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Continent-by-Continent Breakdown: Americas

June 7, 2010

Moving from the wild-card (Africa) and pretender (Asia) to the two continents regions that would be described as contenders, I preview and breakdown the Americas, comprising squads from North, Central, and South America. We live in America so, in an attempt to be unbiased, I respectfully omit the United States from this entry although, given that they field arguably their best squad in their history, they would be described as a contender. Although physically, tactically, and technically different from European sides, there’s no pushovers in this region with each squad capable of making it to the knockout stages and also two clear-cut favorites to win the cup (Brazil and Argentina.)

MOST LIKELY TO WIN THE CUP:

BRAZIL – Five-time World Cup champions (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002). Currently ranked first in the FIFA rankings. The only country to have played in every World Cup, advancing to the knockout stages in every edition since 1966. The facts and history speak for themselves. They finished atop the South American qualifying section, edging out Chile and Paraguay by a point each. They’re a possession-oriented squad that also relies on quick counter-attacks, playing a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation that can also resemble a 4-4-2 formation when domestic-based Robinho pushes forward. Sevilla FC’s Luis Fabiano and Real Madrid’s Kaka lead the dynamic, creative offense while Benefica’s Ramires pushes forward from his central midfield position to connect the backline to the attacking midfielders, wings, and strikers. Panathinakos’s Gilberto Silva plays a true holding midfielder position in front of a topflight defense, led Champions League champion Inter Milan’s Maicon and Lucio. There’s no weakness in the goal with Inter’s Julio Cesar, who’s one of, if not, the best keepers in the World. This team is so talented that arguably the best known Brazilian, AC Milan’s Ronaldinho, could not even make the 23-man squad. As if this team needed another advantage, Brazil plays in the same hemisphere (Southern) that the tournament is being played, compared to all the European powers (Northern hemisphere.)

CONTENDERS:

ARGENTINA – They have the world’s arguably best player: FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. He’s one of the six topflight strikers for this squad and he’s as dangerous to pass as he is to score which makes him a greater threat than more one-dimensional strikers (think Ivory Coast’s Drogba and Cameroon’s Eto’o.) Joining him up top will be some combination of Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Hinguain, Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, Athletico Madrid’s Sergio Aguero, domestic-based Martin Palermo, and Inter Milan’s Diego Milito, who have combined for 31 international goals. The wings (Benefica’s Angel Di Maria and Newcastle United’s Jonas Gutierrez) and domestic-based Juan Sebastian Veron push forward while Liverpool FC’s Javier Mascherano holds back in the midfield. Look for Liverpool teammate Maxi Rodriguez to play valuable minutes off the bench in the midfield as well. The backline is experienced, led by Bayern Munich’s Martin Demichellis and Inter’s Walter Samuel at the center-back position, but not particularly stable and this potential weakness is heightened by the inexperience in the goal with Netherlands-based Sergio Romero (6 caps.)

CHILE – They scored the second-most goals (32) and conceded the most goals of any squad that qualified from South America. They’re a very young, very attacking team with their 3-3-1-3 formation with five foreign-based players competing at the striker and attacking midfielder position. The star and veteran is 29-year old Spain-based Humberto Suazo. The other two strikers are 21-year old Alexis Sanchez (Italy-based) and 26-year old Jean Beausejour (Mexico-based). At attacking midfielder Chile has 24-year old Matias Fernandez (Portugal-based) and 26-year old Jorge Valdivia (UAE-based.)An inexperienced, undersized backline uses defensive pressure to overcome their weaknesses. Their matchup with defensive-minded Switzerland will be the key in the group stages and the Spain game will be a track meet, in which Chile could potentially pull the upset if they make the most of their chances.

MEXICO – They played the most international friendlies of any squad in this year’s World Cup, producing a 7-2-2 record, highlighted by victories over Chile (1-0) and Italy (2-1) and lowlighted by losses to England (3-1) and the Netherlands (2-1). They did, however, possess the ball well and produced a lot of chances, but could not finish at the goal. Experience (Mexico-based Cuauhtemoc Blanco) and youth (Tottenham Hotspur’s Giovani dos Santos) headline the individually talented and creative attack. Barcelona’s Rafael Marquez provides stability and leadership to Mexico’s backline, but he is one of the few foreign-based players in the squad. Despite this, Mexico has made it to the knockout stages in every tournament since 1994 so it’s to be expected again, but it should also be pointed out that they’ve never made it past the quarterfinals

PRETENDERS:

HONDURAS – North America’s lowest-ranked squad (Paraguay is South America’s), making it into the field of 32 on October 14 with a 1-0 win against El Salvador while the United States scored a game-winning goal in the 94th minute (courtesy Jonathan Bornstein) to sink Costa Rica’s chances. More so than any other country in the region, they rely on domestic-based players which contribute to a lack of depth and ability to produce results away from Honduran soil. They use the counter-attack, led by Italy-based David Suazo and domestic-based Carlos Pavon up top, the strength of the squad. Another thirty-something Amado Guevara controls the midfield. Their keeper is another thirty-something: domestic-based Noel Valladares, who has been criticized for inconsistent play. Their age is another potential weakness (or strength if they surprise and advance) with most of their contributors over 30.

PARAGUAY – They’ve double their World Cup appearance in the last 12 years (4 to 8), but have not advanced past the Round of 16. In qualifying, they defeated Brazil at home and drew with Argentina away. In recent friendlies, they have drew with Ivory Coast (2-2) and defeated Euro 2004 Champion Greece (2-0). They are also in arguably the tournament’s easiest group with an aging Italy squad and unproven Slovakia and New Zealand sides. Advancing to the knockout stages by default is a realistic possibility, but making history and making it to the quarterfinals are unlikely. Their strength is defense, led by center-backs Brazil-based Julio Cesar Caceres and Sunderland’s Paulo da Silva and experienced keeper (72) caps Justo Villar, who plays his club ball in Spain. Cristian Riveros, also of Sunderland, connects the backline to strikers Roque Santa Cruz (Manchester City) and Nelson Haedo Valdez (Borussia Dortmund.) There’s some topflight talent on this squad, but there’s not enough depth in the starting XI, much less the 23-man squad, to compete with the best in the world.

WILD-CARD:

URUGUAY – While they captured the 1930 and 1950 World Cups, they have qualified only once (2002) since 1990. They were the last team to qualify for South America, edging Ecuador and Colombia by a point each and making it through to the finals winning a play-off with CONCACAF’s Costa Rica. Uruguay is led up top by Athletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan and Netherlands-based Luis Suarez who have combined for 34 goals. They’re known as a physical, aerial team and this starts with their backline led by Captain Diego Lugano, of Fenerbahce. As in qualifying, they can also be unpredictable and inconsistent which doesn’t bode well for group matches with European power France, hosts South Africa, and like-minded Mexico.

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