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Weekly Roundtable: June 10th Edition

June 10, 2010

The day of reckoning is nearly here. That means a month of getting up hours before I would want to. The hype machine is nearly at maximum capacity, especially here in the United States. It is prediction time here at Fluffing the Lines. We’re not going to try to predict the impossible (like every game or even the group winners and runners-up), but, instead, giving you some teams to look out for in this tournament to surprise, disappoint, and ultimately raise the World Cup trophy.

Question Number 1: Who will surprise in this year’s World Cup?

In Arsene We Trust: Honestly, I think it is going to be Denmark. In a group with the Dutch, Cameroon, and Japan they have an excellent shot of getting out. In Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer they have an excellent defensive pairing. Nicklas Bendtner is a striker who is coming off of his most productive season to date for Arsenal, and Christian Poulsen is an excellent box to box midfielder with a lot of experience. Not to mention the fact that they are the paragon of stability, with coach Morten Olsen having been in charge for the last decade. They are well placed to come from relative anonymity to make a splash.

Captain Robert Hatch: I would have liked to pick Ghana because they’re the most technically and tactically advanced of the African sides, but their ability to respond to the Essien injury has me wary. I, too, think the Danes will surprise and make it at least to the quarters where they could have quite a match-up with Spain. Like other potential surprising teams (Greece and Serbia), they have a solid defense, but they also a true striker (Bendtner) and creative player in the midfield (Poulsen) to carry the attack. With the Dutch’s history in World Cups, they may…gasp…win their group, especially playing them in the opening game.

Lila Zidane: I’m gonna stay in Group E, but instead of going with Denmark, I’m picking Cameroon to surprise. I think Africa will have a successful tournament by its substandard terms, and Cameroon is the country with the most successful history. On top of this, having a healthy Samuel Eto’o doesn’t hurt. I think his arguments with Paul Le Guen as well as his statements about the opportunity to overcome racism will only fuel him to a great performance. On top of this, if they are able to escape the group, it’s likely they’ll face an aging, underwhelming Italy squad that could be exhausted and vulnerable. I can easily see them making the quarterfinals before losing to Spain.

Role Player: France. They really have no chance of putting it all together with the proven genious, Raymond Domenech, doing his best to limit the very talented French side. When you look at the squad you see a starting XI who play for the best teams in the world. That is not to say that they will win the World Cup this year. Domenech will ensure that. No team wins the World Cup without adjustments, and I don’t trust his ability to do that. However, with the expectations for them pretty low, I see them making a deep run. They have a strong defense, and with the injury of Diarra, have taken on a more offensive formation, which should see their play bear more creative fruit, hopefully producing goals. If they win their group, they’ll most likely play a gritty team, which plays into the French strengths (the disciplined teams are the ones that give them fits), and see their way into the quarters – a success and surprise for this tactically-challenged squad.

Hand of God: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the Ivory Coast. With Drogba hurt everyone is completely counting them out, but I think they could be one of the biggest surprises. I think they are a very talented side without him and sometimes, even though its very rare, I think a team can actually get better if its best player gets hurt. When a high profile player gets hurt teams lose some talent but they get two big advantages. They instantly get an underdog mentality, which is very dangerous. And they become more balanced as they no longer have a definite point on the field they feel they have to go through to score. the Ivory Coast was probably going to rely on Drogba too much, playing long balls into him as much as possible. Normally a fine strategy but if opposing teams are putting two defenders on him it would just result in lots of turnovers. Now, I’m looking for a balanced attack and a few surprised teams on the other end.

Fergie’s Fledgling: I am going to say South Korea. I do not think that there group (outside of Argentina of course) is that good. I think that a very tight, disciplined team will be able to beat an aging Nigeria and out “Jose” Greece. Also, I do not have much confidence in either Mexico or France, so I do not think a quarter final appearance is out of the question for them. Plus, I want like being able to root for United players who are the Captain of their national team.

Question Number 2: Who will disappoint in this year’s World Cup?

In Arsene We Trust: Italy. They are an aging squad with a coach who stuck to the players who won it for him last time, rather than cull the players who are past their prime (i.e. Fabio Cannavaro). I have already made the case for them not making it out of their group, which I still think is a distinct possibility, but they will certainly be embarassed in the second round if they do advance.

Captain Robert Hatch: As the defending World Cup champions, I think the Italians will disappoint. Their group is too weak to not get out of, but they will then meet their doom against the Netherlands or the aforementioned Denmark. However, the biggest disappointment will be Portugal. As if they were already anemic on offense, Nani got hurt earlier this week. Christiano Ronaldo, as great as he is, can’t carry his team through a group with Brazil and the Ivory Coast. I would dare say that they may drop points to outsider North Korea and, perhaps, exit South Africa without even scoring a goal.

