Friday, June 09, 2006

This is me trying to sleep 

But I just can't do it. Nope. I woke up four hours early. Why? Well, to quote the immortal words of Jesse Spano, "I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I'm so... scared." Only I'm not scared, I'm just more excited. World Cup 2006 kicks off today.

Game 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs gave the distinct impression that a Carolina sweep is a likely possibility and, despite the competitiveness of last night's game, the NBA Finals hold relatively little appeal for me this year (I've been actively rooting against both Dallas and Miami for much of this season. Even before the Mavs' win in game one, I picked them to take the crown in six games. Dirk will be the series MVP). It helps that both of these events are lowering their status on the "Man, I can't stop slathering my hot body thinking about sports" scale. And, fuck, I love World Cup.

Kick off for the opener, Germany v Costa Rica, is in four hours. If this were tomorrow, I'd be right on schedule for a planned outing to Big Wang's sports bar to watch England's opener against Paraguay at 6 a.m. or if it was most any other day for the next two weeks and the 6 a.m. (PST) games are the only ones I will likely be able to watch before shoving off to work (start that on Monday). So, as daybreak approaches in LA, here's a little rundown of who to cheer for as I try to get back to bed for perhaps another couple hours of sleep.

Group A
Germany - They're the host nation, but they're also responsible for one of history's greatest atrocities. Conventional wisdom says not to mention the war, but whatever. Screw that. This is not a typical German side, either, as they have glaring weaknesses which could be exposed in this tournament. I really think they get bounced in the round of 16 and disappoint.

Costa Rica - Underdogs, for sure. Have to cheer for them to beat Germany in the opener because that would just simply ruin everyone else's good time. Plus some more CONCACAF love couldn't hurt (American fans). They're not going to far, though. Out in the first round.

Ecuador - Completely ambivalent about this team. They showed a lot of fight in 2002, despite being eliminated in the group stage. I see the same happening this time around, as well.

Poland - I'm a quarter Polish, so this is my nation of choice in group A. They'll compete with the Germans for top of the group before likely bowing out in the round of 16 to either England or Sweden.

Group B
England - To Rooney or not to Rooney? That is the question. With the superstar striker, England are among the favorites to win the whole thing. Without him, they're still contenders, but their attack could stifle. I dig the English and the English game, so I've got a soft spot for them. Barring injury and perhaps boosted by a late return from Rooney, this team should make the semifinals.

Paraguay - An unfashionable South American outfit known for their tightness on the backline. Even with capable strikers, they're likely to slow the game down to a crawl and could sneak up on both England and Sweden. Underrated by everyone, the world over, I think they miss out on advancing by the slimmest of margins (goal difference?) and take third in the group. A tough out.

Trinidad and Tobago - Here we have the team that I believe will finish dead last in the tournament. They're as rank outsiders as Angola or Togo, but T&T are in a very difficult group and I think they'll be bombed out of the water in each game. It's sort of a miracle that the Soca Warriors are here at all, given that the population of the tandem island nation is barely over a million.

Sweden - No one is talking about the Swedes. Definitely, they have what it takes to beat England and make waves in the latter stages of the tournament. I think they spoil the host nation's party and knock the Germans out en route to a quarterfinals appearance. The trio of Ljunberg, Ibrahimovic, and Larsson makes their attack among the most potent in the tourney.

Group C
Argentina - Heading up this year's "Group of Death" are one of the favorites to win it all. The Argentines are pigs when it comes to sportsmanship and fair play. And they harbored (continue to harbor?) many of those who fled punishment after the war. Did I mention that they're pigs? I still can't get over how distasteful their performance was en route to a finals appearance in 1990. They've got tons of talent, though, and a healthy Lionel Messi (the next Maradona?) would go a long way to helping their cause. One of the teams that can beat Brazil, for sure, however, I see them fading in the quarters.

Ivory Coast - By now, you may have heard that Ivory Coast's qualification for it's first ever World Cup is directly responsible for the cease fire in the nation's civil war. Isn't that remarkable? How could you not cheer for these guys? I know I will. Sadly, for them, they got a really tough draw, but maybe Drogba & co. are this year's Senegal? That would be, in a word, "bitchin'."

Serbia and Montenegro - Now that Slobadan is out of the picture, it's smooth sailing, right? I don't know. The former Yugos are somewhat of an enigma to me. They'll hold their own in each match, but third place seems a likely finish for them. Perhaps if they were in a weaker group, people might expect more from them.

Holland - Here comes the darkhorse. Van Basten and the Oranje have looked stellar leading up to Germany '06. If they can avoid the injury bug (which seems to be creeping up on them, lately), why not the nation's first title? It could definitely happen.

Group D
Mexico - Sorry, if you're a US fan, you just cannot cheer for the Mexicans. I mean, they're simply not one of the top eight nations in the world deserving of a seed for the tournament. Certainly not over the US (who I wouldn't put in that category just yet, either). So feel free to boo Borgetti into a coma because Mexico simply don't deserve such a light draw. Especially compared to what we have to face. Out in the round of 16 and f 'em.

Iran - Fuck Iran. History's new great menace, President Ahmadinajedacrapistan, has said that he will travel to each game Iran play should they advance past the group stage. That's a problem because the EU has placed a ban on him traveling in the continent (something to do with advocating the destruction of Israel). I'll say it again, fuck Iran. Last place in the group.

