3 Days Until the World Cup … sort of

11 06 2010

To my hundreds of fans, I’m sorry. I realize the World Cup is actually tomorrow, but I haven’t been able to update the blog – blame it on the day job. I can’t wait. If you are in the San Mateo county area tomorrow, make sure you pick up an issue of the Daily Journal and flip over to page 17 where you will find what’s kept me from posting. Man, it was a lot of work. I’ll be keeping up the blog more often with the World Cup and a much longer post will come showing the stuff that I was mentioning before that is a guide that has taken all my time. OK. Enough gibberish. As always, the link to the story online is here. Enjoy.

Are your ready for some futbol?
By Julio Lara, Daily Journal Staff
My oh my, where has the time gone?

Three days from now the ball will roll in South Africa and a month worth of excitement will get underway as FIFA kicks off the 2010 version of its World Cup.

Even with play only a couple of days away, there have been a ton of major developments in the international soccer spectrum. Where do we begin?

Injuries

You tend to hold your breath when you watch the friendlies that go down only days before the start of the World Cup. I know U.S fans were cringing every time an Australian defender would come in strong on the likes of Clint Dempsey during the USMNT’s 3-1 victory last Saturday. The fouls ticked Dempsey off and well they should. Dempsey has already had to battle back from an injury earlier this year and this close to the biggest sporting tournament in the world no one wants to get hurt.

While Dempsey avoided the injury bug a lot of great players on some big teams weren’t so lucky. Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba went down with a broken elbow in his team’s warm-up match against Japan. Arjen Robben, star winger for the Netherlands hurt his hamstring in a 6-1 drubbing of Hungary and his World Cup looks fuzzy. Rio Ferdinand, the English team captain and soul of the defense, suffered a knee injury and is out of the World Cup.

The list was already long and it only grew over the weekend.

Michael Ballack of Germany is already out. Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo, Slovakian defender Martin Skrtl, Ghana’s Mickael Essien and Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel, all prominent figures on their respective teams, are also not participating in South Africa 2010.

As a head coach, it really is a matter of getting lucky and you play with balancing the need for your star players to log key game minutes on the pitch with sitting them so they can avoid injury. Drogba’s injury was a freak accident. Robben’s on the other hand came with his team already up five goals, two of which came from his foot.

As much as it’s a loss for their teams, it’s also a blow to the football fans — you wait around four years for this tournament and all you ask for is to see the best players in the world on the pitch. Unfortunately, this Cup, more than ever in recent memory, the injury bug has hit hard.

So which team will feel will be affected the most?

My vote is for the Ivory Coast. You cannot replace a player the caliber of Drogba, who led the English Premiere League in goals this past season and is considered by many to be the top striker in the world. Imagine taking Albert Pujols out of the Cardinals’ line-up, Drew Brees out of the Saints’ huddle or Lebron James out of the (insert team here) starting five. Ivory Coast has a very potent offense, but Drogba was the heart and soul. While his World Cup may not be over officially (coach Sven-Goran Eriksson hasn’t ruled Drogba out completely), you have to wonder how effective he will be with a humongous cast slowing him down.

Don’t think the Brazilian, Portuguese or North Korean players will do him any favors either if he’s on the field. That arm will be fair game.

With that said, I’d like to officially change my pick. Last week I chose Brazil and Ivory Coast to advance out of group G. With Drogba out, I’m taking Portugal instead. I can do that. It’s my countdown.

Stars and Stripes

The Countdown was up bright (well, the sun wasn’t out yet, but you get what I’m saying) and early last Saturday morning to make a trip down to the Haight to watch the USMNT’s last warm-up before the World Cup. Accompanied by my soccer brain-trust, we caught their 3-1 victory over Australia.

On one had, you can’t argue against results. The USMNT beat a good Turkey team the previous weekend and controlled the majority of play against a team that is also participating the in South Africa 2010. They also avoided injuries (for the most part — see Jozy Altidore and Ricardo Clark).

But I have my questions and concerns about the U.S heading into their June 12 match against England.

My biggest lies with the defense which showed again that it has some pretty big holes. Australia missed a couple of clear opportunities and the Americans can be exploited by a team with good wing play.

Assuming that coach Bob Bradley goes with a 4-4-2 formation, who will occupy the second forward position (that is, if Altidore’s ankle is OK)? Edson Buddle surely stepped up with a two-goal performance against the Aussies — the first goal was a quality strike, aggressive in nature, something I love to see from a forward. The U.S will certainly need that. But Herculez Gomez scored as well, further showing that he has a knack for finding the net and taking full advantage of his opportunities. If I had to choose, I’d go with Buddle. He’s been tearing up Major League Soccer and in sports you always go with the hot hand (or foot, in this case).

There were a few starting spots open when camp began for the U.S. I see Buddle taking one up front. In the midfield I think Jose Torres and Michael Bradley earned the two spots, and in the back, assuming the Oguchi Onweyu and Carlos Bocanegra are locks, I think Clarence Goodson and Steve Cherundolo are the best the U.S has — given their play though, U.S fans better hope Tim Howard bring his A game to South Africa.

Group H predictions

Group H teams: Spain, Honduras, Chile, Switzerland
Smart Picks: Spain, Chile
Countdown takes: Spain, Chile

Group H features World Cup favorite Spain; the most talented, well-oiled machine team in the tournament. If anything, Group H will serve as an exhibition of sorts for La Furia Roja who will run over all three teams in their group — if impressed is what you want to be in the first couple of weeks of this tournament, then tune into Group H … you’ll be in for a show.

Second place will most likely be contested between Honduras and Chile. Chile has a nice run during qualifying and will rely heavily on their star forward Humberto Suazo. Honduras though, has a handful of players with European league experience. With Spain advancing with all nine points in this group, the biggest game with be the showdown between Chile and Honduras. I like Chile to win and advance on the strength of that victory.

World Cup Guide

One final note on this version of the Countdown: Make sure you pick up a copy of the Daily Journal this Friday. We’ll be publishing our guide to the FIFA World Cup 2010 complete with groups, players to watch, matches you can’t miss, places to catch the soccer on the Peninsula and plenty more. Also, follow us on Twitter throughout the tournament to get our insight on the games.

Julio Lara can be followed @julitolara and sports editor Nathan Mollat can be found @checkkthissoutt

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