23 Days Until The World Cup

18 05 2010

There was a list of things to choose from when writing the countdown this week. Among the things I left out:
Oguchi Onyewu asking to play for free for AC Milan
Jozy Altidore’s SportsCenter commercial
Michael Ballack’s World Cup ending injury

No doubt there is so much to talk about. Anyways, this is the newest version of the countdown. As always, the link to the column online is here

Closing in on the World Cup
By Julio Lara, Daily Journal Staff
By now you’ve probably read your fair share of reactions to last week’s unveiling of the training camp rosters for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.There were plenty of surprises from across the soccer spectrum. In Brazil, a couple of big names like Ronaldinho and Pato were left off Dunga’s roster. Italy didn’t extend an invite to Franceso Totti or Luca Toni, France isn’t bringing Karim Benzema or Samir Nasri.

On the domestic front, after letting coach Bob Bradley’s choices marinate for a week, I can’t say there were too many surprises. Robbie Findley’s name on the list stands out for me as the only real head-scratcher. I thought his form with Real Salt Lake wasn’t spectacular in the first two months of the Major League Soccer season (not like that of Edson Buddle for example, whose goal-scoring spree most likely landed him on the list of 30).

To the Countdown’s credit, seven weeks ago, we threw out the names of Findley, Brian Ching, Sasha Kljestan and Jonathan Bornstein as MLS players that had a chance to make the training camp list and all four made it.

But the big story was the “snubbing” of Charlie Davies, who did everything he could in the six months since his accident to get back into world class form.

Unfortunately for Davies, his efforts weren’t rewarded and he was left off the 30-man roster. “Thank you all for your continued support and words of encouragement. It was a very sad day for me as well but now focused for next season,” Davies said via Twitter. “I will be back stronger then ever! The hard work will not stop! Believe for the rest of 2010 and the future! Thanks again! God Bless.”

Reports swirled that his club team, FC Sochaux did not medically clear Davies to play in South Africa for the USMNT and that led the striker to have some choice words for Sochaux president Alexandre Lacombe.

While you can’t help but feel for Davies, ultimately his exclusion from the USMNT is a byproduct of his own choices. Yes he worked his tail off to make the list, but if you rewind the clock, it was his decision to break curfew that had him in the car that crashed and left him hurt as badly it did (and killed someone else in the process). With his play in the Confederations Cup, Davies’ spot in South Africa was all but locked and one idiotic decision will leave him waiting until Brazil 2014 for his redemption.

 Spain and Russia fixing results?

With my two cents on the rosters out of the way, we’ll focus our attention on what has become a major story leading up to South Africa.

Former FA chairman David Triesman, who oversaw the game in England and was also in charge of England’s bid to host the World Cup in 2018, has been recorded suggesting that Spain and Russia are working together and would be bribing referees at the World Cup. Triesman, who was recorded in a phone conversation with a woman who claims to have had a “relationship” with her then-boss, said that Spain would withdraw its bid to stage the 2018 finals if Russia helped it to bribe referees in next month’s tournament.

Russia isn’t participating in South Africa and Spain is one of the favorites to win it all. England is putting everything on this bid for 2018. Some may argue that it’s more important for them to actually host in eight years than it is to do well in Africa 23 days from now. And while the chances are that these accusations are all hot air, with the way the story has picked up steam, the idea of such activities has already planted a seed in the minds of those participating and watching the World Cup. Since the story broke, FIFA has announced a full investigation of the allegations made by Triesman, asking the FA to disclose everything the former chairman knows his accusations. Surely this will be messier.

Is match fixing a possibility at the South Africa? Sure. But it’s highly unlikely given that now the matches will be examined under an even larger microscope. What this scandal has done is put the English FA in disarray — think of it as the Yankees accusing the Red Sox of bribing umpires during the World Series so that they can lose. Or Al Davis coming out and saying that the zebras were being paid-off by the Broncos during a playoffs so that Oakland won’t make it to a Super Bowl. Think of it that way and multiply it by 10. Soccer isn’t just life in places like England and Spain — it’s mind, body and soul.

 Group C Predictions

Group C teams: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia

If I were smart I’d take: England, United States

The Countdown is picking: England, United States

On paper this group looks like a no-brainer — both the United States and England appear to have gotten the best possible draw with Algeria, who’s playing in the World Cup after a 24-year hiatus and Slovenia, who’ll be playing in only their second Cup.

But despite our picks, I wouldn’t be surprised if Algeria or Slovenia shock the soccer world and advance to the second round.

What Algeria lacks in offense, they make up with on defense, playing well during their qualifying run to South Africa when they surrendered only eight goals in 12 matches.

Slovenia qualified by advancing in a group that included a good Slovakia squad, Poland and Czech Republic (the latter two played in the World Cup in 2006). Their performance in their group earned them a play-off against Russia which they won to book their seat in South Africa.

The United States is dealing with injuries to key cogs who need to be ready for the Stars and Stripes to be successful. And England is drowning in off-the-field scandals that they say won’t affect their play in the World Cup, but isn’t doing them any good right now. Their ability to focus on soccer will make or break them.

That said, it would take a disappointing showing by the two favorites for either Algeria or Slovenia to advance.

Mark your calendars for June 12, 2010, it promises to be one of the most intriguing matches not only of the group stage, but of the entire cup. The United States and England will play at 11 a.m. and the outcome of this game will go a long way in determining who advances to the second round. As long as we’re predicting, I’m going with a 2-2 draw.

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