Call me late to the party, but I have to admit that in the last few years I've begun to enjoy soccer (football) a bit more and have a cheering interest for the U.S. team come the World Cup every four years now. This really began to ratchet up for me four years ago as I watched more FIFA World Cup matches that year than the number I had watched in the previous 9 world cups that I've been alive for. I believe the only other year I watched any matches was in 1994 when the USA hosted the World Cup. Why the sudden interest in a sport I never followed before?
I think I can attribute it to a few things. International Football is televised more than ever before now so I hear the names and occasionally see the star players from other countries more than in the past. While I do not understand all the rules of Soccer I had the opportunity to watch soccer live a few times for three or four years while my niece played the sport for her high school team. Watching those games gave me a little bit more knowledge of the rules even though I am by no means an expert on them now. I think the U.S. success four years ago relative to how they have done in the past also factored in a bit. It was nice to see the U.S. get out of their first round group and it built some hope and expectation for the future.
I didn't just watch to see the U.S. play though. I watched as many of the matches as I could and it was fun to see the talent of teams like Spain and Brazil and Germany, but also exciting to pull for some of the less notable teams trying to pull a major upset. The FIFA World Cup seems to function as something of a Olympics for one sport. There is an excitement in the pomp and celebratory nature of the event as it is exhibited by the home country and by the fans of all the teams competing.
Here are the predictions of a very novice World Cup Soccer fan for the teams I expect to survive and advance during the first round. If I'm right, the top two teams from each group advance. If I'm wrong then my predictions won't mean a thing. Haha... well, here goes...
The teams in bold print advance
I know that Brazil is supposed to be one of the favorites to win it all every year and I would think that is especially true as the host country this year. Mexico gets the most press here of any team outside of the United States. I know the expectations are high but that they needed a bit of an assist from the U.S. team to make the tournament. Perhaps they ride the momentum of their recent play and make it out of group A, but I'm betting on the Croats to advance along with the Brazilians. ranking: Brazil-Croatia-Mexico-Cameroon
OUCH! The news here says that the U.S. is in the "pool of death" with regards to their group, but looking at group B I can't say this one would be much fun to be in either. My sentimental pick would be Australia, but my head must take priority over the heart on this one. Spain is a perennial powerhouse and the defending champion. The Netherlands are returning as the runner ups in 2010. Chile and Australia are up against it in this group. ranking: Spain-Netherlands-Chile-Australia (sorry Carlyn >.<) I hope Australia pulls the upset though and advances.
Hmmm. An interesting group here. I have to humbly admit that I never heard of Cote D'Ivorie in my life. I had no idea it even existed. >.< (embarrassed face) Unless it's the French name for the Ivory Coast? So please excuse my ignorance here. I know South America has a long and great history in Soccer so Colombia should expect to get out of this group. Japan is improving a lot recently and could be a force to reckon with in the future. I don't like to count them out here but I'm going to say Greece and Cote D'Ivorie (I like the name) fight it out for the second spot. Sometimes you just need to use advanced metrics a la liking a team name to predict their success. Greece has had a rough go of things though recently (not talking soccer here) and could use a pick-me-up. So Greece is the sentimental choice over the other sentimental choice of Cote D-Ivorie. ranking: Colombia-Greece-Cote D'Ivorie-Japan
I'm realizing that none of these things are easy to pick as I go group by group. I seem to remember Uruguay doing well 4 years ago and while I know that does not guarantee anything this time I think they edge England who is always a tough out for the second spot. If I recall correctly Italy was one of the favorites 4 years ago and underachieved. Perhaps now they are flying a bit under the radar and overachieve? I think Italy takes a closely bunched group. Costa Rica is a beautiful vacation spot. =) (I like to say something good about every team) Hopefully Jon Bear did not just get his rights to travel to Costa Rica revoked. ranking: Italy-Uruguay-England-Costa Rica
Why do I feel like this group should be thrown into a hat and I should just pick teams out? I remember a lot of controversy around the French team during the last World Cup. I think that the shadows of the past rise up and bite the French, with Ecuador edging them out barely for the second spot in group E. The Swiss make Swiss Cheese of this group. Sorry I could not resist the cheesy reference. OMG I just did it again! >.< Honduras should not be a walk over and it could be I have this group upside down. ranking: Switzerland-Ecuador-France-Honduras
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Argentina's soccer legacy is legendary. I have an online friend from Argentina which also makes me like to see them do well. I think Iran comes out on top of this group though as the possible surprise first round pick. Argentina, Bosnia/Herzegovina and Nigeria fight it out for the second spot with Argentina getting the nod. ranking: Iran-Argentina-Bosnia and Herzegovina-Nigeria
The dreaded "GROUP OF DEATH", even though looking at it now I prefer this group to the one that Australia is in. It may not matter as the U.S.A. has an uphill climb no matter how you look at it. We're probably the consensus to take last in this group. I have high hopes that we overachieve and advance. With that said. I've been making my picks with my head (mostly) and not my heart. If I'm fair about things I must continue with that methodology. I think that Renaldo will play for Portugal, but will he be 100 percent? Are his injury issues just "posturing"? I mean, I know soccer does not have anything like players who dive or fake injuries. It's completely transparent right? Well, if it's legit or if it's posturing I think that the injury issues around Portugal sink the Portuguese here. Germany one of the favorites for the entire tournament take the group and Ghana who is no slouch takes second. The U.S.A. makes a fun push for U.S. fans but it's not our year yet. =( ranking: Germany-Ghana-USA-Portugal
I think this group looks the least intimidating of the groups to me. Belgium stands out to me, but picking the second team is more of a challenge. I think it would be nice if Asia had a representative in the second round, but I think it's most likely that the Asian and the North American continents get left out of the advance. Can Russia build off the momentum of their Olympic successes? Algeria has just enough to fend off Russia though in my opinion and advance. ranking: Belgium-Algeria-Russia-Korea Republic
We'll see how it all works out in the end. No matter what I hope that the tournament is as injury and controversy free as possible. Sure those things make the tournaments more memorable but I feel for the athletes who compete and put their hearts and souls into the game. Yeah, several of them are millionaires and many revered and idolized, so perhaps I should not feel too bad. Playing for your country though often seems to bring out a pride that super cedes the sometimes prima donna nature of some of today's athletes. Hopefully this year's tournament helps to grow my enthusiasm for this global sport. Best of Luck to all! but with that said... GO TEAM USA! =D
I look forward to making my second round picks and eating some crow when I get to pick team USA and Australia to make it to the finals! =D