What Lies Ahead…

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Are these guys on the plane? Not a chance…

This is Part Three of a Three Part Series on The United States Men’s National Team’s run through qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. This section addresses the tournament itself—how seeding works, an educated-guess look at what kind of draw the Yanks could expect, and the thirty players The Yanks are Coming believe are the finalists to make the U.S. Men’s National Team Airplane when it departs for South Africa next summer. As a long time national team fan, or just a newbie, the question truly is–Does it get any better than this? Thanks for asking. Other than beating Mexico dos a cero—the answer is no, not really.

Part Three: What Lie Ahead—A First and Fleeting Glance at the South Africa 2010 World Cup Finals

The field is set. The draw is tomorrow at Noon on the Mothership. The disastrous friendlies against B-Level European sides who will also participate in the World Cup are over. All that’s left to do is wait for the early year National team camp, the early spring friendlies and engage in endless debates over the final roster, to be selected by Bob Bradley as spring turns to summer. If you’re going to South Africa, throw in buying your plane ticket if you haven’t already, putting away a bit from your paycheck, making that rental car reservation (sooner rather than later) and figuring out where you will sleep during your trip to Joga Bonito Mecca.

joga

What follows in this final installment of The Yanks Are Coming’s three-part look at the run through qualifying for World Cup 2010 South Africa is a “thinking man’s preview” look at the field, a “Whose Left Standing?” look at the candidates who remain in contention for a spot on the American plane to South Africa, and a mock draw conducted in my apartment, complete with all the bells and whistles—predicted group finishes and the whole she-bang. So pour yourself an ice-cold glass of egg nog, break out the last of those Thanksgiving cookies, put on your favorite Barry Manilow holiday album, and enjoy.

The Thinking Man’s Cursory Preview of the Field

First, the one seeds. Host nation South Africa, Defending World Champion Italy, qualifying risk-takers Argentina, last run at glory Golden Generation led England, European Champion Spain, Confederation Cup Champion Brazil, and the Greatest Show on Turf, the orange-clad Netherlands. No real surprises here—outside of the choice of the Dutch rather than the French National Volleyball Team. In all honesty, the only real implication from this group of seeds is that Les Bleus will be in a group with one of the top seeds, making that particular group the early frontrunner for the dreaded “Group of Death.” Raf Crowley did a fantastic job of breaking down the particulars of seeding in his two-piece segment, so I won’t dive too much further into that topic. Instead—here are some preliminary thoughts and “pre-World Cup awards”—because as Americans we really like to hand out awards and honors before a single minute is played—type, July 09, Jevan Snead, 2nd Team All-SEC quarterback, from the University of Mississippi, into Google and you will see something of what I mean. Here goes nothin’….

  1. a. The “We’re a One-Seed so we aren’t a sleeper but Why isn’t anyone talking about how it is an international soccer tournament with 32 teams and that means we’ll probably have a damn good shot at winning Award goes to … GERMANY.

The Germans are big, strong—more or less exactly what you think they would be if you had no idea and just had to guess. There are question marks at goal, and the backline outside of Philipp “I don’t really care if I’m Captain of Bayern Munich, I really want to tell you that Bayern Munich is a jv side playing against the Varsity in the Champions League and you can fine me whatever you like” Lahm, is not spectacular. But the midfield is tenacious and the strikers are lethal. Plus, future jackleg of the month and Aryan Supermodel Bastian Schweinsteiger is more than just a German dude with a hot German girlfriend… he’s one of the finest footballers in the world.

  1. b. The “Don’t pay any attention to us mate, we’ll just be moving on to the Semifinals where it is anyone’s Tournament” Award, which represents the team I think could actually come out of relative obscurity and find itself 180 minutes from immortality goes to…AUSTRALIA.

The Socceroos probably deserved penalty kicks with eventual champion Italy in 2006. Since then, they’ve not only gotten better—they’ve steamrolled through the Asian qualifying group (because they felt the Oceania group was too easy). Like the United States, they face the prospect of a very tough qualifying group, as they are placed in Pod 2, guaranteeing them an African or South American side, but also a top seed and a possible group with Les Bleus or Portugal. The good news for the boys down under is that they are strong in the middle and in the back, have star power in Everton midfielder Tim Cahill, sound leadership in Everton defender Lucas Neill, and one of the world’s finest netkeepers in Fulham man Mark Schwarzer. Let’s put it simply: If I manage a top seed and I see the ‘Roos with me in the draw tomorrow, I have immediate concerns about getting one point, much less three.

  1. c. The “Brian Ching might not score goals but will try really hard” for the team most likely to die trying even if they don’t win Award goes to…URUGUAY.

Look—they’ve already proven the above just by qualifying. The only other squads I considered here were countries that are in Eastern Europe, where it is a prerequisite to life that you try really hard because not many good things ever happen, and Nigeria, which needed essentially a miracle to qualify and got one in the final match. And no, regarding Nigeria’s miracle qualification, I’m not talking about Yakubu playing 90 minutes, though that certainly is up there with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead when we’re talking Miracles…I’m talking it’s absurd that they are in the tournament…I just don’t trust the Eagles work ethic and even on their own continent, I don’t particularly like the way they play when a team imposes discipline and physicality on them. After eliminating them—I picked Uruguay over the Eastern European nations because they did what no CONCACAF team (or any other team, for that matter) had done in about a decade—they went to the Saprissa in Costa Rica and beat the Ticos. If you can win in that artificial turf /concrete pitch Death Trap to secure qualification—you aren’t just showing up in South Africa for the free merchandise. Uruguay comes from IMO the toughest qualifying tournament, is battle-tested, and will be ready.

