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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 Netherlands – post game

Sorry Holland, but now that you have lost, you are back to the Netherlands. Frankly, the Dutch were lucky to get the game to extra time. Russia dominated this game from the beginning to the end. The only thing that the Dutch had going for them was the slack marking – frankly baffling given how good a coach Hiddink is – off of free kicks that almost had Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Nigel De Jong scoring in the first half. Other than that it was Russia that dominated midfield and looked the more dangerous going forward. Sneijder and Van der Vaart had below average games and Ooijer and Mathijsen looked pedestrian. If it wasn’t for Van der Sar’s heroics, this game would have been over by the 60 minute mark. As it was, he kept Russia out till the 56th minute when Pavlyuchenko brilliantly finished on the near post after getting goal side of his marker. The fault lies with Heitenga who had just come on for Bouhlarouz and was nowhere near the crosser, Semak. Too much time allowed him to deliver a perfect pass for Pavlyuchenko to leave Van der Sar flat footed.

After that, the Dutch tried everything to get back into the game but most of their efforts involved long range blasts by Sneijder. Unfortunately, my prediction for man of the match, Arjen Robben could not play due to injury and that limited Dutch penetration on the wings. They played too narrow which didn’t work against the Russians who packed it inside and didn’t give Van Nistelrooy or Sneijder much room. Meanwhile, Van Der Sar and De Jong somehow managed to keep Russia from scoring with Ooijer and Mathijsen clearly struggling with the pace of Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko and Zhirkov. However, there was just one free kick too many for the Russians and Ruud headed in unmarked to tie it up in the 86th minute. The game may not have ended the way it did if not for the referee overturning his decision to give Kolodin a second yellow card for a foul on Sneijder after consulting with his linesman who told him the ball had gone out of play before the foul. I have never seen that happen before. Good thing he did, because otherwise it would have unfairly given the Dutch an advantage in extra time, as replays showed no contact.

In extra time, it was clear that the Dutch were just hanging on and that it was Russia’s to win. Man of the match, Andrei Arshavin, demonstrated clearly that he was the best player on the park by showing the same pace at the end of the game as he did in the beginning. His stop start left his defender standing before he crossed for Torbinsky to turn the ball inside the far post when Van Der Vaart and Gio Van Bronckhorst left him get between and ahead of them. Arshavin finished the scoring with a diagonal run, received a throw in and put it between Van der Sar’s legs. Wenger, you better add some more millions to that transfer fee.

The result didn’t surprise me. As I had suggested in my pre-game post, IF both teams played the way they could, I thought the Russians would win. The Russians played the way they can and the Dutch didn’t even reach their regular potential. Russia and Turkey in the semi finals. What a tournament.

Pre-game prediction: Russia 1 Holland 3

Result: Russia 3 Netherlands 1 (a little dyslexia from HC21)

Scorers: Roman Pavlyuchenko, Dmitri Torbinsky, Andrei Arshavin (Russia) Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Netherlands)

Spain, could you please win one for the pre-game favorites and have CH12 at least correctly predict one of the four quarter finals…

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Holland vs France – pre game prediction

The crystal ball changes from minute to minute.  This is a tough one.  If the Dutch show up the way they did against Italy and the French show up the way they did against Romania, it’s relatively easy to call the Dutch winners.  However, I think the Dutch drop a bit, even with Van Persie possibly starting and the French do better simply because the Dutch will not have 10 men behind the ball like Romania.  There will be more space for the French midfield.  I also think Andre Ooijer and Joris Mathijesen are going to have a much harder time with Benzema and Anelka/Henry/Gomis. 

Domenech needs to start Nasri so that there is more speed and energy going forward else the French midfield will be overrun by the faster Dutch set up of Van der Vaart, Engelaar and Sneijder.   Toulalan and Maka should be enough to slow down the Dutch and give the defense numbers against Ruud and company.  Unsure of how solid Gallas and Thuram are in the middle of the park since Romania didn’t really test them.  Should be a barnstormer.

I still can’t figure out how to call it, but I think there will be goals and I think its a 2 all draw, with the French the more likely to win the game.  Will update once we know the Italy v Romania result.

Pre-game prediction: France 2 Holland 2

Ruud and Benzema will score…   Continue reading

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Netherlands vs Italy – post match.

