I should never have started this thing with only a week to go…
They’re calling this the ‘strongest, most resilient’ team that Honduras has ever fielded in a World Cup. What does this mean exactly? For a team that’s never won a match on the World Cup stage and has a total of 3 points from 2 tournament outings – not a whole lot. Fortunately they face France first up, who have a history of starting appallingly, particularly when it comes to playing minnows (Senegal, anyone?). By many accounts their most exciting prospect, Andy Najar, will be sitting on the bench, making me wonder just how exciting the 11 Hondurans on the field can actually be.
In all honesty: They caused some upsets in qualifying with wins over the United States and Mexico, but the fact that these results are considered ‘upsets’ says more than the 3 points do.
When the French team isn’t surrounded in scandal or disruption they actually do very well. In 1998 they deservedly won the title and made the final in 2006. Unfortunately the controversy can come at any time, even the 110th minute of the final game of the tournament. In the last World Cup France hit the self-destruct button again, with disharmony in the team and Nicholas Anelka getting sent home early (probably for something related to Nazis) making people back home yell ‘Sacre Bleu!’ as they finished bottom of their group. Given that they qualified thanks to Thierry Henry’s Basketballing prowess you could claim they were never ready in the first place. This year will be different. Some say it was actually the fact that France beat Ukraine in the playoff qualifier that started all the civil unrest in Kiev – and by some I mean ‘just me’.
In all honesty: If the team can share the ball as well as Ribery and Benzema share young prostitutes they’ll be in the quarters, maybe even the semis. If they lose to Honduras, expect everyone to take their hookers and go home.
Somehow, just somehow, the Swiss have managed to climb to sixth in the World Rankings. Many are lauding the fact that they went through qualifying undefeated as a sign that they’ll go far in this tournament – but if you can’t go through a group that contains Iceland, Slovenia, Norway and football powerhouses Albania and Cyprus without problems you don’t deserve to be there anyway. The nearest team in ranking is in the 20’s, and the rest are in the 50’s or worse. They’ll probably get through the group, face Argentina in the second round, and be done. Useful fact – Xherdan Shaqiri is not related to Shakira, nor was he born in Switzerland. I also had to look up how to spell his last name.
In all honesty: A perfect qualifying record doesn’t win you the tournament (just ask Holland!). I’m hesitant to write the Swiss off, but I’m going to do it anyway. Argentina 3-0 in the second round. You heard it here.
It’s been said that Ecuador will have the advantage of being used to the climate and altitude and generally being South American to help them progress from the group. This same logic would mean that not only will Qatar make it out of their group in 2022, but they’ll win the tournament. Then again with all the corruption coming to the surface that might well be the case. Ecuador have the oil. Why they aren’t using the money to buy success astounds me. Unlike a lot of the teams pundits have claimed will ‘cause a few problems’ for the bigger teams, Ecuador have a certain level of legitimacy and have the strength to punish their European opponents if they show up. Unfortunately they’re also inconsistent enough to lose to Honduras and fuck it all up.
In all seriousness: Their most famous player shares his last name with a type of orange and wears the red of Manchester United. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean what it did a year ago – the United part that is. Valencia oranges are still pretty good.
It really is a pity that the US and Iran aren’t in the same group. The world game personifies geopolitcultural (made up word – but it’ll be in the dictionary one day) drama at its best and who knows, they might have all been friends afterwards (missed opportunity, FIFA). Instead they have to face off against a potentially weak group and… Argentina. Like Australia, they had a decent run in qualifying – but unlike the Socceroos they’re taking on a group with games they CAN win. If they make it through to the knockout stages expect a cheeky American invasion to begin as everyone in Tehran sits glued to their television. If giddiness gets to Bosnia and Nigeria throw the match, it’ll be a dream come true.
In all seriousness: A complete lack of expectation from the public will work wonders for Iran. A complete lack of expectation from the players will mean they probably miss out on the best opportunity to progress that they might ever be presented with.
You might think that my sense of humour is just bad enough to make a Boko Haram joke – but to you I shake my head, you disgusting person. Who needs to make jokes about tragedy when Nigerian football is riddled with so much corruption it makes your head spin? Remember those 79-0 and 67-0 score lines last year? They happened in Nigeria. Only DAYS AGO FIFA started another investigation into the results from their last qualifying campaign. The coach hasn’t even been paid in months – probably because all his money has been going to the bookies. They’ll be looking to save their reputation, but you can’t help feeling that Nigeria are a bit like post-scandal Lance Armstrong. No matter how good they’ll ever be again, there’ll be a multitude of people, like myself, who just have to wonder.
In all seriousness: A 79-0 loss to Argentina might actually happen and have nothing to do with betting. If it does, I vote we start the hashtag #DONTbringbackourteam (sorry, couldn’t help myself)
Is it really possible to call someone the best player in the world if they’ve won every major honour EXCEPT the World Cup? Ronaldo probably won’t with Portugal but Messi has got to be champing at the bit this time around. A strong national team, playing just across the border, with a relatively easy group is equivalent to the stars aligning. If they go through top, as expected, they’ll play second from Group E, which should be no problem. It’s like FIFA has just rolled out the red carpet straight into the semi-finals. The hardest-to-believe statistic of all is that Messi has only scored 1 WC goal in a host of appearances – and that was in 2006. He’s not that old, but he’s not immortal (despite what Barca fans may think). There is massive pressure on the team, and even more so on Lionel. If he doesn’t get on the scoresheet early, that pressure grows. If they’re through to the knockout stages and down for the count, that’s even more pressure, to the point where Messi might set a record – as the first player to ever spontaneously combust in the middle of a FIFA World Cup match.
In all seriousness: Negatives aside, if Messi DOES get on the scoresheet early, everyone else should start shitting themselves – and the Argies aren’t a one man team either. Even without Messi they’ve got strength to go far. With him, they could just win it.
The Jamaican bobsled team of this World Cup, B&H will be giddy with excitement playing in the first major tournament in their history. Much like the Swiss, people are lauding their qualifying record against shit teams – but it’ll be how they do against INTERNATIONAL shit teams like Iran and Nigeria that determines whether John Candy even gets them through to the next round. The pundits are calling their match with Nigeria the most important one of the group but personally I think it’ll be Iran. Much like Iran there’ll be little expectation of B&H, but unlike Iran they have enough potency up front and a talented enough Goalkeeper to win some games and go through, if the occasion doesn’t get to them.
In all seriousness: Public speaking can be nerve-racking enough. Playing a game on the biggest stage in the world in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans and millions around the world is surely a little more so. If they picture everyone naked they’ll be fine. If they come out naked themselves, expect some studs-up challenges.