  1. d. The Frankie Foer “How Soccer Explains the World—The Odd, Unnerving, Watchful Eye of Totalitarianism Afterword” Award….to NORTH KOREA.

Yes—Pyongyang may have absolutely no idea whether their boys win or lose—but Kim Jong-Il will make sure the “residents” of his country know that the boys are there. And in reality, the North Koreans first qualification since 1966 (they actually beat Italy that year) is a testament to Foer’s theories about soccer explaining the globalized world. The finest of the North Korean players were born in Japan and learned the game there or in South Korea, so while their homeland remains isolated from the rest of the world, it is the penetration of global capitalism that has given North Korea the athletic “capital” if you will to field a team that managed to qualify. It will be extremely interesting, in my bored universe alone perhaps, to see how this team does next summer.

Much more in the way of previews to come. I hope you enjoyed a “Preview” to what we at Yanks are Coming hope to bring you in the next few months as we all prepare for the Greatest Sporting Event in the World.

“Whose Left Standing??”  The Final Candidates List Section is Being… Postponed

I was going to put a list here now but I decided I’d do a whole post on this question, allowing for analysis on each position and player. I also think the draw will have at least a scintilla of an impact on the roster selected, so it will be much, much, much easier to write this section after the draw tomorrow, at noon, on the Mothership. Yes, that is the second time I’ve mentioned that. It’s Christmas Eve.

SWITZERLAND SOCCER USA

MB90? Why not?

Finally—A MOCK DRAW and PREDICTED TOURNEY, Just Because for International Soccer Fans—It’s Christmas Eve.

I promised all the bells and whistles and I intend to deliver.

I’ve now put the different pods on paper and am prepared, with the help of:

–           my throwback Adidas Atlanta Hawks hat, which will separate the one seeds by group…

–          my USC Trojans hat, which will separate Pod three

–          my Florida Marlins, the best baseball club in all the land, hat, which will host Pod four, and

–          US Soccer Federation hat, which snubbed us for “Best Blog” but I ain’t mad-at-cha, hosting the teams in Pod 2, including the United States.

With no further Freddy Adu, we are ready to conduct a World Cup draw from an Atlanta living room.

And we’re off….Yanks are Coming 2010 World Cup Draw

GROUP A: South Africa, Honduras, Paraguay, France

GROUP B: Netherlands, Australia, Nigeria, Slovakia

GROUP C: Germany, North Korea, Cameroon, Serbia

GROUP D: Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Portugal

GROUP E: Italy, New Zealand, Chile, Slovenia

GROUP F: England, United States, Algeria, Switzerland

GROUP G: Argentina, South Korea, Cote’D”Ivore, Greece

GROUP H: Spain, Japan, Denmark, Ghana

Brief Analysis of this Draw:

Group of Death by Rifle Squad: Obviously, Group B is absolute classic Group of Death stuff, especially if the Nigerians show up. The Slovakia-Nigeria game would be like two immovable objects colliding in terms of contrasting style of play.

Group of Death by Waterboard Torture: This one is tougher. With murderous a spirit and venomous rivalries, you have bloodsport meeting blood feud meeting the Geneva Convention. The good news here is if you like free-flowing beautiful soccer—you’ll be glued to your television. El Tri would have a tough time getting out of this group.

Softer than a Big 10 Defense Group: A, obviously. The hosts might be able to get out of this group, though, if they play well and take care of a pesky Honduran side.

The American Group: This would be ideal, and I hope I didn’t sap away our luck, since this is certainly a group the Yanks could find six points in. In fact, it is one of few scenarios where I think the Yanks are assured of three (Algeria). The England match would be one for the fans.

Second Round Teams: I won’t predict each match or anything outrageous—but here are the sixteen that advance if the draw plays out like above, with group winners italicized and bold: France, South Africa, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Cameroon, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Italy, England, United States, Argentina, Ivory Coast, Spain, Ghana.

Quarterfinalist: Just look above, and match the first team in italics with the second team you see in bold with no italics and that’s your round of sixteen draw. Here are my quarterfinalists, with only one or two upsets. Keep in mind the tournament is played on African soil—a difference I think will factor in as the tournament reaches the knockout stages… Australia, Netherlands… Germany, Brazil….United States, England…Ghana, Spain.

From that point on, it is mostly favorites, with Ghana the final African hope and the U.S.A. and Socceroos on house money. That would be a great showcase, but then again, that’s a guarantee once every four years. I’ll do a “Neil’s pick to win the tournament in December” when I see the draw tomorrow.

markmangino

You better watch.

Enjoy it. Watch it on the Mothership. And remember, “We won’t go home till its over OVER THERE.

Filed Under: December 2009World Cup 2010

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