They're getting screwed. There's no other way to put it. They're getting screwed. The way the World Cup draw works is they seed the teams into four groups of eight. So you have your 1 seeds, 2 seeds, and so on... The eight one seeds were given to Brazil, Argentina, England, Spain, Mexico, Italy, France, and the home team, Germany. The controversy was with Mexico being given a "1" over the U.S., and to this day, I still don't understand it. The U.S. won the Gold Cup, not Mexico. The U.S. won their head to head World Cup game in '02. The U.S. had the best qualifying record (by virtue of beating Mexico at home 2-0, and losing over there only 2-1). Mexico simply has no claim for a top seed over the U.S. None.
You want to tell me that FIFA isn't treating the Yanks the way they are as a reactionary measure to the politics of the uber-unpopular Bush administration? Go ahead. But I refuse to accept it. When there are SO MANY weak teams in this tournament, it's simply inexcusable to put three of the top 14 ranked teams in the same group. Wouldn't it be in the tournaments best interests to give all the best teams at least a mathematical chance to make it to round 2? One would think. But the Americans are simply reviled abroad, especially by soccer fans. There's a reason why the other 31 countries will have their flags and logos displayed proudly on their buses and the USA will not. You know how I know for sure the fix is in for our boys? Because even if they somehow manage to overcome either the Czechs or the Italians to finish second in the group, guess who's going to be waiting for them in round two? Brazil.
Pack some Vaseline boys, it'll come in handy.
Group E: Czech Republic, Italy, United States, Ghana
My friend thinks all hell will break loose here and that Ghana will finish second in the group. In a related note, he also sees them beating Brazil. Apparently, he has resorted to using copious amounts of drugs so that he can deal with all the bullshit that goes with being in a serious relationship. I'm not quite sure what's gonna happen in this group, but I'm positive it's not gonna wind up like that. But absolutely, I will be watching every game here, except maybe I'll fast forward thru Ghana-Italy. I was really hoping that match-up would be the 3rd game, so I could watch US-Czech Republic at the same time, but it's not. Shit. That would have totally made my day if it was. Damn you Jobu. But yes, count me among those firmly on the Czech bandwagon. They gave Greece the best game of anyone in the Euros. They were the only side that could truthfully claim to have outplayed them.
- Czech Republic - They look primed to do big things, I can feel it. They have the most dynamic offense in Europe besides Portugal, and they don't count because they're practically Brazilians. I can't back up this claim with any facts by the way. It just feels right to me. I think they'll have a surprisingly easy time with this group, accumulating either seven or nine points. I like their midfielder, Pavel Nedved, lots. He sets his guys up front well. What I like most about them is they don't put all their eggs in one striker's basket. Milan Baros, Jan Koller, and Marek Heinz can all get it done if they get the chance.
- Italy - The cockroaches of European football were far from impressive in qualifying, scoring only 17 goals in ten games and allowing an unseemly eight, despite not having strong competition at all (second best team there was Norway). Even more dubious, they've finally sacked longtime striker Christian Vieri. Good riddance, his suckitude cost me big money in '02 in the Korea game. But, they did whip Ze Germans 4-1 in a friendly fairly recently. Old whipping boy Alessandro Del Piero is still in the lineup, but either he's being used as an attacking midfielder or the meatball munchers are playing a 4-3-3. The two starting forward spots are being given to untested Luca Toni and youngster Alberto Gilardino, whose claim to fame is calling the English team, "Faggy." Also, '02 disgrace Francesco Totti is around, looking to crack the lineup, but he's battling a bad foot. All I remember about him is he was very hyped prior to the last WC, he sucked ass, and he got a red card in his last game for diving. Still, they are the cockroaches, and they will find a way to survive, by the skin of their teeth.
- United States - The U.S. team I will be rooting for! (As opposed to those basketball jerkasses at the WBC.) No Iverson? Fuck them. Go Turkey and Argentina. Anyway, I like this soccer club a lot. They have everything: Speed, finishing, midfielders, d-men, a money goalie. I'm not enamored about their coach, but oh well. This is unquestionably the finest U.S. team ever assembled, even though in the video game, none of their forwards can finish except for Brian McBride. Unfortunately, thanks to politics, the world hates us, and I'm convinced the refs will totally assfuck this team in the World Cup. It's going to be terrible. Red cards, non-calls, disallowed goals, you name it. Lakers-Kings '02 and Spurs-Mavs '06 will look perfectly legit by comparison. I'm actually afraid to watch, because I know it's all going to make me quite upset. I think it's going to be a hellish 180 minutes and change for our boys against the Czechs and the Azzuri, and their last game, against Ghana will be just for pride. I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it.
- Ghana - Don't have a whole lot to say about them. Midfielder Michael Essien plays for Chelsea, and that's something. But there's not much to work with here. I suppose if they pull an upset or two, we can look forward to the SI headline, "Ghana Shock the World!" Methinks they're in over their heads here.
Nigeria- You want to screw the US over? Well, really screw them then. Might as well put the Nigerians, the highest ranked African team in the world at # 11 (tied with Denmark) in here too, to make it a "Group of Death" of historic proportions. Can you imagine; all four teams in the top 14? That's be nuts. 48th ranked Ghana didn't exactly have to negotiate a minefield to get to the WC. All they had in their group was 53rd South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, or as my friend calls them, Doctor Congo. They also went nowhere in the African Cup of Nations, losing their first game to Nigeria (the Nigerians went on to finish 3rd in the tournament) before exiting meekly in round one. Nigeria finished with the same amount of points as Angola in qualifying, and had a much better goal differential, +14 to +6, but they just missed out because of a goal at the 60th minute by an Angolan player in their head to head, when Nigeria was leading 1-0 at the time. Still, there's no question as to who's the best team of the three.
