The following is the text of an email from my friend Alex Cooley:
This year has been extra tough, what with coming back from our European junketts and actually having to teach and talk to students for a whole academic year. I apologize for the late notice this time (the Germans kick off in just a few hours), but I’ve been finishing my book ms. and actually earning my cushy ivory tower pay check. Tomorrow I’m off to Berlin where I will be sharing a flat with the charmingly belligerent Mark Blyth and some friends – please, if you haven’t heard from me by July come and unplaster me from the floor of that seedy drinking hole in Friedrichshain.
As you may all remember or hopefully not since some of you actually have lives, Cooley had a great World Cup last time round..the French failed to score, the Argies had to bow to the boot of Beckham, and the Yanks swept into the last 8 while making our greatest rivals spend more time worrying about head-butting Cobi Jones rather than defending our counterattack. That, plus the comedy provided by Italian and Spanish fans looking at a sea of South Korean fans chanting “Korea is a great nation..” 9,875 times a game. Brazil won again and that was a bit of a downer, but don’t fear..its not going to happen gain!
So, if you haven’t done so already, its time to get out your charts, spreadsheets and predictions – look at the picks below, then go to the bookies in the time that’s left and put your money on..exactly the opposite teams..its guaranteed..
GROUP A Germany, Poland, Ecuador and Costa RIca
Manager Juergen Klinsman is causing quite a stir with his carefree lifestyle, “have a nice day” smile and laid back attitude. Apparently Franz Beckenbauer and other members of the German FA establishment don’t appreciate Juergen sunning himself and picking loads of players who don’t play for Bayern Munich. Well, they may not have the top 5 team on paper, but they will have the top player in the tournament (Michael Ballack) who will single-handedly take this team very, very deep.
Poland is a very tough 2nd tier team and may even push the hosts for the top slot. Don’t pick Ecuador – they only qualified because they take massive points at home because of their high altitude. Costa Rica, sad to say as a CONCACAF fan, is weaker than 4 years ago when they played pretty well. Germany and Poland go through in that order.
GROUP B England, T&T, Paraguay and Sweden
Ah, Sven’s men come to conquer all!..instapundits like myself are a bit confused this year because, for the first time since the Beatles, England really have a remarkably loaded team..yikes. There are world class players at every position, except perhaps right back and in goal – and Gary Neville is OK too I guess… This midfield is frightening, especially if they find a way to click and solve the destroyer player that they lack. I also don’t really understand why David Beckham takes so much stick when all this guy does every tournament is to serve up at least 4 deadball goals. Beckham, Lampard, Cole and Gerrard may not quite be Brazilian, but they’re clearly second best. If these guys don’t progress it really will be a national tragedy. BTW – 6-7 deputy striker Peter Crouch has to start and score so we can watch him do the 80s “robot” dance and all mimic it as Kraftwerk’s greatest hits blast in our Berlin bars.
Hmphh..the Swedes have been going on about how they’re dark horses to win it all – and Lagerback has been more than a tad patronizing about some Group teams. I’m frankly not that impressed not matter who they have up-front. I don’t think they’ll get past Paraguay who will expose them at the back. Be smart, take the South Americans to come in second.
T&T will be making up the numbers, but these guys will be jacked for the England game – it won’t make too much of a difference, although if they mail it in they might just affect the goal difference among the top three,
England needs the top spot to avoid losing to the hosts on penalties in the second round. They go thru first, Paraguay second.
In fact, England go on to reach the FINAL – but they don’t win it…
GROUP C Argentina, Holland, Ivory Coast, Serbia and Montenegro
The more I look at this group, the sicker it looks – yeah, the US got a bit screwed, but this is on a another level.
Argentina has 19 world class players on their team – unfortunately for them they can only play 11 at a time. The attacking talent is overwhelming and Riquelme will certainly provide the spark that was missing with Veron and Aimar in the playmaking role 4 years ago. Everyone talks about Messi, but Carlos Tevez is fearsome and may be the best flat out talent in the Cup. Given that they had to endure Beckham-induced national shame 4 years ago, I’m not as keen to root against them this time. But I also think that they lack the grit to stick out close games and can fold like a cheap chair, as they did in the Confeds Cup final last year (Brazil) and in their not-so-friendly against England in Geneva in November. I think they go through, but just.
Ah, the Dutch. I would love to them and finally see the Oranje win it all but I can’t (note: this should mean putting big money on them!). I really like how Van Basten has cleaned house and gone with the younger guys – but the flip side of that is that they simply may not have the experience and savvy to stop a tough as nails Serbian team and the Ivory Coast. Holland does not go through from this group and may even finished fourth. Unfortunately for us, this will leave many sobbing and angry Dutch fans clogging up the bars and the mini-pizza stands. Sorry Hendrik!.
The Ivory Coast is loaded, I mean really stacked – I’ve seen these guys play twice and they are overwhelming. Yes, Drogba’s the guy up front (23 goals in 34 national team) but defensively they’ve shut everyone down as well – its scary but Kolo Toure may just be, well, one of the best defenders around. I think they match up well against both the Dutch and Argentinean back lines. GO ELEPHANTS!!
