FIFA World Cup 2010: 20 Predictions After The First Games of Group Play
Football is once again the king.
The world stopped moving at its normal pace and set eyes on the African continent where the nineteenth World Cup officially kicked off last Friday.
We quickly witnessed dances on and off the field, as well as a constant fiesta in celebration of the game that throughout the years has transformed into more than just a sport.
World Cups are a celebration of diversity, cultural respect and and the desire to bring fame to country and region.
This one, from South Africa, makes no exception.
After seeing every team at the World Cup take the field at least once, I decided to offer a number of predictions of what we should expect to see throughout the rest of the competition.
Some of the predictions are rather bold, and some are based on my observations and knowledge of the game of football.
Enjoy the slides!
The Organization Will Remain Perfect
South Africa, you have done well. Very well indeed!
The incident during a friendly game before the start of the World Cup proved to not be a sign for things to come during subsequent tournament games.
There have been no complaints about conditions or planning by the hosts and the execution of the opening ceremony before each game has been perfect.
Now if only we could have no empty seats...
Attendance Will Pick Up
Yes, attendance has been disappointingly bad during the first week of the World Cup.
FIFA has come out and openly said that the reason is not for lack of ticket sales.
Unfortunately, FIFA made the mistake to distribute too many tickets to the corporate sponsors of the World Cup and those corporate sponsors are failing to show up to games.
The hosts and FIFA have discussed the issue and are working on a few possible solutions. One includes letting in local fans minutes after the first whistle of every game is blown, so seats won't remain unfilled.
FIFA is the one to blame here, so we can only hope that they will also be the ones to fix the problem and improve the atmosphere in the stands.
And speaking of atmosphere...
The Vuvuzelas Will Not Get Banned
How about that buzzing sound of the South African vuvuzelas?
It has seemingly been one of the hottest topics surrounding the World Cuo so far, and it seems as if the majority of the people don't like the sound.
Well folks, these bothering horns are not going anywhere, so you had better get used to them.
They are a local cultural threat, and it seems like many fans traveling from around the globe are having fun at the stands with them.
The Jabulani Ball Will Continue Being Crucified
And since we started talking about issues, let's talk about the nightmare of goalkeepers at this World Cup.
Or is it?
The Jabulani ball flies like no other and it does seem to carry in the air longer than most balls we have seen.
But I tend to think that the bigger problem with this ball is for strikers, especially those attempting shots from distance.
I have only counted a single direct free kick that fell on target, and its power was not on par with how such kicks are usually taken. In most cases, the ball takes off and flies high or wide off target.
The trajectory of some kicks has also been very strange.
I am usually not one to believe that a ball can make a big difference in how successful strikers or goalkeepers are at what they do, but I quickly changed my mind after seeing a nice camera shot from behind the ball after it was snipered toward the Honduras goal in the second half by a Chile player.
So expect the complaints to continue raining from all directions, especially if a few more easy goals are allowed by the keepers.
Scoring Will Pick Up
It has been low.
So low that a lopsided four goal win by Germany seemed to be the most entertaining game to many fans who are first adopting a liking for the sport.
However, at most major tournaments, the first group stage games have always been the ones where teams are most cautious.
Winning your opening game is a nice thing, but not losing is more important. This has been the reason to not see many teams forcing the issue.
Unavoidably, the need to win games and score goals to do it will arrive with the later games in the group stage, so we should expect to see more goals the second time around.
The Outcome Of At Least One Game Will Be Influenced By The Referee
It happens during every tournament.
One referee will make a name for himself in a very negative way.
So far, the officials have been excellent and have not allowed havoc to develop in any of the games.
As teams start facing the brink of elimination, the nerves of some players will be unable to hold.
However, as things heat up and players get more nervous, I fully expect a referee to step up and decide the outcome of a game.
At Least Two Of The Favorites Will Fail To Win Their Groups
Perfect brackets never pan out.
The favorites usually progress to the direct elimination rounds, but they don't give their best until then, which often results in taking second place instead of first.
