Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Four years ago this month I set my alarm at 3:20 a.m. for about two weeks straight. It was the most fun I ever had waking up in the middle of the night.
The morning the Cup opened for the USA a friend came over to my place for the 3:30 kickoff of USA vs. Portugal. When John O'Brien scored early in the game to put the USA on top to stay, Joel and I started screaming and jumping around so much I can't believe the neighbors didn't call the police.
I've been waiting 3 years and 11 months for this day to arrive once again.
Knowing that so many of you are die-hard soccer fans, I just wanted to share my prognostications, as much to see if I'm right as for any other reason. Here are a few questions Americans may be asking, along with my answers.
Who does the USA play?
The Czech Republic (6/12), Italy (6/17), and Ghana (6/22).
Is it on TV?
USA TV schedule here. Full TV schedule here.
How good is the American team?
This is the most talented and deepest team the USA has ever sent to the Cup. By far. Team chemistry seems good, but that's the kind of thing you tend to hear more about after the results are in. The team is as healthy as it has been in a long time. The team has a nice mix of defensive stability and attacking talent, along with a balance between youth and experience. In fact, the USA will be one of the teams with the most Cup experience. Several players are heading to their third cup, and goalkeeper Kasey Keller is the only player in the world with experience from the 1990 Cup.
How is the USA going to do?
Conventional wisdom is that the USA's group is the toughest in the Cup. Good arguments can be made that the Czech Republic, Ghana, and the USA are all the best teams on their respective continents. And the fourth team is historically better than all of them. On the other hand, this is Ghana's and the CR's first visit to the World Cup (Czechoslovakia did qualify before the breakup), Italy is in some internal turmoil. The USA is healthy.
Bottom line: Because of the difficulty of this group, advancing to the knockout phase would be at least as great an accomplishment as advancing AND beating Mexico in the knockout phase was in 2002. The USA could play very well and still not advance, which would be a disappointment but not an embarrassment. And if the USA does advance, it's first knockout phase opponent would likely be Brazil, which leads us to . . .
Who is going to win?
Brazil has won 2 of the last 3, and this team is generally believed to be stronger than the one that won in 2002. But the one Brazil lost was played in Europe, where European teams dominate. On the other hand, Brazil is the only non-European team ever to win in Europe. Oh, but that was in 1958 and Brazil had this dude named Pelé. I think it's safe to say that the winner will be one of Brazil, Germany (the host country advantage), Italy, England, and the Netherlands. My dark horse choice is Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). I'd take the USA if they were in any other group.
Happy watching. I think I'm sensing a strange illness coming on that will hit next Monday morning.
Posted by Ben at 6/06/2006