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World Cup Wed Jul 14 2010

World Cup 2010 - The Deserving Champions

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Spain have emerged victorious, winners of the 2010 FIFA World Cup; but you probably already know that, considering this was the most publicized sporting event the world over. The soccer spectacle this summer was on full display, the past month dictating commercial creation, shirt sales, and dominating televisions both in and out of homes. Spain's victory over the Netherlands this past Sunday garnered over 700 million viewers, with over 24 million Americans joining in.

The huddled masses were treated to a shocking game, one which flouted all the prescient expectation and frothing hyperbole heaped upon the matchup by the ESPN network. Bill Simmons and his ilk were almost shaking with perverse glee at a Spain-Netherlands final--both were tournament also-rans, both were known for their tactical and technical creativity, they shared a heritage trailing back the Dutch creation of 'Total Football'. Not surprisingly, no one predicted a choppy, foul-ridden, unrecognizable game--yet here we are a week later with referee Howard Webb having to stand in ridiculous defense for his rain of colorful confetti throughout the game.

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The officiating through the run of this World Cup had been notoriously suspect, but make no mistake--Howard Webb was the victim and not the culprit. Both teams were guilty of some gasp-worthy defending, but none more so than the Dutch, whose near constant aggressive challenging earned them a red card, far into the match though it was. Their general deportment throughout the match was deplorable, but one highlight which will surely stay with the record for years to come is the Nigel De Jong kick to Xabi Alonso's chest--a horrifying example of dangerous play, which even he admits he was lucky to receive only a yellow from.

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Jordan Brown / Comments (2)

Soccer Sun Jun 13 2010

World Cup 2010 Preview: Group G

As soon as the groups were drawn, Group G was immediately tabbed the group of death. But in the build up, injuries took their toll and now Brazil are even more entrenched as favorites. Who will go through with them?

Brazil
This Brazilian team is unlike most previous Canarinha squads in that its focus is more on organization and defense than the typical Brazilian toca-toca samba style. In fact, coach Dunga's preferred line-up includes two holding midfielders -- Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva -- and former stars are now calling it everything short of treason.

But Dunga would know. He himself was a growling holding midfielder, known as much for crunching tackles as for protecting his back line. Still, some of his selections have been strange. Why leave off a finally fit Ronaldinho, coming off a great season at Milan? Some say it's personal: When Ronaldinho was just coming up, he embarrassed Dunga -- maybe he's never been forgiven. And in 'dinho's place are not the unknown energetic Brazilian youngsters that always seem to make a name for themselves in these tournaments, but inconsistent veterans. Elano? Kleberson? Really?

Either way, and even with the odd selection (no Adriano either), this Brazilian side is the most defensively talented ever. Goalie Julio Cesar, center back Lucio and right back Maicon were each all forces on Inter Milan's treble winning side this year. Maicon is especially dangerous going forward (check out this candidate for goal of the year). Shoot, Brazil are so stacked at back that Barcelona star Dani Alves will have to start on the bench.

Going forward, Brazil will rely on Kaka and Robinho. The idea is that those two and another striker (Julio Baptista or Luis Fabiano) should be able to get a goal or two by themselves -- and the defense will lock it down. It's certainly not the full team flowing soccer that we're used to seeing, but results in qualifying and at the Confederations Cup (see above) last summer have proven that this Brazilian team is no less lethal than some of their famous predecessors. Actually, bolstered as they are at back, they're even scarier.

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Ben Schuman-Stoler

Soccer Fri Jun 11 2010

World Cup 2010 Preview: Group E

All the teams in Group E don't mind throwing players forward. They all want to play an offensive style. The question, then, is which teams will be able to withstand each other, and which teams' attack will be too much to withstand.

Netherlands
Favorites to not only get out of the group but make a serious run for the title, the Oranje will have to overcome the injury epidemic as well as a history rife with missed chances, unfulfilled expectations, and heartbreak. Euro 2008 was just the latest disappointment -- losing to Russia after beating Italy and France seemed almost typical. But coach Bert van Marwijk got his team back on track, getting eight wins from eight games in qualifying, and Holland is flying into the World Cup.

