Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup Preview: Group F

We're not going to pretend like we know a lot about soccer. Or that we watch it besides when the World Cup happens every four years. We love any kind of international competition, and the World Cup falls into that category. Like we did for the Olympics, we're teaming up with Cory from the Three Rivers Burgh Blog to preview the 2010 World Cup.

Viva Italia.

Really, that's about all that's going down in this group. The defending champions have one of the easiest draws in the field. No one in this group should challenge them, and they might not give up a goal during group play. New Zealand is still riding Peter Jackson's coattails, Slovakia couldn't convince Miro Satan or Marian Hossa to play soccer, and Paraguay who once tried to fight a three-front war. No, seriously, they did. European historians rag on a bunch of countries (Germany, Russia, Napoleon, etc) for trying to fight two-front wars. Paraguay once took on Brazil (to the north), Argentina (to the south), and Uruguay (to the east) in the War of the Triple Alliance. It was the bloodiest war in South American history, lasting 6 years from 1864-1870. America was too busy screwing up Reconstruction to notice.

Italy (FIFA - 5, ESPN - 11)
Paraguay (FIFA - 31, ESPN - 20)
Slovakia (FIFA - 34, ESPN - 49)
New Zealand (FIFA - 78, ESPN - 92)

Group F

My great-grandparents came over on a boat from Italy. I love my Italian heritage. That being said, their soccer team might be the biggest collection of whiny little bitches I've ever seen. Soccer players are crybabies in general, particularly when compared to athletes of some other sports, but the Italians take it to a new level. If Mario had cried this much he never would have made it past the Goombas to find Peach.

This Italian team is largely the same as the team that hoisted the trophy in 2006. On one hand this means they are an experiences squad capable of making a deep run in the tournament once again. On the other hand, they might come down with osteoporosis halfway through the tournament and have to withdraw.

Italy has arguably the best keeper in the world in Gianluigi Buffon. As hockey fans know, a good goaltender can take you a long way. With the size of the net they have to cover in soccer, well...being a "good" goaltender is all relative. That being said, a lot of goalies have complained about the new ball Adidas made for this World Cup. Apparently it doesn't spin the same off of the foot so it "wobbles" in midair causing goalies to look like buffoons diving for the ball. I think soccer is the only sport in the world where players can blame their ineptitude on the ball.

Here's some footage of one of Italy's star players warming up for the World Cup:

The Paraguay team suffered a huge blow earlier this year when their best player suffered a severe head injury when he was shot in the head in a night club in Mexico City. He did his first interview in March, two months after being shot. He is still on the road to recovery and we wish him the very best.

As for the rest of the team, without Cabanas they really only have one scoring threat in Roque Santa Cruz. UC Santa Cruz's mascot is the Banana Slugs. Probably up there with the Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens for most hilarious mascot.
John Travolta rocked the UC Santa Cruz shirt in Pulp Fiction. If we cared more about soccer, we'd post this picture every time Roque scored. Honestly though, Paraguay really doesn't have anyone else that can score. The rest of their team is so offensively challenged, if anyone else scores it wouldn't even be considered secondary scoring, it would be tertiary scoring. Paraguay is likely going to stack up in the midfield and on defense and try to play everyone to a 0-0 tie. Enjoy kissing your sister all tournament Paraguay fans.

No one really knows what to expect from Slovakia this year. They're a young team. Like Justin Beiber young. The oldest player on the team is 25. Now that Marian Hossa's name will be on the Stanley Cup, Slovakia will probably just carry their party over into the World Cup. Given that their first game is against New Zealand, they have a good chance to roll into their match with Paraguay on top of the group.

But no one really knows what the Slovaks will do in this tournament. They have a balanced team that will rely on good teamwork more than individual playmakers. While that was good enough to get them here, and it might be enough to play through New Zealand in the first round, this group is really between Paraguay and Slovakia for second.

Zdeno Chara is also Slovakian and he routinely wins the hardest slapshot competition but gets turned into a pole in the playoffs. If there's one thing the NHL has taught us about Slovakians, it's that they tend to disappear in big-time situations. How many goals did Hossa score in his 3 Cup finals appearances? Yeah, not a lot.

I went to New Zealand on a study abroad trip in college. It was three awesome weeks I'll cherish forever. That being said, Kiwis don't even think of this as the real "World Cup." To them, that's the Rugby World Cup. One phrase that stuck with me from my trip - "Rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen. Soccer is a gentleman's game played by hooligans."

If New Zealand's soccer team comes out and does the haka like their rugby team does, all bets are off. Here is a video

If that isn't sufficiently badass, they could always get a rousing speech from their new manager:

Oh come on, you didn't think I could preview New Zealand without mentioning Lord of the Rings, did you?

New Zealand is making their second appearance in the big show, looking to improve upon their 1982 performance where they went 0-3 and got outscored 12-2, getting shut out by both Brazil and the USSR. Anything better than that will be seen as a significant improvement for the Kiwis this year.

You probably think New Zealanders are called Kiwis because of the fruit. Nope, it's because of the Kiwi bird native to New Zealand.

Ian's Prediction: Italy takes the group easily. Paraguay does enough on goal differential to get in over Slovakia.

Cory's Prediction: Italy will take home the group and I guess Paraguay will take the other spot.

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