Some surprises, ranging from minor (France, Italy and England failing to win) to major (Spain losing), are creating the possibility of early showdowns between heavyweights at the 1/8 finals.
If France does not win its group, it may face Argentina. If Spain does not win its group, it may face Brazil. If England does not win its group, it may face Germany. And if Italy does not win its group, it may face Holland.
Well, I just names the 8 major favorites to win this World Cup, so if these games occur, 4 of those teams will be flying home prematurely.
At Least One Game Will Be Decided With A Penalty Shootout
England, Spain, Italy and Holland.
Those are your usual suspects historically when it comes to games that go into penalties.
You should expect to see at least one game decided with this lottery of luck, concentration and psychological and physical strength.
Germany Played Its Best Game Of This World Cup
Germany does it at almost every World Cup.
They come out blazing and scare their opponents for the rest of the tournament in a way that forces those opponents to be more cautious and to focus more on defense than on offense.
Germany will likely still progress very far, but do not expect to witness margins of victory exceeding one or two goals.
France Will Reach A Semi-final...IF It Avoids Argentina
Many people were very critical of the French after their first game against Uruguay. And they did have a few flaws in their game, particularly when it came to team effort.
But this team is better than the result showed.
It is physically and technically gifted, and the moment they start playing better as a team is the moment teams should be scared to death to play them.
If France does not fail to win its group, which would likely suggest avoiding Argentina in the first round of eliminations, it will reach the 1/2 finals.
England Will Depart Early
I don't even know where to begin with this one.
I have been arguing with friends for months that England will flop at this World Cup and this time, for the first time in many years, it will be for lack of talent.
Yes, you read that right.
Rooney is the only good striker up front, but the style of the three lions is very different from the one he is used to at Manchester United.
The wings are not used the same way, and spaces are not left open for Rooney to poison the life of central defenders and goalkeepers.
Teams are also careful to stack enough defenders around the English star to prevent his runs on goal. Some of Rooney's colleagues in the English attack, however, may not even make the expanded squads of some of the other favorites in this tournament.
This leaves things at the hands of the midfielders - namely Gerrard and Lampard - but it opens gaps for opponents to exploit at the back of the midfield.
Add to that, the shaky performance at the back exposed during the rare American attacks on goal, the insecurity at the goalkeeper position, and the fact that a player like Sean Wright-Philips is even a part of this squad, and things start looking very fishy for the lovable losers of World Cup tournaments.
Italy Will Join Them
Here we go from bad to worse.
I called England bad, but Italy is worse!
This team is a mess and even if it is able to squeak a win or two in subsequent games, it will ultimately run into a more talented and better prepared side.
The Italians do not have any players competing outside of the declining Serie A, and not a single player has any affiliations with Inter Milan, who are the champions of Italy and Europe, but have a starting lineup that consists entirely of imported players.
Most of the bigger names on the Italian roster are former stars on the decline, or untested and unproven players from currently average teams by European standards like the revamped Juventus, the struggling AC Milan and other teams such as Sampdoria, Cagliari, Napoli, Bari and Genoa.
If this team were to fall in a more difficult group, they would have had a hard time progressing. At this point, given the lack of good opposition in their group, I predict an exit at the round of 16.
So Will Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo will not be able to do everything himself and Portugal will depart South Africa very early.
That would be four years after reaching the 1/2 finals of the previous World Cup in Germany.
With Nani out with an injury, things are starting to look even worse for Portugal.
Ivory Coast should be able to rack up more goals against North Korea, which assuming equal results of these two teams against Brazil, would give the Ivorians the edge in qualifying.
The "Flying Dutch" Will Land, But Reach A 1/4 Final In The Process
The Netherlands won their opener against Denmark, but failed to inspire many fans around the globe with their play.
They do have great players, but the problem with the Dutch has always been the translation of great names on the squad sheet into results.
They fell in a very easy side of the bracket, however, and will face a team from Italy's group in the first round of elimination, which should see them through to the 1/4 finals.
