(Belated) World Cup PreviewYeah, yeah. We know it's late. But the weather has just been too nice lately...
Everyone knows about Brazil, and nearly all have picked them to repeat as champions. However, after much pow-wowing, we have made an underdog pick to win it all. Which we will get to later. First, our 5 players to watch and our preview of the USA bracket (aka Group of Death):
Five Players to Watch:
Peter Crouch, England: With the broken metatarsal of 20-year-old wunderkind Wayne Rooney healing gingerly, Crouch has stepped it up. He had a hat trick in the Empire's final tune-up and his imposing 6-7 frame creates a Twins-like team with diminutive Michael Owen (who looks nothing like Danny Devito, while Crouch does slightly resemble the governator).
Kasey Keller, U.S.A.: All questions have surrounded Claudio Reyna's hammy and who Bruce Arena will start at striker, and all seem to be content with calling Keller one of the best GKs in the world. Lest we forget, though, that had Brad Friedel not been a brick wall in 2002, the US would not have advanced. Keller needs to play up to the hype, or the Yanks could be heading home after 3.
Thierry Henry, France: Widely considered the world's best striker (yes, even better than Ronaldo) but scored bubkus in 2002 as the French -- defending champs -- were shut out and sent home early. His magical left foot must find the back of the net and, if it does, the field could be in trouble.
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine: The boys from Kyev are not especially dangerous on their own, but this Chelsea sniper strikes fear in the hearts of all opponents. He is a young star in England and hit the penalty that won the Champions League in 2003. Andriy may surprise some and carry Ukraine on to the knockout round, but let's just hope the Ukraine does not have the same "rules" that the Brazilians have about being with your wives in the Cup. His wife is smokin' hot American model Kristen Pazik (picture).
Ronaldinho, Brazil: Simply the best. This will be the Cup where he vaults himself into the ever so selective pantheon of Pele and Maradona. There are highlight videos all over the internet; catch some if you can. He is the man that the world most enjoys watching and there is not one player who has more fun playing the game -- witness the enormous bucktoothed smile perpetually on his face. Take off work and watch the Brazilians play; he will embarass at least 2 players per game.
Group of Death:
OK, we'll say it now and get it out of the way. The U.S. will be hard-pressed to advance, and we are not sure that they can do it. You have to assume that the Czechs, the world's 2nd-ranked team, will advance (even with AC striker Milan Baros injured).
The real fight will be for the second spot. The Italians are weaker than in years past but once they get a lead, it's all over. They bring nearly everyone back into the box and shut it down. And Ghana -- the youngest team in the whole tournament -- could be the dark horse. African nations have made some serious noise in years past, and Ghana is widely considered the best African nation this year.
Our prediction? Ghana will upset at least one of the three teams and throw the whole group into a tailspin. However, we think that the Czechs will emerge as the class of the division and Italy will survive (beat the Yanks and tie the Czechs). We certainly hope we are wrong. And hey, anything can happen: the whole world "knew" Portugal would walk all over the U.S. in 2002...
We are going to go away from conventional wisdom. If the Brazilians coast through the tournament there will be little surprise. However, they are ripe for the picking. Their weakness remains their defense (or lack thereof) and it only takes one to beat them in the knockout round. That team will be...
Argentina. If one team is going to knock off Brazil, it is going to be someone that is familiar with them. This fellow South American nation (albeit with a disappointing 2-1 start against Cote D'Ivoire yesterday) could be the team. They play excellent defense and are led by the dangerous Hernan Crespo up top. If they make it to Brazil, watch out.
Eh, who are we kidding. The Brazilians will probably win. Just enjoy them embarassing all the other teams.