Oh and the Serbs. All they did was win their group (which included Spain and loads of other rough Balkan teams) and hardly even gave up a goal. And yet, we have them coming in 4th – something has to give here.
This group is very, very tough – hats off to whoever gets it right – I’m going with Argentina and Ivory Coast in that order.
GROUP D Mexico, Portugal, Iran and Angola
For all you Euro-snobs, please keep in mind that Mexico consistently goes through to second rounds and they won Italy’s group last time around. As a US fan, I loathe Rafael Marquez, but if he keeps his cool he is a top of the line center back. Borgetti may be the best header of the ball in the tournament, next to Brian McHead of course. I love to watch coach Lavolpe puffing away on his cigs on the sideline, looking utterly bedraggled and making snide remarks, but he has them playing well – they deserve their seeding and will show it.
As a half Greek, since 2004 I’ve become a big Portugal fan. As England well know, Big Phil Scolare may be the best manager in the game – he’s beaten England in the last 2 major tournaments as coach of Brazil and Portugal. Unlike last time when the Portuguese seemed outraged that a bunch of 19 year old Americans were sprinting past them instead of asking for autographs from Mr. Figo, these guys should be ready this time. But, I just don’t see them ever living up to their hype and talent, not in a truly scrappy game.
Angola I’ve never seen, but apparently they play with a more “Portuguese-like flair” or at least that’s the colonial spin I’ve been reading in europapers. Iran is pretty good and may take a point off the Figman and co.
However, after all is said and done, this group goes to official form – 1. Mexico, 2. Portugal. President Ahmedinajad doesn’t get to come to Germany for the second round…bummer.
GROUP E Italy, USA, Czech Republic, Ghana
OK – let me grant all of you Euro-snobs that the #5 FIFA ranking for the USA is inflated; BUT the Czechs ranked as #2 is even more preposterous. yes, they are good – they have a lovely midfield..I think Rossicky will do really well for Arsenal and I like Nedved’s little flicks and haircut. And at 6-8 it doesn’t really matter whether Koller can kick a ball (and he can). I know these guys are the Euro darlings, but repeat after me the words of the Prophet Bruce Arena – ” “soccer is a young man’s game” – and, by extension, the World Cup is a young [person’s] tournament. Of course I would prefer to get the Czechs all banged up as our 3rd game – but these guys have peaked..we’re not scared.
I’m telling all of you neutrals – you have to watch the US-Czech game. This will be a no-holds barred up and down attack-fest. I think the US can stun them, especially if the Czechs go into this with just Galasek at defensive midfield.
One of the quirks of this US team is that they have an abundance of quality left-sided midfielders. Bobby Convey in particular is an outstanding slashing player with a footballing brain to boot – PSV’s Beasley has more name recognition, but his form has been off. Both of them can fly, as can Eddie Johnson the young forward. Eddie Lewis slots in as left back and can still put in his laser crosses on the occasional overlap. Besides Convey, look for the impact of Clint “Deuce” Dempsey (yes he’s Texan) patrolling the right side and Oguchi Onyewu (aka “Gooch”) who has been the best central defender in the Belgian league over the last 2 years. This guy is phenomenal – athletic, 6-4, 200 pounds – and is learning to read the game better all the time. He’ll handle Koller and Luca Toni just fine.
The Italy game also doesn’t scare me either – yes, the Italians are class, but they are going to be sweating this match big time as the prospect of dropping points to the Yanks looms over them. Totti, Pirlo, Camaronesi – YAWN…Bruce Arena thinks that Italy’s outside backs are vulnerable to our speedsters. I agree – the loss of the injured Gatusso at defensive midfield may be a massive blow for containing US counterattacks. I think this game has draw written all over it, maybe 1-1.
I’m scared of the Ghana game. They are quicker than us (maybe the only team in the tournament that is) and have unbelievable central midfielders in Essien and Appiah. Frankly, we have no one who can stop Essien, unless 5-6 right back Steve Cherundolo bites off his ankle. This has a bigtime loss written all over it.
So in the end, my prediction is: an unprecedented 4 points for every team! As a result, we will go to goal difference and then goals scored. By our high scoring game against the Czechs, the US will claim 1st place with 4 points and will be followed by the always-lucky-at-the group stage Italians, leaving your hero Czechs and the unlucky Ghanians sitting it out.
Of course, you should all feel free to send me your howling laughter via email on Monday after Nedved scores a hat trick and Petr Cech saves a Donavan penalty.
But this is my “final answer”!
MAJOR UPDATE!!! So Nicole (the most wonderful woman in the world who I absolutely do not deserve) actually got me an early birthday present – a ticket to the Czech-US game on June 12th. I get to go and heckle “Carol” Paborsky in person! WooWeeeeeeeeeeeee
GROUP F: Brazil, Japan, Australia, Croatia
Ok, I’m sick of these guys..”the beautiful game” and all of these dumb Nike commercials showing a buck-toothed 10- year old Ronaldhino skipping about – even worse is that silly Eric Cantona radio-station hijacking ad in honor of these guys..I never thought I’d miss that Nike ship.