Despite all the talk about their broken promises, one thing's for sure. Notwithstanding the shaky hamstrings of Arjen Robben (coming off a scorching time at Bayern Munich), Holland doesn't lack attacking options. Even without Robben, Van Marwijk has Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel, and youngsters Eljero Elia and Ibrahim Afellay to choose from. Keep an eye out especially for Wesley Sneijder, Inter Milan's creative spirit, and Robin Van Persie, who looks to have recovered nicely from a major ankle injury (see video above).

But beyond attack, this Holland team also boasts two strong ball winners in Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel. It's that kind of grit that will make the famous Dutch total football succeed against teams looking to defend, defend, and counterattack. Keeper Maarten Stekelenburg is probably the team's biggest weakness, but the Oranje should have no problem scoring enough goals to overcome any blunders and go through.

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Ben Schuman-Stoler

Soccer Thu Jun 10 2010

World Cup 2010 Preview: Group D

Group D -- another group, another unpredictable tangle of critical injuries and upstart replacements, traditional systems and bold new approaches, and on and on.

Germany
Despite the tumult of a major injury and some sociological distractions, smart money has Germany going through. They have pedigree, that's for sure. Coach Joachim Low has continued Jurgen Klinsmann's system of playing an odd brand of German fußball that doesn't consist entirely of booting the ball as far as possible, prioritizing organized defense, banging bodies, and restricting offense mostly to free kicks. It flourished at Euro 2008 (where they lost the final to Spain) and in qualifying, where Germany never lost and beat Russia twice.

With that whole, you know, passing thing in mind, captain Michael Ballack's injury (see above) might be the biggest Ewing Theory contender of the Cup. Yes he's a critical player, but without him gooning around picking up stupid yellow cards, Germany may find they move into attack quicker. The playmaking responsibilities will have to be spread more evenly among Bastian Schweinsteiger (playing more central than he does at Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski, Philip Lahm (coming from right-back), and a whole cast of young upstarts including Sami Khedira, Cacau, Marko Marin, and Mesut Ozil.

If some of those names sound a little un-German, get used to it. One of the most interesting cultural subplots this summer is the diversification of the German side, finally reflecting the country's sizable Muslim (mostly Turkish) contingent. Along with Polish players -- like Podolski and Miroslav Klose -- 11 of the 23 German players are either foreign born or of foreign descent. A national anthem controversy has already surfaced.

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Ben Schuman-Stoler

Soccer Wed Jun 09 2010

World Cup 2010 Preview: Group C

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Vuvuzelas at the ready America, it's soccer time. Our very own World Cup Group C is the topsoil from which Team USA will sprout its (hopefully) historic cup run. If you've passed ESPN on the telly for more than 20 seconds in the past months, Djimon Hounsou--AKA Amistad--has been telling you all about how 'one game can change everything,' and the US's first game is testament to that. Landon Donovan and Co. will be playing England to start our soccer safari this Saturday at 1:30 CST, and it looks to be an epic match for all involved.

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The last time the USA faced England in the World Cup in 1950, we beat the imperialist bastards 1-0 on a goal from Joe Gaetjens, who later died in Haiti when his family was involved in a coup against the Duvalier regime. The rich history, soccer and otherwise, between our two nations has led to one of the more gripping sagas leading up to the tournament in South Africa. The US and Nike specifically modeled the team's jerseys to pay homage to the 1950 kit, our ambassadors are making wagers and trading witty banter, Woody Harrelson sunk a penalty leading the 'Rest of World' celebrity team over an English opposition in Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium, and Landon Donovan has already tipped Johnny Depp to play him in the movie adaptation of the event.

