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World Cup 2010: Pre-Cup prediction on who will win

No time to really sort this out.  There are less than 8 hours to go to kickoff.  And the crystal ball is looking murky.  So, lets do the whys and why nots for the favorites IMO.  I will update this after the first round, but let me not shy away from it right now.

Brazil:  They win because they are solid in the defensive half of the field and have depth.  Julio Cesar, 2 great right backs (they should play Dani Alves at left back just to get him on the field as he will be behind Maicon at right back),  Lucio, Juan and Luisao to play the middle, Melo at holding and Kaka, Robinho and Fabiano up front.  Also, they are the only ones who have won outside of their continent (apart from Argentina in Mexico which sort of doesn’t count as a really different continent) – in fact, they have won in North America (1994), Europe (1958) and Asia (2002).  Seems to make sense that they should win in Africa.  They won’t win because there is magic missing up front.  Efficiency is great, but you need some magic.  Kaka has not been fit all season.  Hard to get there at the World Cup.  Plus, its a hard road through Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea to start the tournament.  They should win the group but that’s a work out unlike for Spain and England.

Spain:  They win because they have the most talented passers and total football team.  Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Xabi – what a foursome of passers in midfield.  Then you have Silva, Pedro and Jesus Navas (the biggest key for Spain after Torres IMO because the Achilles heel for Spain is a lack of real speed) on the wings (though Iniesta could play down the left as well).  Finally, Iker in goal and Torres and Villa up front.  That’s a squad.  Why they don’t win – I don’t think their defense is good enough.  I know I identified it as an issue in the Euros and they made me eat my words (though I did pick them to win pre tournament), but I just don’t get comfort in Capdevilla at left back and Ramos goes AWOL every so often at right back.  Also, Cesc, Iniesta and Torres are coming off injuries that caused them to miss the end of the season and Xavi is carrying a calf injury according to Pep Guardiola.  Also, the USA showed how you beat Spain.  Send them to the wings and overpower the strikers when they are forced to cross the ball – press Xavi at the same time.  Navas’ speed on the wing helps and Torres seems to be coming along.  They also have a relatively easy group to work Cesc, Torres and Iniesta back into playing shape before the knockout round.  However, I am still uneasy.  A big miss is going to be Marcos Senna at holding mid.  So, I want to say Spain but I just hesitate.

Argentina:  They win because they probably have one of the best forward pools in the history of the World Cup.  Messi and Higuain led La Liga in scoring, Tevez was near the top in the EPL as was Milito.  And then there is Aguero and Di Maria.  Did I mention Messi?!  Decent first round group to warm up with.  Mascherano at holding is solid.  And I’ve always liked Veron’s touch though he is a bit slow.  Wish Diego had brought Zanetti and Cambiasso.  That’s a big mistake.  They don’t win because their defense is too slow and old.  Heinze, DiMichelis and Samuel are just not up to snuff.  And Brazil and Inter showed you how to stop Messi.  And then you have the craziness of Maradona.

Holland: The win because Robben and Sneijder are two of the five most in form players in the world (I’d put Messi, Ronaldo and Milito in that bracket as well) at the end of the club season.  Then there’s Robin van Persie who is fresh after missing most of the season.  Rafael vdv is in decent form as well.  Kuyt provides work rate and balance up front.  They don’t win because their defense and keeping is not up to snuff.  And they tend to run out of steam as tournaments progress.

England: They win because they are the second best team from top to bottom in terms of depth (after Brazil).  They have Rooney and great veterans in the spine of the team – James, Terry (too bad Rio’s out, but King and Upson are good), Gerrard, Lampard.  They have speed on the wings (Fabio should have included Walcott instead of SWP).  Great coach.  They haven’t lost a World Cup game in a while if you exclude penalty kick knockouts.  They don’t win because too much depends on Rooney, Glen Johnson is a terrible defensive right back and the holding midfielder position isn’t settled.  Also, the weight of expectations will become very heavy the further we get in the tournament.

These are the only real favorites in my opinion.  A dark horse is Portugal, but with Nani out, their chances dropped significantly.  Never count out Germany (but Ballack is a big miss and they seem a big young) or Italy (this is one of the worst teams they have fielded though) or one of the African countries.  I would have put Ivory Coast as the top African team, but even if Drogba plays (as it seems to indicate in the latest news), its hard to have a brand new coach and expect to win the World Cup.

Two big factors and then I’ll make my pre Cup prediction.

The ball: with the movement in the ball, free kicks and corners are going to be very important.  That makes Ronaldo, Dani Alves, Sneijder, Lampard and Xavi very dangerous.  It could be the difference between winning and losing the Cup.

