ranks as the biggest problem, because it seems to be more of lack of trying to score (Spain certainly isn’t guilty of that), but so too is the ball, the over-blown media storm that is Africa, the lack of great players playing great (I’m looking at you, Ronaldo and Rooney), and of course, those damn vuvuzelas. I’m still enjoying the World Cup, because fuck, it is the World Cup, but I would be lying to say that the 2010 version has been as enjoyable so far as the 2006 version. Of course, there is a long, long way to go, and hopefully like Zidane, the 2010 World Cup gets better as it gets closer to the end.
Anyway, here is your 2010 FIFA World Cup Power 10, after the first round of Group Games.
1.) Germany – the fact that they always make it to the quarters is already putting them in the top-8, but they were the most dominant team of the opening round. Their 4-0 beat-down of a good Australian team was scary. Germany’s youngsters attacked much better than most thought.
2.) Brazil – They didn’t look all that great in beating North Korea, but after the end of the group stage, we could be saying that the real issue was the we all underrated the North Koreans. At least they won their game, and scored more than one goal.
3.) Spain – I can’t drop them too far. They utterly dominated the game. Sadly, this is the second time I have said such a thing in 12 months about Spain, but it is no less true this time. Play that game 10 times, Spain would win 9. It happens. They shouldn’t change a thing, except benching Sergio Busquets. Hopefully, Torres and Fabregas will be good to go.
4.) Holland – They very quietly dispatched a good Danish team 2-0, becoming one of just three teams to win a game by more than a goal so far. However, they didn’t look in true Holland form. It was as if Holland switched places with their bitter rival Germany.
5.) Argentina – (written before their 4-1 win over South Korea) They were oddly disappointing in the Nigeria-Argentina game. They never looked capable of losing, they never looked like the comfortable. In the end, they were kind of lucky to escape with the win. This team just smells QF Penalty-Kick loss.
6.) Ghana – Considering they were missing their best player, and they were playing a tournament dark horse, that was stunning. Ghana totally outplayed Serbia, and got rewarded with a clear penalty. Out of all the African teams, they were the one who did the best in 2006, so it really shouldn’t come to that much of a surprise that they could put up that performance.
7.) Uruguay – I know this is supposed to be based off only their first game, but I couldn’t help. Uruguay was great in their takedown of the hosts. The hosts are not easy to beat, ever. That was amazing. Also, now that Suarez and Forlan have been let loose, they have as much firepower as anyone not named Spain or Argentina (or Germany, I guess).
8.) Mexico – I was impressed and disappointed with them in their opener. They played well, outplayed South Africa, I thought, but also seemed to be a little lackadaisical. What I do know is that they had the hardest first game of anyone, against the hosts on opening night, and were the better team in the stadium.
9.) Switzerland – Hey, credit has to be given to a team that has gone five straight World Cup games without conceding a goal. They might never concede one again. Of course, their offense is generally not there, but they showed some offensive ability and conviction against Spain.
10.) Italy – Like Germany, they will most likely make the Quarters. However, unlike Germany, I doubt they get much further. Their age really showed in the Paraguay game. They started the game out playing better and more complete than any Italian team in recent memory. But the second that the clock reached thirty minutes, every Italian’s knees got heavy and tired. Their attack started to peter. Of course, their defense was as good as ever.
Enjoy round 2 of round 1!!