Don't Look Over South Africa
Lets start off with the host country. Many people are completely writing off the South Africans before even giving them a chance to prove themselves. A lot of the Group A talk has been about who will advance with France, Uruguay or Mexico. South Africa might not have as many big names as their opposing countries, but they are most certainly dangerous. Last year in the Confederations Cup South Africa advanced to the Semifianls of the tournament and lost to Brazil and Spain by only 1 goal each. Spain even needed extra time to overtake the Bafana Boys and this proves how dangerous this team can be. South Africa will be led by Winger Steven Pienaar, Defender Aaron Mokoena, and of course Striker Katlego Mphela, who produced a wonder goal against the Spaniards last year. Click here. South Africa might be holding their first ever world cup, but don't expect them to be too generous a host nation.
Host Continent Will Struggle
South Africa might have a decent chance at reaching the round of 16, but don't think to highly of the other 5 nations that represent Africa. Algeria and Nigeria never seemed to really be Sweet 16 contenders, but now even top nations such as Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Ghana are in danger of not reaching the second round. Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba broke his arm last week in a tune up match against Japan and is now doubtful for the World Cup. Ivory Coast would not just lose their captain, but their offensive spark as well, which is something they cannot afford to lose for they are in arguably the toughest group. Cameroon has had problems of its own with star player Samuel Eto'o sparking trouble against Portugal a week ago. Eto'o received two yellow cards in less than a minute and was recently suspended by the Cameroon Football Federation for his harsh play. His status is currently questionable for Cameroon's opening match against Japan, and his presence will certainly be missed if he has to sit out. Finally, Ghana will be without Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien for the tournament and is in serious trouble for they must face two top ten teams in Germany and Serbia in Group D play. Apart from South Africa, it does not look too bright for the African nations in their first ever World Cup on the continent. Don't be surprised if we lack an African nation in the sweet 16 for only the second time since 1986.
Slippery Slope for Spain
Spain stood atop the FIFA World Rankings just a year ago after recently capturing the Euro Cup with authority. However, it seems like the Spaniards have been on a slippery slope ever since and this might endanger their World Cup chances. As you may know, Spain was upset by an enthusiastic American team last summer in the Confederations Cup and have been struggling defensively since the loss. Spain has been playing cupcake teams very tight and recently was challenged by Saudi Arabia (55) and South Korea (28) into just one goal games. They even let up two goals to #63 ranked Macedonia just last month in what surely should have been an easy win. Spain might be in one of the easier groups in the World Cup, but in the second round they are likely to face either Ivory Coast, or Portugal, two teams that are loaded with talent all across the board. Add in the fact that Spain hasn't reached the Semifinals in over 60 years and you get a team on major upset alert.
No Beckham, No Problem
There has been a lot of talk about whether the English National Team will miss the presence of veteran David Beckham. Of course England will lose his free kicking ability and his vision, but apart from that, England really should be just fine without him. Coach Fabio Capello really looked for guys with excellent pace to fit into his wide and cross offensive scheme. Although Beckham is great at crossing, his speed has most certainly diminished over the years and really would not fit the style of offense that Capello would want to run anyway. Even if he did add pace to his game he would still be levels behind a starting spot and probably wouldn't have played anyway. To sum it all up, Beckham would not have been suited for the role he would have to play and he would've been low on the depth anyway, so why should England miss him?
Young Guns Stepping Up: Davies' Absence Not Significant
Earlier this month, USA fans were wondering how Bob Bradley would organize the offense without Charlie Davies. However, in the last two matches it has become apparent that Davies' absence might not even be harmful for the USA in South Africa. Stuart Holden and Jose Torres are emerging as two of the brightest stars on the USMNT playing with terrific enthusiasm and talent at the Midfield position. Holden was calm, cool, and collected against the Czech Republic last week and showed great leadership in the International Friendly. He clearly stood out as the premier midfielder during that International Friendly and earned his spot with authority last week. Jose Torres has also been playing tremendously as of late and gave a huge spark to the US offense against Turkey on Saturday. Torres seemed to out-hustle, out-muscle, and out-play the Turks despite being only 5'7. His energy in the second half most certainly made an impact and was ESPN commentators Alexi Lalas' "Player of the Game." These two players' excellence have given Bradley an option to move Donovan or Dempsey up to striker to play along side Jozy Altidore up front. However, young strikers such as Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, and Robbie Findley have been playing extraordinary as well and have certainly made Bob Bradley think about whether he even needs to move up Donovan or Dempsey. Davies was outstanding during qualifying and the Confederations Cup last summer, but with new players establishing their talent on the US, his loss might not be too significant.