Group F: Brazil, Japan, Australia, Croatia
My friend, the Greek, is normally a very mild mannered person; much more so than I. And while he can be described as a sports fan, there isn't much that happens between the lines that makes him grumpy. Yet when the topic of Brazilian soccer comes up, he starts frothing at the mouth, he dislikes them so much. He sends me these lunatic ranting e-mails about them, so angry, that all grammar and spelling are hopelessly abandoned. Logic too, since he thinks Ghana will stun them in round 2. Remember, this is the same guy who also dislikes Portugal, so maybe he's just against the Portuguese language in general. I'm not sure. All I know is that I find his attitude toward the Brazilians' dominance somewhat ironic, since he had no problem whatsoever with the 49ers losing like ten football games in fifteen years. Don't get me wrong, I despise them as well... The arrogance of the Brazilian team makes the Shaq-Kobe Lakers look like a bunch of shrinking violets. And they dive more than anybody. They don't "flop" - they flat out dive. It's gross. My mantra at this WC will be ANYBODY BUT THEM.
Anyway, I suspect when it's all said and done, he'll be smiling at the end of this WC. Traditionally, Brazil doesn't do that great in Europe, and even though they're heavily favored here, I sense that this tournament will be no different, and perhaps they won't even get past the semis. However, the group stages won't offer much in the way of competition for them early. Maybe they'll get overconfident. Brazil? Nah.
- Brazil - At first glance, it looks pretty daunting, I must admit. The projected starting 11, play for the top two teams in Germany, the top two teams in Spain, and the top three teams in Italy. That's it. But, they have weaknesses, I shit you not. Wingbacks Cafu and Roberto Carlos are STILL around, and they're 36 and 33 respectively. This defense can be had. Furthermore, I'm not thrilled about the midfielders. Ronaldinho is more of a scorer than a natural passer, and I refuse to accept this goofy looking fuck leading anyone to a trophy. Seriously, is there anyone who looks stranger than this guy? He's like Michael Jackson, circa 1981, but with Bugs Bunny teeth and really ugly long hair. "Footballer of the Year" my pooper. He didn't look too impressive in the Champions League Final. Besides him, their best midfielder is somebody named Kaka. And I'm not about to let him shit on my parade. (Ha.)
At forward, the on again off again Ronaldo is still around, but at 29, he's a bit slow, fat, and out of shape. The coach is leaning toward maybe not starting him. They have a prodigy waiting in the wings in 22 year old Robinho, a player that Pele says reminds him most of himself. Great. Whatever. Pele also said an African country would win a WC by 2010. There's a lot of pressure to play this guy. The other starting forward is somebody named Adriano, who's more of a headers guy, I think. My favorite player on the team, without ever seeing him play, is some backup forward named Fred. That's it, just Fred. Fucking awesome. I'd start him instead of Ronaldo or Robinho.
- Japan - I think they'll outlast the Aussies (too green) and the Croats (too old) to nab the 2nd spot. The club has a decent mixture of youth and veteran experience, Hidetoshi Nakata is still around, and they've had some encouraging results in the friendlies, tying Germany after being up 2-0, and beating Ecuador. Should I be concerned that Nakata called out his coach and his teammates, saying the team has no heart? Eh. I might be, if I didn't smell something fishy about it. Japanese people are much too humble and respectful to do such a thing for no reason. I think they're playing possum. In the end, I'm much higher on both the Japanese and the Koreans than most people. I think they're quality clubs, on pretty even footing with anyone outside of the two South American heavies, and a handful of the Euro powers. Their 18th ranking is probably fair.
- Australia - Another anonymous bunch, but practically their whole starting lineup plays in the Premier League. Not for the big clubs, but for solid, 1st division squads such as Everton, Middlesbrough, Blackburn, Newcastle, etc. They beat Greece 1-0 (a shocking score for a Greece game, I know) in a friendly, and held their own against Uruguay to get to the WC, winning their home game and prevailing on pennos. I expect them to be solid, workmanlike, and fundamentally sound. They won't be outworked, but they'll likely be out-skilled. Their coach is Guus Hiddink, and he's got loads of international experience. As Screamin' A. Smith said about Joe Dumars, "His momma didn't name him Bubu the Fool." No. His mama named him Guus. And he can be my co-pilot any day.
- Croatia - Not too excited about the tablecloths. The only reason they made it was because they had a really weak qualifying group; (Sweden and nobody) so weak in fact that it had an automatic 2nd place entry qualify. Davor Suker, the best striker in the country's short history, is no longer in the picture, and it looks like goals will be hard to come by because the front seven isn't too thrilling. The defense is aiight, but even giving up one might get them beat here. Like the Swedes and the French, they're past their sell by date.
What this group should have been: Brazil, Japan, Croatia, Ireland.
Ireland - I'm not kicking the Aussies out. I already moved them to Group B. I would just rather see the Irish here. I just have a feeling that for a bunch of WC virgins, like the boys down under are, Brazil would be too scary, too intimidating. I'd rather see the Irish in here. They've been at the WC game awhile, and they're not afraid of anyone. They'd at least make the Brazilians earn it the three points. The Irish are ranked 31st, and held their own against both WC clubs France and Switzerland, finishing one point out of the money. And they dusted Sweden in a recent friendly 3-0. Also worth noting is that their flag closely resembles that of the Ivory Coast's, and since I booted those guys out, this might be a small consolation for them. (Or not.) But absolutely, we NEED the Irish team and their drunk, unruly fanbase in a country filled with tasty beer and attractive, sexually adventurous women. What could go wrong?