There likely awaits Brazil...
Brazil Will Win The "Group of Death"
Many people called it that, but this group will prove to be very easy for Brazil to win.
And, please, do not let the close win over North Korea fool you!
Portugal and Ivory Coast will try to play more offensively against Brazil (something North Kore could not afford to attempt), and both teams will run into major trouble.
I was particularly impressed with the ability of this Brazilian squad to use the width of the field.
Felipe Melo and Maicon created great options on the wings, and for once we have a Brazilian side with a very respectable defense and one that is strong physically.
Add to that the samba they are used to playing, and you are looking at one of the teams that should go very deep into the tournament.
Having said that, I still can not get over the fact that Dunga left players like Pato and Ronaldinho behind.
Chile Can Be The Cinderella...IF It Avoids Brazil
They were my primary suspects, and now, after seeing them play, they seem guilty until proven innocent.
If one team outside of the historically strong sides impressed me, it was Chile. They had great control of the ball, speed and, most importantly discipline and great team play.
Switzerland made things difficult to predict in this group after defeating the heavy favorite Spain, but if Chile were to progress they could make a splash.
In any case, Chile would face a very good team from Brazil's group in the round of 16, but I can't eliminate the possibility of an upset after seeing them play.
Chile against Spain may very well turn out to be the most attractive (read high scoring) game we will see in this tournament, so when the two teams meet, be sure to take the day off from work.
One African Team Will Progress To The 1/4 Finals
There were heightened expectations for the African teams at this World Cup, due to the home nature of the tournament for them.
Things are not looking up for them, however, and not a single squad showed great play in the opening round of games.
Still, Ghana won, Nigeria played a good game against Argentina (even if it lost by a narrow margin), and Ivory Coast tied Portugal.
Look for one of those three teams to make noise and to qualify to the 1/4 finals.
Spain Will NOT Win The Title
Here is an interesting stat that should make all Spain fans shiver.
Never has a team lost its opening game at a World Cup and gone on to win the tournament.
This team knew for months that Switzerland would defend for 90 minutes against them, just like any team outside of maybe Brazil, Argentina, the Netherlands and France should do, and they came unprepared to adjust their play and break the physical and disciplined Swiss side.
The midfielders are among the best in the world, but they all have the same style and one common threat - they are not physical enough.
Up front, this team has one of the most stunning lineups of strikers that exist in football, even at club level.
Think about it. Player like Cesk Fabregas, a star of global magnitude, did not even appear in the first game.
But how that depth will translate into wins, and why Spain did not use the wings the way Brazil did against North Korea is beyond me.
I am not sure when and by which team, but Spain will be sent home prematurely once again failing to win a title at a World Cup.
A European Side Will NOT Win The Title
There have been 8 World Cups held in countries outside of Europe.
2 titles went to Uruguay, 2 traveled to Argentina, and 4 were celebrated in Brazil.
You are free to take a wild guess about where I am going with this one...
Brazil OR Germany Will Play In The Final
Since 1950, only twice has the final not figured Brazil OR Germany.
But you know what?
In the two years that this happened - 1978 and 2006 - Brazil finished third ('78) and then Germany finished third ('06).
History is meant to repeat itself and just as in the previous slide, I will let your imagination roam for a bit before you get to the same logical conclusion I have stated in the title of this slide.
Argentina Will Win The World Cup
Maradona could be a bad coach, but his players compete for some of the best club teams in the world under some of the best tacticians of the coaching profession.
This team has the best player in the world in Lionel Messi.
It has the ability to change the tempo and the pace of its attacks with the flip of a switch.
It has great strikers and balance of physical presence and technical skills.
It uses the width of the field and when it stretches the opposing defense it lets maestro Messi run inside and toward goal.
The road for Argentina to the final game will likely have to go through France, Germany and Brazil, the only other teams I see as capable of winning the title after the first round of group games.
The best have to beat the best, and I think we are about to witness one of the most deserving titles in World Cup history.
Enjoy the ride!