Goals, Goals, and More Goals
Who says Defense wins Championships? This summer expect to see a festival of goals in the World Cup and an entertaining month. As you may have heard, the 2010 World Cup ball, Jabulani, has been creating some fuss from the players and has been criticized of shaking and moving too much while in the air. Criticism has been especially popular from Goalkeepers who have been quoted saying "It's like a beach ball" and "It's a disaster." Goalies have described the balls trajectory as unpredictable and this can only mean one thing, more goals. To add to the problem, many of the South African Venues are hundreds of feet above sea level resulting in lighter air and a faster ball. The word Jabulani means "celebrate" and we will most certainly see a lot of goal celebrations this summer.
Maradona No Mas
We are coming into this World Cup with a few questions about the coaching ability of Diego Maradona. Of course he is one of the greatest players of all time (he even has a move and goal named after him), but that doesn't mean his success translates on to the sideline. Argentina had to fight for their spot during CONMEBOL qualifying and placed 5 whole points behind just 3rd place Paraguay. A one or two game drought you might be able to blame on the players, but it seems like Maradona never really had that "Go Get it!" attitude for Argentina throughout all 18 games of qualifying. Argentina even lost to 44th ranked Bolivia 6-1, which certainly implies a problem at the top. If trying to prove the world wrong isn't enough motivation for Maradona, he should at least do it for Messi's sake, who for all we know, might be playing in his last World Cup. Maradona has the skills and tools of a Championship Caliber team, but will he be able to motivate his squad and put Argentina back on top. The journey starts June 12 vs Nigeria.
Young Strikers will Emerge: Altidore and Bendtner
Jozy Altidore and Nicklas Bendtner will be the two names that benefit the most from this 2010 World Cup. Both are under 23 years old and both are up and coming strikers in the English Premier League. Altidore recently made the change to Hull City from Spanish club Villareal, but wasn't much of an impact on the English Premier League. He only managed one goal throughout the season, but surely showed signs of excellent development and has the skills to play with the best. Just ask Spain. Bendtner on the other hand plays for a more prestigious club in Arsenal, yet also lacked attention for he did not see the field too often. He only hit the back of the net six times throughout the year, but most of his goals were against top clubs such as Barcelona and Liverpool. Bendtner and Altidore have the skills to play against the best, and there isn't a more perfect time to prove it to the world then at the World Cup. Now, with the lights on them, and the world watching, these players will get to show off their true skills on huge stage and will make these players names of the next generation. They are the stars of their respective nations, and will be the stars of the World Cup as well.
USA CAN beat England
I am not here to tell you that we will witness one of the biggest upsets of the World Cup with the USA and England, but I am saying it's possible. Of course England has more bench, more skill, and more stars, but one thing they lack that will hurt them, are the intangibles. England might have some of the best players in the world right now with Gerrard, Lampard, and Rooney, but one thing that England has always lacked is unity. They are great players individually, but when thrust onto the same field, they really struggle. They are the origin of the quote "too much is never a good thing." Just look at the 2008 Euro qualifying where they failed to reach the tournament after slipping against teams such as Macedonia and Croatia. England really lacks unity, and that's one thing that their opponent USA has. Many of the US players are familiar with each other's playing style and have good chemistry for many of them used to play in the MLS. In the MLS, teams play each other much more often, which means players see how their fellow americans play 5-6 times a year. They play with or against each other almost three times more often than those who play in England do. This chemistry will help them greatly. The USA also has more motivation in this situation. They have everything to prove and nothing to lose. They can prove that the Confederations Cup wasn't a fluke and that they are willing to contend for their first World Cup trophy. England on the other hand knows for certain they will advance to the second round and is most likely thinking about their Sweet 16 opponent against a team from a tough Group D. Finally, the USA has the talent to beat Spain. No longer is this upset unthinkable to the human mind. USA did beat Spain definitively and took Brazil down to the final wire. Even if England strikes first in the match, USA is an excellent come-from-behind team and won most of their Qualifying matches with comebacks. The USA has more chemistry, more motivation, and has skill which is why this upset is very capable of occurring. Can the USA beat England? Sure. Will they? You'll have to find out June 11 on ESPN.
Heroics from Holland
That's right! Netherlands will win their first ever World Cup in South Africa. Netherlands has produced their most talented team of all time and are ready to prove they are for real come June 11th. Holland has one of the best, if not the best, attacking squad in the world led by Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. Robben is coming off a tremendous season at Bayern Munich, leading them to the Champions League Finals last month. Van Persie is also at the peak of his career and has averaged over a goal a game in recent matches. The Midfielders are also dangerous from the Netherlands with Wesley Snjeider and Mark van Bommel, who both have great touch and skill to control the center. Finally, their defense is strong and experienced which is exactly what the last few World Cup winners have had. To top it all off, Netherlands has a fairly easy route out of the first couple of rounds and then their skill and experience will do the rest. Netherlands will win the 2010 FIFA World Cup.