Lila Zidane: As much as I want to pick France here, their group is just too easy to pick a collapse. Instead, I’ll go with a squad that is even less likely to suffer a collapse…..Germany. Hear me out. First, they’re in what is widely regarded as the 2nd toughest group. On top of this, injuries have decimated what would normally be their primary playing rotation(5 players have been ruled out of the World Cup). Finally, their consistency has been harped on over and over and over. The fact that they are so predictably good makes me think that Africa will shake things up. Even if they manage to escape the group, they’ll likely face either the experienced England squad or a highly confident USA or Slovenia team in the round of 16. This is where their cup journey will end.

Role Player: I think it will be the English. They have not shown any reasons why we should expect them to do anything but continue to underachieve. They have some injuries (that they should overcome), they are inconsistent, and I hate them the monarchy itself is resting on their shoulders. They’ll buckle under the pressure. I’m not sure why people are expecting anything out of the Italians. I don’t expect them to disappoint because I do not expect them to do very well. I also hate them only slightly less than Mexico, so if they crash out of the tournament, it is no disappointment at all. If I had to pick a second to England, it would be a South American side. Brazil has the most potential for disappointment (see:below).

Hand of God: I know everyone is approaching this question in the sense of expectations vs. performance, but I’m expanding my definition of disappointment a little. I think the biggest disappointment this year will be South Africa. I know expectations are low for the team but that doesn’t mean people don’t have hope. I can’t tell you how many times people have quoted the statistic that the host nation has always made it past the group stage like thats going to somehow miraculously help the South Africans. I hope they make it, I really do. But they won’t. That’s going to lead to lackluster crowds and just a general malaise throughout the country. Now that’s disappointing.

Fergie’s Fledgling: As I thought about this question, all of the teams picked above crossed my mind. I really want to pick South Africa, but I could see them making it out of their group. I am going to have to go with Portugal as well. With all of the power in the strikeforce, they have not been able to score goals all cycle. Losing Nani is going to make it that much tougher. As great as Ronaldo is (I feel he is usually the most talented individual on the pitch), he needs help around him to play his best. I do not see him having that. My second pick, based completely on goalkeeping and defenses questions, would be the Dutch.

Question Number 3: Predicting the World Cup.

In Arsene We Trust: I’m not going to go out on any limbs here, or make any earth shattering predicitons. I think Spain have to momentum, and the talent, to win it. They have an amazing team, they play well together, and they seem to have a lot of chemistry.

Captain Robert Hatch: Spain has never been here before so I have my doubts if they make it far enough in the tournament. Germany and England have injuries. The Netherlands have their own dark history. Argentina and France have coaches that will find a way to undermine their talent. That leaves Brazil as my choice to win the World Cup. Too much talent and too many intangibles that are in their favor.

Lila Zidane: Most people are pointing towards a finals match between Spain and Brazil to determine the winner of the Cup. While these are the safest choices, i’m looking at a semifinals upset in Africa’s first World Cup. Despite their wretched qualifying campaign and the ridiculous antics displayed every day by their legendary manager, Argentina still has all the talent to make a run. I’m predicting they do just that and slip by Spain in the semis. I also recognize that they have in Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, which will be the largest component to their chances at a championship.

Role Player: I hate this damn question. I want to answer with any team other than Brazil (except Italy and Mexico). I’d love to answer with France or the Netherlands or Argentina or Spain. The fact of the matter is that Brazil is no less creative and talented on offense, and now it has a stout defense. Brazil will probably win it and put another star on their jersey. J/K, LOL, LMAO, HAHA. Truth is that I think someone who has never won before will win it.

Hand of God: Isn’t the answer to this question pretty much the same every year? Brazil has a good chance, Argentina looks strong, Spain looks good. The perennial contenders Italy and Germany will probably do better than expected. So my guess? Argentina for the sole reason of seeing Maradonna win and enter into a new level of soccer player stardom for a country. Realistically, he might be president of Argentina if he wins the World Cup. Or they may at least rename a piece of it after him. I’ll be waiting in line at Barnes and Noble to get one of the first lonely planet guides to Maradonnaland.

Fergie’s Fledgling: I know that I said that the Dutch are my number to pick to disappoint, but at the same time I expect them to make it at least to the finals. I think they will either be out in the first knockout game or in the finals. I just don’t see anything in between. Other than them, I will not even try to guess. There are upsets in every world cup (South Korea anyone?) and almost impossible to forsee. I hope to see great soccer and the game grow in Africa and on our shores.

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