History: No European team has won the World Cup outside of Europe.  Argentina and Brazil have won outside of their  continent.  Yes, it is winter in South Africa so the heat is not going to be as big a factor as it has been for tournaments outside of Europe in the past.

My pick: Brazil if they win their group.  Holland if Brazil doesn’t win their group.

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Chelsea vs Barcelona: Semi final 2nd Leg Pre game prediction

I know what Barca did to Real Madrid on the weekend.  I know Messi is supposed to be the player of this generation.  I know Iniesta and Xavi are incredibly talented midfielders and Eto’o is one of the best strikers in the world.  But the only things that are matter are these:

Barca has the away goals shut out of Chelsea in its favor.  If Barca scores at least one goal, Chelsea needs to win the game.

Messi is going to be determined to show he is the best in the world after the performance Ronaldo put on today.

The game is being played at Stamford Bridge where the pitch feels smaller than the Nou Camp which means less room for Messi and company to play their football.

No Marquez and no Puyol in the middle.  That means Pique, who for all his game is a relative rookie, and Caceres in the middle with the mercurial Valdes behind them.

Eric Abidal got skinned by first Robben and then Ramos for the first goal.  Hiddink, if I were you, I’d start Kalou on the right.  Dani Alves on the right is at best an average defender.

Henry might not play due to a knee injury.

Hiddink is a scarily successful coach no matter the squad he has – and he has a tough, experienced, motivated squad playing at home.

Based on these factors, while I still think its going to be tight, I think Chelsea goes through.

Guus, this is what you need to do to win.  As I said in the prior post, (1) water the pitch well to slow Messi down.  (2) Start Kalou on the right and Malouda on the left.  Lampard in the middle.  Drogba up front.  Essien and Mikel holding midfielders.  If you go one down, then bring on Anelka up front in the second half for Mikel.  For now, Ballack needs to start on the bench.  (3) Make sure Cole doesn’t give Messi the sideline – funnel him inside and then have Essien pick him up.  Not Mikel who gives away too many fouls on the edge of the box.  If Messi tries to go to the middle as he did against Real Madrid, even better for you.  That’s when you have Essien man mark him with Mikel sitting in a holding position behind him.  (4) If Henry doesn’t start, I believe Keita or Busquets will play in holding midfield along with Yaya Toure to help out the two kids at the center of defense.  Resist the temptation to play Ballack even with the reduced Barca team speed if Henry is out.  Yes, he may be good for headers off set pieces, but that’s a luxury you can’t afford in this game.  (5) Make sure Chelsea pumps more diagonal balls into the box.  See how Barca was all at sea during the Real game with crossed balls – they scored both goals on balls like that.  Cech was wasteful with his long clearances straight to Valdes.  (6) Keep possession better than you did at Barca.  Don’t be so nervous.  Barca isn’t that strong at pressing.  You play in the EPL.  You can hang with Liverpool and Man U.  Why be so concerned about Barca’s pressure up the pitch.  Pass your way out.  You always have Drogba to hold the ball up.

Pep, this is what you need to do.  (1) If Henry is out, then play Iniesta down the left and start Keita and Yaya at holding mid behind Xavi, Eto’o and Messi.  Hold Chelsea first, give cover and confidence to Pique and Caceres and wait for Messi to deliver.  If it’s tough going, then bring on Bojan for Keita and push Eto’o wide.  (2) Score a goal.  In fact, score two.  Because I think that’s what you are going to need to win with the defense you have for this game. (3) Shave and get a decent tie.  (4) Start Messi going up the middle to confuse the crap out of Chelsea’s backline and then move him back to the right.

Prediction:  Chelsea 2 Barcelona 1

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How to stop Lionel Messi

Relatively straightforward in concept, but hard to do in reality unless you have the personnel.

First, water the pitch as much as you can.  That’s why Messi didn’t really get going against Chelsea at the Nou Camp in the first leg.  He couldn’t plant and cut with the pitch so wet.  Also, he couldn’t get the ball rolling naturally to use his usual feints to get the defender off balance.

Second, get a quick left back.  Messi didn’t get much change out of Patrice Evra against Manchester United last year.  He didn’t get much out of Bosingwa in the first leg either.  Quick defenders take away Messi’s main advantage of burning the left back one on one down the wing before turning for goal with the defender on his back and too many options for the center backs to deal with.  That’s when he either cuts in and blasts past the keeper or sets up late arriving Xavi and Iniesta or goes to the far post for Henry.  I bet he struggles against Ashley Cole though Ashley has lost a step since leaving Arsenal.  I’d even consider playing Bosingwa as a shadow for Messi.  He’d be more productive than Ballack was in the first leg.

