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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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Russia v Holland – pre game prediction

Can’t call this one.  IF Russia plays the way they can and have and IF Holland plays the way they can and have, I would pick Russia to win.  It’s for one simple reason – they look like they can create multiple chances from any style of play.  They created chances when the pace was walk up slow against Greece, they scored off quick counter attacks against Sweden and they had chances against Spain, even though the scoreline didn’t reflect the balance.  I am still amazed at how calmly and well they move the ball around in the opponent’s penalty box.  They remind me of Arsenal – except that Russia plays even quicker one touch (no Hleb or Cesc to play on the ball as much), they are better able to find space in the opponent’s box with direct passing as opposed to one-two give and go’s and they don’t rely as much on breakaway speed.  It’s no surprise that Wenger is supposedly looking to buy Arshavin to replace Adebayor (if he goes to Milan).  I actually think Arshavin is a better replacement for Hleb.  He’s quicker, more direct and shoots more than Hleb who tends to hold the ball too much (though he is an amazing player) for the Arsenal offense.  Pavlyuchenko is another one who might cause Ooijer and Mathijsen some trouble.  He’s just a bit too selfish on occasion, but I think he will give them trouble in the air.

Having said all that, and built Russia up (huge weapon is Hiddink’s ability as a coach and his knowledge of the Dutch game), it’s hard to go against the Dutch given the fact that their skill players are in good form.  They are not older and fatigued like the Swedes.  Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Rafael Van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Ruud van Nistelrooy.  That should be more that enough.  I think Robin probably comes off the bench so that Van Basten can have Engelaar and De Jong or Heitenga to slow down the Russian offense.  In any case, it’s going to be won on speed on the counter and which defense plays better.  I think the Dutch will be a bit more disciplined and, with Van der Sar in goal, should have enough to win the game.  Key matchup will be Zhirkov v Bouhlarouz.  I can’t imagine how he can focus enough to play after the tragedy he has just suffered. 

Pre-game prediction: Holland 3 Russia 1

Player of the game: Arjen Robben

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Holland vs France – post game

Now that was a fun game to watch. The 2008 Dutch model reminds me a lot of the 2000 model – exciting to watch, with fantastic technique and movement going forward. I still have questions about the middle of the defense and the holding midfielder, Engelaar, didn’t really stem the flow of the French down the middle of the park.

However, they are through as the winner of Group C, which means they will probably play either Russia or Sweden in the quarter finals. They can beat both those teams, which means they will either play Italy or France or Spain in the semi finals. They have beaten the first two handily and I have doubts that Spain’s central duo can keep this squad from scoring. I don’t know that Ooijer and Mathijsen can keep Torres and Villa off the scoreboard either, but based on current form, I am a believer in the Dutch. So it’s looking good for the Dutch to get to the finals. Normally, you would be concerned with the Dutch in knockout matches given their poor record in penalties. However, this team has great penalty takers – Ruud, Van Persie, Gio Van Bronckhorst, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van der Vaart – and Van Der Sar is one goalkeeper I would have all the confidence in the world in, given his recent winning save in the Champions League Final in Moscow.

France outplayed Holland – yes, I will refer to them as Holland till they lose (and the dead match against Romania doesn’t count since they will probably rest some of their starters and players on yellow cards) – for the first 60 minutes and had the bulk of possession during that period. However, as so often happens, the Dutch had two real chances and put in two goals while the French couldn’t put away their chances much like Italy couldn’t against Romania. Henry, in particular, was wasteful. I don’t understand why the strikers at Euro 2008 aren’t rounding the keeper on breakaways. With his speed, he should have gone around Van der Sar. He chose to try to lob it instead. Why, Thierry, would you lob with the top of the boot instead of sidefooting the lob given that you had enough time and space? One has so much more control when one does that. Instead, he put it over the crossbar. Yes, Ooijer should have been penalized for his handball off Henry’s blast, but c’est la vie. There is no way France should have given up goal #3 to Robben within a minute of cutting it to 2-1… and the angle he scored from was hard to swallow. People are blaming Coupet, but sometimes, you just have to admit that a blast to the top of the goal from that angle is unexpected and hard to stop when struck with that pace. You just can’t get your palms up fast enough to push it over the top of the bar or block it back.

Domenech, you are terrible. No Nasri or Benzema. Can’t you see that your old guys aren’t getting it done – look at the Dutch team to get a clue? And you play Maka the whole game when you are trailing. Terrible decision making. I hope Les Blues fire you and bring in Laurent Blanc or Didier Deschamps as coach of the national team.

On the other hand, Marco van Basten, you are the MAN. I LOVE YOUR SUBSTITUTIONS. I suggested you get more speed in midfield by bringing on Robben or Van Persie in the second half. You bring on BOTH! Forget protecting the lead. You rightly believed that a good defense is a good offense. Fans, like CH12, bray for that all the time, but then we don’t have the pressure to get results. Few coaches ever subscribe to that cliched philosophy. But, you did – the cynics may say you already know you are leaving for Ajax after the tournament, so what the heck. However, it was brilliant and that’s why I am rooting for the Dutch to win the Euros 20 years after they last won it in 1988, when Van Basten scored one of the most unbelievable goals ever in the final against Russia (“rooting” not predicting – this is the Dutch team after all). If you think Robben’s angle was tight, check out that goal. So your two subs combine to score the second goal and Robben scores the third. Wesley, master strike for the fourth goal. The final compliment is to Ruud – the Zidane-step-on-the-ball-and-spin for a pass move!?? Who knew?! It absolutely set up Robben’s lane down the wing and led to the second goal.

Pre-game prediction: France 2 Holland 1

Result: France 1 Holland 4 ( “If one is going to be wrong, sometimes it is best to be spectacularly so” – CH12 June 13, 2008 )

Scorers: Dirk Kuyt, Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder (Holland) Thierry Henry (France)

Man of the match for Holland was Arjen Robben; for France: Ribery again.

CH12 is now 6 and 8. Got to come back strong tomorrow to get back to even. Maybe I will use Van Basten’s philosophy and go with the thought that the best defense is to go with the offense…

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