16 Days Until the World Cup

25 05 2010

A little over two weeks … that’s all that’s left. No big surprises this week — England’s 3-1 whooping of Mexico, Argentina’s man-handling of Canada 5-0 (I didn’t see Messi on the roster either), South Africa tied Bulgaria 1-1 and so on and so on. Anyone know where they’ll be showing the U.S vs. Czech Republic? Anyways, the countdown continues below and as always you can find the story at a news rack near you, or here.

U.S. soccer needs to check Czechs
By Julio Lara, Daily Journal Staff
World Cup fans: take out your mental notepad and pen — with 16 days until June 11 it’s time to take notes.There’s a lot to be learned this week about South Africa 2010 and you can do yourself a great service by simply watching what has, and will, transpire on the international pitch as many of the teams participating in the World Cup have scheduled friendlies. 

While there are those teams (like Argentina who handed Canada a 5-0 whooping on Monday) who will gain very little from the next 10 days or so, there are others whose games this week clear up a lot of questions.

Among the teams with the biggest questions are your very own Stars and Stripes, who have been bitten hard by the injury bug in the months leading up to the World Cup. Come today in their game against the Czech Republic, the USMNT will give the public their first glimpse into what they’ll bring to the table in South Africa.

Head coach Bob Bradley has indicated that only 23 of the 30 players in camp will dress for the match (5 p.m.) so those still nursing injuries (Carlos Bocanegra for example, who just had a hernia removed) will most likely not see any action.

But here are a couple of things to keep an eye on. First, Oguchi Onyewu will likely see playing time, marking his return to the field after an extended leg injury. How he does today will go a long way in determining the rest of the defensive lineup for the United States — mainly their questions at left back.

All the injuries on the USMNT have opened up a couple of spots for players who were at one point on the fringe of making the final squad. It should be interesting to see if Bradley uses this game and the May 29 match against Turkey to plug in those holes.

In the midfield, keep an eye on DeMarcus Beasley, who I think is playing close to the form that made him a factor on the U.S teams of 2002 and 2006. As it stands, the midfield is already very tight.

Lastly, expect an offensively aggressive team today. There is a slew of forwards trying to lock down that second striker position alongside Jozy Altidore. A good showing against the Czech Republic can’t hurt, so look for forwards Edson Buddle, Brian Ching and Herculez Gomez to do their best to make an impression. There’s no better way of doing that than by putting the ball into the net.

Groups D and E

Group D teams: Germany, Serbia, Ghana, Australia
Smart picks: Germany, Serbia
Countdown’s picks: Serbia, Ghan
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How good of a player is Germany’s Michael Ballack? Well, he’s good enough to make me go out on a limb and leave the German squad out of the second round. I know, it’s a stretch, but talk about unlucky — not only is Ballack, the captain of the team, out of the World Cup, but Germany’s starting keeper is also not going to South Africa because of injury. The key blows leave the pressure on a 35-year old goalie (Hans-Joerg Butt) and Lukas Podolksi, Ballack’s midfield partner on the German squad.

I like Serbia to play good, consistent football through the first round and advance easily with seven points.

That means the window is open for Ghana, one of the first African teams to qualify for the tournament, to advance to the round of 16. If they can find a way to draw against both Germany and Serbia, coupled with a winnable match vs. Australia, Ghana can be one of the biggest surprises of the first round.

Group E teams: Netherlands, Denmark, Cameroon, Japan
Smart picks: Netherlands, Cameroon
Countdown’s picks: Netherlands, Cameroon

The proclaimed “best team to never win it all” couldn’t have gotten a better draw. The Netherlands should have no problems on the pitch during the round-robin phase. Off the field? Now that’s another story.

About the only thing the Dutch have more than talent is ego and in South Africa 2010 they’ll be their own worst enemies. That said, there is too much firepower on that team to have any legitimate effects during the first round.

Speaking of talent, Cameroon has itself quite the player in Samuel Eto’o, the striker who is just coming off a Champions League victory with Inter Milan and will participating in his third World Cup. Denmark lacks the firepower to make a serious run in the group stage. Japan could surprise a team like Cameroon — its 5-0-1 against African teams since 2007. Japan would need an upset there and at least a draw against Denmark to have a shot at the second round. Stranger things have happened.

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