Third, get him moving right to left parallel to the goal line.  Do not give him the wing and do not let him play a one two to get behind the left back on the wing.  That’s death.  As he cuts across, the defensive midfield player has to pick him up, the center half has to stay goalside of Eto’o for the diagonal run to receive the Messi reverse ball and the left back has to stay goalside and to the outside of Messi so that he cuts off the one two reverse to Messi.

Fourth, have disciplined center backs to mark Eto’o’s diagonal runs.  Let Messi have to take you on with a longer run.

Five, make him use his right foot.  He isn’t entirely left footed, but he doesn’t have long distance power in his left foot and is below average with his right foot.

If people think this is theoretical, pull out the tapes of Man U vs Barcelona from last year (yes, he was just returning from injury) and Argentina vs Brazil from the South American Cup.  That’s what happens when you put a fast marker on him and back that up with physical play on him and his teammates.  Messi doesn’t like it when he can’t blow by you.  Frustrate him and he’s easier to control.  Kicking him is not going to work.

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Euro 2008 Final – 1st half in match comments

3 min: Wake up Sergio. You can’t be lax with your passes like that

4 min: Sergio, stay with Lahm. He will kill you if you give him that much space.

7 min: Ballack skips past Puyol with ease. Germany looking very calm.

11 min: Spain has not really passed the ball. Midfield is a bit clogged. Game is too slow to work for Spain. They need to speed up the passing. Long balls forward are not working. Put it through on the ground.

13 min: That’s much better. Great save off the redirect by Lehmann.

17 min: I think Torres has a mismatch that he is going to exploit as the game goes on on the left side of the German defense. If Friedrich is not at home, Mertesacker can’t stay with him.

22 min: Great ball Ramos. Torres got open. Great jump and header. Game on. German backline can’t handle him.

Torres scores.  Great burst past Lahm and chip finish.  Spain is all over Germany.  Ballack now needs to be careful with the yellow card he has received.

Loew – bring on Kuranyi or move Podolski up front with Klose and bring Lahm up to left wing and bring on Jansen or Fritz to play left back.  You need more going forward.  Make the change at about the 58 min mark.

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Euro 2008 Final – almost kickoff

Ballack is starting.  We’ll see how long he lasts if his injury is as bad as it sounded pre game.

One of the best parts of this tournament is hearing the national anthems at the beginning.  Spain apparently has no words in March Real.  La la la from the fans just doesn’t work.

The German anthem is very martial.  Time to go to war…

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Euro 2008 Final: Spain v Germany – pre game

Some further musings with 18.5 hours to go…

Injuries seem to be have made Aragones a lucky man. It looks like Cesc is going to start. He has been forced to make the right decision and start Cesc Fabregas only due to the injury to Villa. Bad as it is to say it, Villa’s injury was a blessing in disguise for Spain who were able to win the game due to the strength in midfield that Cesc brings. Not only that, it looks like Ballack might miss the final due to a calf injury. As it usually is, sometimes its better to be lucky than good…

If Ballack’s injury keeps him out of the final, he will have never played in a major final for Germany. He missed the 2002 World Cup due to suspension, got knocked out of the 2006 World Cup Final in their semifinal overtime loss to Italy and now potentially Euro 2008 as well. May be just as well, because if he suffered through a repeat of 2002, it would be just too cruel. In 2002, when he played for Bayer Leverkusen, he lost the German Bundesliga in the last week and lost the Champions League Final to Real Madrid with a brilliant Zidane volley leaving him trophyless. That was followed by the defeat in Korea to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup Final. Fast forward to 2008 and the same thing could happen – Chelsea lose the Premier League title to Manchester United in the last week and then the Champions League Final by the width of a post. Ironically, the tournament Germany most deserved to win – when they were playing their best football – was the 2006 World Cup when Grosso and Del Piero’s last minute goals in overtime knocked them out of appearing in the final on home soil. I don’t foresee the Ballack curse changing tomorrow…

If Ballack is out, it might turn out alright for Germany. It might force Loew to have a three man defensive cordon to jam up the Spaniards. Frings, Hitzlsperger and Borowski or Rolfs to hold behind Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Klose. I personally think that Loew should use this setback to become more aggressive. Have Kuranyi join Klose up front and have Schweinsteiger, Frings and Hitzelsberger play behind the front three. Challenge the middle of the Spanish defense and it will cause Ramos to stay home more which will help slow down the Spanish attack. Keeping three in defensive midfield is going to result in death by a thousand cuts against the superior passing Spanish midfield…

