What We Knew About the World Cup
It’s the most wonderful time of the (four) year(s)! With the World Cup starting today, we asked some friends of the Brief to put down some thoughts on the greatest competition in the world..
For fans of the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT), the World Cup represents both the most exciting and terrifying month of every 4 year cycle.
This dichotomy of emotions exists for the same reason: The average American sports fan actually pays attention to soccer for 30 days.
The World Cup is exciting because for one month, die-hard fans of the USMNT are the popular kid in school with knowledge that is the envy of historically more confident fans.
It’s the only time of year when spouting a line in a bar like:
“The U.S. team really hasn’t ever had a player with the box-to-box midfield ability of Michael Bradley. In his current form, he could go down as the single best player the U.S. has ever brought to a World Cup,”
doesn’t make you sound like an incredibly pompous d-bag who just got back from a study abroad program in Florence.
The flip side is that, in the words of noted ginger soccer commentator and former USMNT player Alexi Lalas: “Every four years, the World Cup is the sole referendum on the state of soccer as a major professional sport in the USA.”
It’s both completely true and incredibly unfair, and with soccer’s continued American growth, this point only seems to become more prescient with each World Cup cycle.
The USMNT is under immense pressure to validate its label as a “growing” soccer nation, and a good to great showing at the 2014 World Cup would go a long way toward announcing the permanent presence of the USMNT at the adults’ table.
Failure, however, will be met with the same tired blasé attitude about how the USA will never produce a world class player, how it’s embarrassing we can’t compete with Germany, and a whole lot of other hot garbage that probably deserves to be said on some level.
Which brings us to the second major dichotomy that faces this USMNT:
This is by far the best soccer team the USA has ever produced, and there is an extreme likelihood that this USA team will fail to win a single game at this World Cup.
Ghana is the best African team by a significant magnitude, Portugal has the best player in the world, and Germany is churning out creative midfield players at a production rate that BMW would envy.
It’s pretty simple: Ghana, Portugal, and Germany are really good at playing soccer.
Per a betting site that I may or may not frequent, the USA will be an underdog in every one of their group matches, which is annoying as hell because we have a good team. I fully expect these games to be three of the most entertaining matches the U.S. has ever played.
The success of this U.S. team rests on the shoulders of Michael Bradley in the midfield, strikers Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up top, and a host of unproven defenders who will be scrambling to stop opposing strikers from firing on Tim Howard’s goal.
If the U.S. play to their full potential and avoid the hexes of various Ghanaian Witch Doctors, they will advance from the group, instantly cementing themselves as the greatest U.S. team of all time, no matter what happens in the Round of 16.
And if they don’t? Well, the next World Cup is only four short years away.
When I first think Germany, I think of the amazing brand of soccer they play…. The passing of Philip Lahm…. The skill of Bastian Schweinsteiger… The young talent of Tomas Muller and Mesut Ozil….and the cold-bloodedness of Miroslav Klose…..
The Germans are truly one of the best teams in the world, and have a fantastic chance to win the World Cup. As such, I had planned to write about this team, the players, the coach, the fact that they are not in top form right now…
But then I started thinking more about the German team…and I could not get past one moment that haunts my American soccer dreams.
For those of you that weren’t awake in the wee hours of the morn…..IT WAS THE QUARTER FUCKING FINALS.
IT WAS A GOAL AND A HANDBALL AT THE SAME TIME.
AMERICA WAS GOING TO BE ONE OF THE LAST FOUR TEAMS IN THE TOURNAMENT.
WORST. CALL. EVER.
There is no doubt in my mind that if that was recorded properly, the US is in the Final with a chance to win the goddamn Cup. It has been 12 long years since then, however, so I guess it is time to move on.
(That doesn’t mean I can’t hope for Jurgen to donkey punch his old team with an American Blitzkrieg.)
Back to talking about the German national team –
This team has history: Three world championships and consistent runs deep in big tournaments.
They have talent: Ozil, Podolski, Lahm, Gotze, and Muller are one name dudes.
They are the best technical passing team in the tournament: I did not know it was possible to get pumped about a FIFA A pass, but Germany’s A passes give me a boner. The only people that can FIFA A pass like that are Christian and I in actual FIFA.
