Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Let’s be up front about group B: Argentina should comfortably beat all three teams they come up against. Arguably the squad with the single largest endowment of talent in the tournament, not to mention the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, the Albiceleste will view the group as a warm up to the next few rounds.
The Argentine team is one of the favorites to win the tournament outright, and having the player many are comparing to God should certainly help. Coached by arguably the best player in the history of the game, the outburst-prone, former coke addict Diego Maradona, the biggest problem facing Argentina appears to be which strikers to bring to the tournament. That, or Maradona’s temper after weeks of media pressure. Argentina’s narrow qualification moved their coach to the now immortal suggestion that the press could “suck it, and keep sucking it.” Needless to say, a FIFA fine ensued.
Nigeria has several European-based players of note — Wolfsburg’s Obafemi Martins, Marseille’s Taye Taiwo and Everton’s Aiyegbeni Yakubu to name a few. Combined with some formidable Africa-based talent, they should easily handle Greece and South Korea, two teams that despite recent success are absolute crap. Although Greece stunned the world by winning the European Cup in 2004, they did so with what is generally acknowledged as the ugliest type of soccer: Score a goal, then park 10 defenders in the box.
South Korea has also recently found success, losing the third place game against Turkey in the 2002 cup as co-hosts with Japan, but they do not have too much on offer in the way of attractive soccer. Neither team is much fun to watch, and Greece is probably the worst team in the tournament, although we’ll see what North Korea and Switzerland have to say about that.
Predictions: (1) Argentina, (2) Nigeria, (3) South Korea, (4) Greece (with no goals scored)
England, USA, Slovenia, Algeria
This is our group, and it should be interesting. Opening against our former colonial masters England on June 12th at 11:30 a.m. (nothing sets up a good world cup draw like colonizer vs. colonized), the U.S. will set out to start off the tournament with a stunning upset. We’ve done it before at this stage, defeating England 1-0 during the tournament in 1950.
Hoping to build our reputation as a legitimate team and forget the disastrous campaign in 2006 where we failed to make it out of the group, our newest crop of stars, led by Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, will be looking to start off the tournament with a bang. I’m tipping us to beat England and take the group, but it’s not the smart bet. Then again, our current crop of European based stars, including AC Milan’s defender Oguchi Onyewu, could yet spell trouble for an England squad with enormous problems in the dressing room.
Want to know how not to build team spirit? Ask John Terry, the Chelsea skipper who recently lost the England captaincy by sleeping with national teammate Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend. And did I mention that Terry is “happily” married?
Slovenia shouldn’t cause the U.S. any problems if we don’t fall asleep at the wheel, and although the cultural bad blood between America and Algeria should make our game against “the desert foxes” politically interesting, we should beat them. Algeria does have a host of talent, including Portsmouth midfielder Nadir Belhadj, but in the end our squad is deeper, and we have more to prove.
Outside of this parallel universe I like to think Team U.S.A. inhabits, England is a tournament favorite — or constant underachievers depending on how you like it — and will undoubtedly cause the US problems with a plethora of talent. Or their constant “who-should-start-at-midfield/right wing/left back” debate will cripple them from the get-go. It could go either way, but expect the fight of a lifetime.
Predictions: (1) USA (shameless nationalism), (2) England, (3) Slovenia, (4) Algeria