Shocking. Surprising. Not that the Dutch beat the Italians. But surprising that they beat them without the Italians able to even put one past what was supposed to be a suspect defense. What is shocking – there hasn’t been a match yet where both teams have scored. I thought it would end with today’s matches, but what do I know.

Man of the match for the Dutch – the entire team. If I had to pick the cream of the crop, I would suggest Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van der Vaart, Edwin Van der Sar, Dirk Kuyt (two assists), Orlando Engelaar (for a relative newcomer to the national team, he was a giant in breaking up the Italian attacks in front of his back four. He was also great at getting the ball forward through midfield) and my choice for the main man – Gio Van Bronckhorst. A headed goal and two assists. From the left back! That’s total football for you. For the Italians, Andrea Pirlo started getting more into the game in the second half and Fabio Grosso had a decent substitute appearance, but they had no player really step up.

So now, we hear that the offside goal by Ruud Van Nistelrooy wasn’t an offside goal since Panucci was in play even though he was off the pitch. Never heard the rule interpreted that way, but okay.

I am now 3 and 3 for the tournament, but my picks still seem to hold good in the Group of Death – France and the Netherlands. Now that Van Persie played (and Robben looked okay running down the sidelines to celebrate the goals), I guess I will have to stick with the Dutch to progress 🙂 ….

Pre-game prediction: Italy 1 Netherlands 1

Result: Italy 0 Netherlands 3

Scorers: Van Nistelrooy, Sneijder, Van Bronckhorst (Netherlands)

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Netherlands vs Italy – Half time

Yes, it’s shocking that the Dutch are two up at the half. But what’s more shocking is that Ruud van Nistelrooy has missed two one on ones on top of that – this game should be long over. You could bet the house that Ruud would have had at least a double if not a hat trick by now with the chances he has had. That’s why Buffon is the world’s best keeper on the first chance. Anyway, a clear offside put the Dutch ahead and the second goal was a brilliant finish by Sneijder. That’s the only way you get past Buffon. However, as I pointed out in my earlier blog, I can’t go with an Italian defense that is not like the Italian defense of old. It showed on the second goal – where were Materazzi and Barzagli in closing down Sneijder? Other than Buffon and Di Natale, none of the Italians has done anything.

Donadoni, this is what you need to do. You have lost the midfield battle and Pirlo hasn’t had a touch. Bring in Aquilani and Del Piero for Ambrosini and Gattuso. Have Aquilani push up down the middle – he has a great shot. Maybe even substitute De Rossi for Zambrotta at the 60 minute mark if the score is the same and go to a back three. The Dutch back line is not that good. You have to put pressure – especially down the left wing where Bouhlarouz has no pace. Del Piero and Di Natale need to run at him.

This could get ugly if it’s 2-0 at around 60 minutes and the Italians have to press upfield….

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Group of Death – Day 1 Predictions. France vs Romania and Netherlands vs Italy

With the injuries mounting on both sides – Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Ryan Babel out for the Dutch and Cannavaro and possibly Panucci out for Italy – it’s going to be interesting to see if the Dutch can score and if the Italians can defend! I think it will be a bit of both but the Italians should normally score more than the Dutch if the two wingers (Babel and Robben) are out. However, since this is the first game in the group, I predict a scoring draw. Should be fun to see if Ruud van Nistelrooy and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar start up front for the Dutch and Toni and del Piero on the other side. I prefer the Italian midfield with Pirlo, De Rossi and Gattuso to Van der Vaart and Sneijder.

France will benefit from Vieira being out as it will get Ribery more of the ball. Benzema is going to clean up with Ribery and Henry (or Anelka or Gomis or Gouvou if Henry is injured) playing with him up front.  Looking forward to seeing Nasri out there at some point.  France wins.

With all the injuries, I may have to change my initial prediction on who comes out of the group. If Van Persie and Robben don’t come back by game 2, Italy and France could move on. Don’t count Romania out (Mutu is still the man at Fiorentina), but I just don’t think they will be able to surprise anyone in the group as every point counts. I’ll stick with the Dutch and French for now.

Monday, June 9, 2008
Time Home Away STAGE TV VENUE
12:00 ET Romania 1 v 2 France Group C Letzigrund Stadium
14:45 ET Netherlands 1 v 1 Italy Group C Stade de Suisse Wankdorf

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