That being said, despite the positives, there is no getting past the dark cloud that hangs over the Germans.
Two clouds to be exact.
WW1 and WW2
Because of those clouds, the Germans will never get bandwagon fans. Because of these clouds, this beautifully passing team will never be one of those happy go lucky stories.
Because they were dicks.
Prediction: Germany wins the World Cup. Starts WW3.
The Three Lions of England have about as much chance of winning the World Cup as I have of getting on the squad.
Despite British tabloids being remarkably pessimistic compared to previous World Cup campaigns (“Golden Generation”…womp womp), their bleary outlook has been brightened by the anticipation of the greatest competition on Earth kicking off on what is arguably ground zero of footballing passion.
Manager Roy Hodgson has brought in a decent share of new youth to this World Cup team, some of whom will be expected to produce for the Three Lions right out the gate.
None will be more important than Liverpool wunderkind Daniel Sturridge, who has absolutely flourished this season in his apprenticeship under the toothy tutelage of Luis Suarez and Brendan Rogers.
Much of England’s hopes will also be dependent on Wayne Rooney shrugging off his relatively poor form this year (and over the last two World Cups) and finding the level that has made him one of the best players in the world over the last decade.
Many have speculated that despite being only 28, considered the peak performance year for most footballers, Rooney may be on the decline after more than a decade of top flight football. I am hoping that this isn’t the case.
Behind Sturridge and Rooney, England stand a solid chance of advancing out of group D.
Can they beat Costa Rica? God I hope so.
Can they beat Italy and Uruguay? Maybe.
My guess is we come out of the group with a 1-1-1 record, somehow scrape through to the round of 16, get a lucky draw from Group C (c’monnnn Cote d’Ivoire), make it to the quarter finals and exit meekly on PKs.
I’m far too excited about far too much to pick one team. These are my three favorite pre-World Cup things:
That Time a Dude Threw a Paper Airplane for the Upper Deck and Hit a Player on the Field
Every four years, I spend a month falling deeply, madly in love with the game of soccer. I start referring to the field as a pitch, offering opinions on the greatness of the world’s top players, and pretending that the weekends kid me spent watching my 10 year old brother play competitive soccer qualify me to speak intelligently on things like tactics and refereeing.
Then they hand out the ugliest trophy in sports and I return to my pretty much complete ignorance of the world’s most popular sport, re-inserting myself only for the Champions’ League final, the Euro, and games involving the United States that someone tells me are important.
I’m everything that’s wrong with the American soccer fan, and I’m at peace with it.
For the next month, I will talk about the World Cup incessantly. I will find myself engrossed in meaningless Group H games, and I will curse the lottery gods for putting the Mexican team that wouldn’t even be here without us in a chill group while our prize for topping our qualification group is El Grupo de la Muerte.
I will also refer to the American team as “us”, because THAT’S WHAT AMERICA DOES.
As a proper American soccer “fan”, I learned early the importance of having a backup team (or two). It’s more fun to root for a team with a chance of winning the whole thing than it is pray for a result against Germany and positive goal differential just for a shot to get your ass beat in the round of 16.
Lucky for me, my heritage and family produced a ready-made backup team with a history of success. I can’t give you any concrete reason why Italy will take this thing home, only that they’ve done it before.
What I can do is promise that time spent watching them play the beautiful game will not be wasted. In watching this Italian team, you are guaranteed to witness the following:
- A man participating in a record-tying fifth World Cup. As an added bonus, this man’s name is really fun to say. “John-luigi Boof-on”
- A man influence a match in a manner that defies the tenets of soccer, the ultimate team game. A man that is such an artist that his teammates refer to him as “The Architect”, and fans refer to him as “The Professor” and “Mozart”. Fucking Mozart.
- A man try and hit the cover off the ball a la Benny the Jet, but with his feet. This man also used to own a camo Bentley and may or may not have had a statue of himself commissioned.
Ronaldo > Messi. Watch out for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The U.S. should run a two man attack.
And the Team That’s Probably Going to Win the Whole Damn Thing