In his last post, Ben spoke about the inability of World Cup color commentators to resist making puns from foreign player's names. It's no surprise, then, that they are absolutely LOVING the Czech Republic. Let's take a look at just a few of the homonymic gems ESPN has produced in the last three days:
-This Is One Czech The United States Hopes WILL Bounce
-You Better Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
-Don't Let Your Mouth Write A Czech Your Ass Can't Cash
The list goes on and on, but the point is this: We're actually getting more interesting headlines in the World Cup than we do day to day, because writers finally have the opportunity to write about teams they don't cover year-round. (As opposed to, say, the Phoenix Suns. After you've done "Sun Setting On Phoenix Squad" or "New Suns Rising In The West" about 20 times, it begins to feel somewhat repetitive.) Bottom line: Thank you, World Cup, for giving American journalists a chance to concoct new, punchier headlines.
But enough about media coverage...did anyone watch the Japan vs. Australia game this morning? After about 80 minutes of the match I was ready to declare Japan one of the two best teams I've seen thus far in the tournament(along with Holland). They possessed the ball like Brazilians, never played wishful British longballs, and halted every offensive buildup by the Aussies. Then, in a span of only eight minutes, they turned into Havarti cheese, letting Cahill in for two strikes and Aloisi in for another. Much as I love goal-minded soccer, Ben was right to pick strong defensive teams to advance to the later rounds of the tournament. Japan had a superlative, possession-based offense, but, as predicted by Nakata two weeks ago, they let in some of the most inexcusable goals in the Cup. Unless Japan imports the backline of Serbia and Montenegro, they're done, and I'm calling it right now.
Hopefully I won't be saying the same about the United States in two hours. With kickoff just 30 minutes away, I have dozens of question about our team, not the least of which is this: Will DeMarcus Beasley in any way best, or even match, his play in 2002? Of late he's played great defense, but he seems to lack confidence going forward, and his wing has produced essentially nothing in the last few friendlies. Though I never thought I'd say this four years ago, or even two months ago, I would feel much better about a United States lineup that includes Bobby Convey on the left rather than Beasley. All you DeMarcus Beasley-lovers out there may now commence stoning me with small rocks.
In closing, because I love ranking things, I'm giving my take on the strength of the teams that've played thus far, from worst to first (and, yes, thanks to the magic of Meghan Cook's Tivo, I have indeed watched every minute of every match):
9. Angola: Before the Cup began, most people picked Angola as the weakest overall team, and, despite my love of African soccer, I have to agree. They just don't seem capable of scoring one, let alone multiple, goals. Moreover, despite the fact that Portugal only scored one goal, Angola gave the Portuguese about 6,000 chances.
8. Sweden: I already wish I hadn't picked Sweden to take group B. They play the kind of soccer I absolutely hate: drab, lob-it-over-the-top-of-the-defense-and-hope-someone-runs-onto-it nonsense. If Cantona's admonition of "Joga Bonita" ("Play Beautiful") is to manifest itself in Germany, we need this Swedish side ousted as soon as possible.
7. Japan: Like I said above, I think they're done, cooked, finito.
6. Trinidad And Tobago: If their defense is "shaky," their offense is downright apoplectic.
5. Paraguay: They play a Brazilian style of football, but without any of the Brazilians' skill.
4. England: They could (and should) improve, because they have more talent than anyone in the Cup besides Brazil and Holland, but right now they look discombobulated and uncertain of what they're doing. Without Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and David Beckham (i.e. their midfield), they'd've lost the match against Paraguay and probably wouldn't make it out of group play. As you can see, I'm not a big fan of ANY of the teams in group B.
3. Australia: They've got goal-scoring ability, and, though they play really ugly soccer, I would enjoy seeing their goofy fans for another round or two. If Tim Cahill stays healthy, it might happen, too.
2. Germany: Sure their defense looks lethargic, but I see them scoring at least two goals a game from here on out. When Ballack comes back, they'll be even better, though not quite as good as....
1. Holland: I am LOVING my championship pick right now. Though I realize Holland only beat Serbia and Montenegro 1-0, consider the fact that the Serbs hadn't given up a goal in about 700 minutes of qualifying play. The Dutch possessed the ball with superb skill, and if I had to pick the 11 players with the best first touches thus far in the Cup, I'd take the Dutch starting 11 (van der Saar included). Viva las naranjas y, en algunos minutos, viva Los Estados Unidos! Hasta luego!