Angola - The African newcomers have no chance. Shocking that they outlasted Nigeria in qualification, but the party will end quickly for them. Although, how freaking amazing would it be if they pipped their former colonial oppressors, Portugal, in their opening match. If that happens, Angola will declare a national holiday for, I don't know, the rest of the year. That game is their Superbowl.

Portugal - If the Portuguese don't win all three of their group matches, they suck. Surely, they'll improve upon the disappointment of '02, but probably out in the round of 16 if they have to face either Holland or Argentina. Tough pill for the European finalists.

Group E
Italy - Heading up the second toughest group is another strong contender for the title. Pressure is on the national team to deflect attention away from the country's domestic league scandal (match fixing, gambling, and such and such). I've been cheering for the Italians all my life (thanks, mom!) and will do so again this year except for one match. If they play the attacking style of football that their roster suggests they might instead of sitting on 1-0 leads, watch out! Remember, Italy have either been knocked out of every tournament since 1990 on penalties or (in 2002) on a ref disallowing two perfectly good goals. Unless the USA advances, hopefully Italy can avoid Brazil in the second round.

Ghana - The Black Stars, to me, are probably the best African team in the tournament. So it sucks that they have such an uphill battle as I tend to cheer for the sub-saharan nations given little chance by the pundits. They'll hang tough in each match, though.

United States - It's possible that we can play far far far far better than we did in 2002 and still get eliminated in the group stage. I think the American media will have a hard time understanding that, but it's likely. Even if we somehow manage to wriggle out of this harsh group, a likely second round game with Brazil awaits. Yikes! But this team has speed and athleticism in spades and that will keep it competitive against Italy and the Czechs. Not to mention top notch keeping from Kasey Keller. For the US, it all depends on the first match with Czech Rep. Get a result there, even a draw, and our fortunes for the rest of the tournament just got a whole lot brighter. I just hope that Eddie Johnson can regain the scoring form that he had early in qualifying because that will allow Landon Donovan to excel in attacking midfield. Cross your fingers that John O'Brien and Claudio Reyna don't get injured and that the US defense isn't torn to shreds. Breakout American star of Germany '06: Oguchi Onyweu. You can't miss him. He's the 6'4" black badass on defense who is going to kick a lot of ass and score a fat contract in a top European league (higher than the Belgian one he currently plays in) as a result.

Czech Republic - They could be one of the five best teams in the world, but they could also be this year's Portugal '02 or Colombia '04 -- that team people are billing to make a deep run, but flame out early. I think the former is more likely and perhaps a quarterfinal appearance could be the fruit of that. Koller, Baros, Nedved, Rosicky... the US has a handful to deal with here. It's up to our pace on the wings to keep us in the match.

Group F
Brazil - Welcome to the Brazil invitational, where the other three group F participants will be playing for second place. No doubts that the Samba Boys are the favorites to capture another title. They look nigh unbeatable. The quartet of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka, and Adriano will give every other team nightmares. They're so entertaining to watch, but for the sake of interest, I really, truly hope that they crash out early. Very early.

Croatia - I like their chances to come out as the second place team here. They'll probably be bounced in the next round. Remember when Croatia finished 3rd in France '98? I know, me neither.

Australia - Have to cheer for the Socceroos right, Togs? I'd like to see them do well and their coach, Guus Hiddink, did far more with far less talent in 2002 when he (along with side homecooking) guided Korea of all teams to the semis.

Japan - They play an attacking style of football that is sure to keep the Croats and Aussies on their toes, but could get them into heaps of trouble against Brazil. I think they come up just short, but why not Japan into round two? Remember when George Bush vomited on their president? Gold.

Group G
France - The French are a mystery and, unlike Ducktales, they're not likely to rewrite history. I think we'll see the underachieving side from '02 rather than the champions of '98. But I still like them to win this weak group. It'll be interesting to see if Thierry Henry can finally make noise on the world stage.

Switzerland - The Swiss are a rather unfashionable side, but they gave France all they wanted in qualifying. Still, something tells me they slip up and are perhaps a little over their heads. A showdown with Korea in the last group match will determine who finishes in second place.

South Korea - No way in hell do they make it back to the semis. It's completely ridiculous that they ever got there in the first place. But that's soccer. Anyway, I think they finish second behind France before going home in the round of 16. But the Swiss are playing very close to home and the Koreans generally suck ass when they're not getting suspicious calls in their favor in Asia.

Togo - I hope these newbies do well, I really do. Go Togo! They probably don't stand a chance, but there has to be at least one African team that advances out of the group stage.

Group H
Spain - Ah, the Spanish. Europe's punchline for futility and underachievement. They have so much talent! At every position! Yet they'll probably disappoint yet again! Out much earlier than they should be.

Ukraine - Can Ukraine continue their hot form from qualifying or will they flame out like Poland in '02? I think they'll win the group. Their coach is a raging racist! So is Spain's!

Tunisia - The only African team in Germany with any previous appearances. There's a lot of talk about how they could surprise in the early going. Not sure that I see it, just yet.

Saudi Arabia - They still suck. Good enough to make it back to the WC, sure, and it can't possibly get any worse than their dead-last finish in '02, but they suck. Their saving grace is that group H (along with, perhaps, group G) is the weakest in the field.

I will now try to sleep.

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