USA

For all the hype, America actually stand a fair chance of winning the match. We showed our true colors in last summer's Confederation's Cup, beating #1 ranked Spain in the semi-finals, and leading Brazil at half-time in the final match. Under our dour coach Bob Bradley, Team USA has built a solid style of quick, counterattacking soccer, using the pace and athleticism of players like Donovan, Maurice Edu, and Clint Dempsey. If our sometimes-shaky defense finds their form early, the USA could be looking further out than just making the knockout round, and playing for some real glory.

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Jordan Brown / Comments (2)

Soccer Wed Jun 09 2010

World Cup 2010 Preview: Group B

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With Group B we'll be moving from bottom to top. The South Americans in this group have gifted reportage of this World Cup so much in these past weeks, and the outlook of this group seems to have a 'save the best for last' feel to it.

The Greeks

The lucky devils most likely to get an early summer break are Greece. Winning Euro 2004 put Greece on top of Europe for the first time since before time, but expectations are not high for the Mediterraneans (not actually their nickname). A rough road to qualifying against teams like Israel and Moldova doesn't a recipe for success make. While they do carry some striking power with the pairing of Georgios Samaras (Celtic FC) and Theofanis Gekas (10 goals in qualifying), recent form is painting a dark group run for the Greeks who lost by two goals each to Paraguay and unqualified Senegal, and drew against Evil's own North Korea. Expect Greece to be watching the knockout rounds back in the old (old) country.

South Korea

Flying out with the Greeks will most likely be South Korea. Though they are a perennial Asian powerhouse, and finished fourth in the 2002 World Cup, the South Koreans lack striking power at the front. They had an even qualifying where they snuck a lot of second leg wins against teams like Turkmenistan and BFF North Korea. The South Koreans do boast some star power with players like Manchester United's workhorse midfielder Park Ji-Sung, and under coach Huh Jung-Moo the Koreans have adopted a more conservative style, sacrificing attack for smart play. Group B is already a shaky place to be, so some surprises may be in store, but don't bet the farm on it.

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Jordan Brown / Comments (4)

Soccer Wed Jun 09 2010

World Cup 2010 Preview: Group A


In the World Cup group stage, four points is a good number to aim for. If you can get a win and a draw, chances are--notwithstanding goal differential and other tiebreakers--you'll make it to the knockout round. This week, GB is taking a look at each group in preparation for Friday's opening kick-off, starting with Group A: France, South Africa, Mexico, and Uruguay.

France

France is overrated, and in trouble. Most experts hold France as a top tier team with semi-final pedigree and they're right except that it takes more than sheer talent to succeed in the World Cup. On paper, it's true: France is stacked. Franck Ribery, Patrice Evra, Nicholas Anelka, Florent Malouda, Thierry Henry, William Gallas, Bacary Sagna--these are some of the world's best position players, and all of them have experience in big games playing for top teams. So getting to the semi-final or beyond isn't out of the question.

The problem with Les Bleus, though, is not the players but how the players are organized. French coach Raymond Domenech is mental. He left Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema, and Hatem Ben Arfa off the team. In 2008, he didn't take Robert Pires to the Euro Cup because he's a Scorpio. (Seriously.) This year, actually just last week, he decided to bench and take the captain's armband from France's all time best scorer in Henry and give it to Evra, while overhauling the squad's formation to enhance their attacking options. Although the players seem to like it, so did lowly China, beating France 1-0 in a friendly last week.

The list of Domenech's questionable decisions is only outweighed in its hilarity by the fact that he's still employed. Somehow, the French Football Federation thinks highly enough of him to have kept him around for six years, even while lining up a successor (Laurent Blanc) to take over in July. Why are they letting him coach the World Cup? France sputtered through qualifying and only made South Africa thanks to the luck of what has quickly become one of the most controversial goals in qualifying history (see above).

So how much can a coach torpedo his own team? The sheer quality and depth of the French squad is probably enough to see them through, but that's what people said in 2002--when France was beaten by Senegal and failed to progress.

South Africa

Say it with me now: THE HOST COUNTRY HAS NEVER FAILED TO MAKE IT PAST THE GROUP STAGE.

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Ben Schuman-Stoler / Comments (1)

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