So Jim, Mark and I watched the blue and gold absolutely destroy Argentina last summer in Frankfurt. Adriano may well be the only footballer to play more like a cartoon than his actual Nintendo/Playstation character- TURN, BANG, SCORE…repeat. yes, these guys are loaded, yes they’ll win every game in the 1st round. No, I will never become a Brazil-jocker. Go ahead and get a shirt with “Kaka” on it, not for me, thanks. Repeat after me, “it’s a young man’s game.” Cafu and Roberto Carlos are in their mid-30s – that’s the weakness.
Speaking of our Down Under mates, everyone seems really up on the Aussies and their “competitive spirit”. Funny, if these guys were Uruguay they would be denounced as dirty cheats by the Europress; ah those lovable Aussies..KICK. But I think that the FIFA instructions to referees to clamp down on Aussie rules tackles and the use of lethal weapons may leave them rather exposed. I am NOT on the Waltzing Matilda bandwagon. Take Japan instead – they’re technical and quick and Zico is every bit the tactician as Hiddink. Croatia makes up the numbers this time.
Brazil wins the group – but then falls to Italy in the 2nd round (or even the Czechs)!!!!!!!!!
GROUP G: France, Switzerland, South Korea, Togo
Everyone is talking about France as a sure lock for 1st. Why? Seriously, is Zidane going to take a miracle youth drug and once gain start covering some ground? The France-Togo game should determine 2nd, not Switzerland – ROK. The Swiss are very tight and confident – they have been playing great stuff and won a tough playoff against Turkey. I think they snag 1st place in the group and leave France in second.
GROUP H: Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
My dark horse in the tournament is Ukraine. I watched them play in Turkey where they just put on a counter-attacking clinic in Istanbul – 3-0. Its not just Shevchenko. They are tight at the back and plug spaces quickly. An East European-style team always progresses to the quarterfinals. Most people have the Czechs, but now you know now that you should pick Ukraine instead. Spain only gets second, but that actually takes some pressure off them in the knockout phase..oh and the Ukraine game against the Saudis gives Sheva the Golden Boot – ping, ping, ping, ping…
2nd ROUND MATCH-UPS
So, then, here’s how it will progress..
Germany X – hosts safely thru (2-0) in a repeat of 2002 last 16.
Argentina X Big Phil’s run of finals ends and we don’t have to see Luis Figo Portugal all sweaty and indignant at the end of games – hurray! (3-1)
England X – Tough match, but England win these 2nd rounders usually (2-1)
Ivory Coast X – This one’s the stunner. Viva los elephants!! (2-1)
USA X – Arena’s guys through to the final 8 again..yes, the draw helped! (2-0)
Italy X – the game of the tournament, the Italians do it – Nike stock plummets.
Spain X Spain crumbles at this stage usually; this time they don’t
Ukraine X – Ukraine is better.. really..(3-1)
Germany 1 Argentina 1 (6-5 after penalties)- Ballack tugs Sorin’s hair for leverage and then towers over him to slam home the last minute tying goal. The game goes to penalties and, well, we all know what happens next..
USA (er..Czechs) 0 Spain 2- Completely unfair Spanish handballs deny Johnson, Dempsey and Eddie Pope clear goals. The foolish and weak Raul takes advantage of the treachery to end the Yank dream.
England 2 Ivory Coast 1 (AET) – England sweat into extra-time in the quarterfinal before Rooney’s magical foot detaches itself to slot home a winner
Italy 0 Ukraine 1 I’m telling you, these guys are good,,,
Germany 2 Spain 1
England 2 Ukraine 0
GERMANY 2, England 1.
Sad but true. Michael Owen wiggles thru for a 1st minute stunner. Sven decides that the game is won and brings on Hargeaves and Carrick in place of Lampard and Gerrard to bunker for the last 80 minutes. The ploy almost works, but in the 91st minute Theo Walcott hears his Mum calling for him and turns abruptly to knock in a hideous own-goal. Then just a minute later, Germany do a Man Utd-1999 and the mercurial Ballack outjumps a knackered Terry to send the host nation into rapture! The greatest World Cup final ever ends in English misery, while 4 million Berliners rush for a celebratory doner and spot in the queue to get into their local techno club.
On my way to the airport on June 11, a full 36 hours after this great national tragedy, I still see piles of English fans scattered all over the motorway to Tegel sobbing into their stale Newcastle cans.
So just to recap – I like Germany to win it, England to get to the final. Ukraine’s Shevchenko gets the golden boot for top scorer.
My “best bets” for surprises are Ukraine and Ivory Coast as well as Brazil getting knocked out in the second round to the Group E second team.
So you see, an American will win the World Cup after all! Juergen will bask in the glory, move back to Florida, and then take over his adopted country’s team..oh, and even if we don’t make it out of the mini-group of death this time, there is this guy named Freddy Adu who can walk on water and turn lead into gold. And in 2010 we really are going to win it all and the rest of the world will just have to deal with it..
Man, I am going to Gelsenkirchen on Monday and am PUMPED UP!!
More from Berlin soon!!!!!!!!!
Alex, we look forward to it. Thanks. Drink a lot of water and take two asprin before bed.