The other side of Ballack being out – the height advantage is gone. Podolski, Hitzlsperger, Frings, Lahm, Klose (he can jump though) and Schweinsteiger aren’t that tall. So in midfield and at the offensive end, Germany is going to have to win the battle on the ground during regular play. That’s why dead ball situations are going to be even more critical…

Should Loew try another tactic and use Lahm at left wing and move Podolski up front to partner Klose? Lahm didn’t really played that well defensively against the quicker moving Turks – Sabri undressed him a couple of times. If you move Lahm up front and have the quartet of Podolski, Lahm, Klose and Schweinsteiger free to interchange and attack, it will give Spain problems. Have Frings and Hitzlsperger hold and bring in Jansen or Fritz at left back. Lahm can drop back and help defensively but will provide more drive down the left if he plays at left wing. Podolski and Klose should be playing up front together where their movement will cause issues for Puyol and Marchena thereby giving Klose more room for the high balls. Just a thought, Joachim…

Very glad to see that Domenech is supposedly going to be fired and replaced by the man I had picked as my choice – Didier Deschamps. Domenech is Aragones’ more arrogant twin – except he doesn’t have the luck to balance out his lack of ability…

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Who will win Euro 2008 – pre final

I picked Spain early and, while this is not an easy match up for them, I still think they will win against Germany.

Initial take on the potential formation and the impact of Villa’s injury

Villa not playing is a big loss but it may actually work in their favor if it forces Aragones to play the extra man in midfield – hopefully it’s Cesc Fabregas. That is going to cause the Germans to play five in midfield as well and I think that plays into the Spanish hands as they are better at moving the ball and will allow their defenders a better chance to handle the aerial abilities of Klose since he will usually be outnumbered in the Spanish half.

The match ups

This game is going to be won or lost based on who creates the most chances from midfield. I think Germany has really flattered to deceive. The Poland game was fool’s gold as they played too openly and made the Germans look better than they were. Croatia carved them up and they didn’t really impress against Austria. Against Portugal – good result but two of the three goals were defensive mistakes on free kicks. Ballack hasn’t played a great game yet. Schweinsteiger and Podolski are the ones doing all the damage for Germany. That advantage is going to be smaller against Spain. If Cesc starts, it will make it hard for Germany to focus on shutting down Xavi as the playmaker. Spain is too mobile and will give Mertesacker and Metzelder a hard time on the ground. So Spain wins the midfield battle and generate chances. It is us to Torres and Silva to get the goals. This is the game for Torres to deliver. I keep saying that, but with Villa out, it’s his time and I think he will come through. Cesc will help him out. Silva’s scoring in the semi should also give him the confidence to be aggressive in the final.

The German left wing is going to be a big battle. Podolski and Lahm on Ramos is going to be a very good matchup. Look out Sergio. Don’t forget about getting back. Lahm, with Frings backing him up and Podolski in front of him, is going to break down the left wing often. Concentrate on the tackle. Cesc is going to have to help him out as Iniesta is not the answer. Spain obviously needs to limit dead ball opportunities for the Germans where their height advantage will cause the Spanish defense problems. Free kicks are more dangerous than the corners where Casillas can be more effective. Puyol and Marchena are going to have to concentrate on Klose for the full 90 minutes.

Other

Lehmann is looking shaky while Casillas has been playing well. Spain seems to have a deeper bench, especially since Gomez has played poorly and Kuranyi not at all. I’d take Loew over Aragones. Germany has the mental edge since they have played in so many of these finals. Never count the Germans out. Big question – we know the Germans can rally from being down a goal, but can Spain (the Greece game doesn’t count)??

Pre-game prediction: Spain 3 Germany 2

Torres, Ramos to score for Spain with Podolski and Ballack scoring for Germany. Top performers will be Podolski, Cesc and Casillas.

I want to hear from all of you out there. More to come prior to the game on Sunday…

Prior blogs with my predictions on the winner are below:

Prior to semi finals

https://centerhalf12.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/who-will-win-euro-2008-pre-semi-finals/

Day 0 of the tournament

https://centerhalf12.wordpress.com/2008/06/07/who-will-euro-2008-day-0/

Pre-tournament (actually about the most accurate overall call CH12 has made this tournament)

https://centerhalf12.wordpress.com/2008/06/02/who-will-win-euro-2008/

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