Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In It...but Win It? #1 Brazil & Japan

It's time to a for a new feature here on the Montana Hooligans! We've spent much of the last two years chronicling the ups and downs of the qualifying process of all those teams major news outlets rarely talk about. Does ESPN care if Lebanon topped Pakistan? Does Rupert Murdoch's sport empire bother to tell you what Guyana's chances are? NOPE! But we do because...well...because we're nerds.

We'll fit in GREAT!!

Yet, in just about one year we'll be down to just 32 teams in Brazil, so perhaps we ought to take a little time to look at serious contenders as well. So when teams punch their tickets to the final round of competition, we'll celebrate their accomplishment and then give you rapid analysis of their chances to win the cup--long before we know who they'll actually face and who will actually be on their team.

You might be asking, why should you do that? Well, we offer this analysis, not because it will be accurate or even useful, but because it will be funny and fast. After all, any one can give you accurate analysis in a few months, but we're happy to give you inaccurate analysis as soon as we can. (And if that's not a pitch to add us to CNN's broadcast team, I don't know what is)

File:CBF logo.svgQualifier #1: Brazil

Contender Credentials: Start with the one of their many nicknames: Pentacampeão or "Five Time Champions". Brazil churns out championship calibre squads and players like the Disney Channel churns out future child-star rehabbers. Their joga bonito style of play is often imitated but never duplicated giving rise to the popular Brazilian saying: "futbol was invented in England and perfected by Brazil". And as host nation they get the regular home-field advantage that comes each World Cup, as teams out perform their expectations.

Pretender Problems: Between former coach Mano Menezes fielding young, untested squads that struggled at times, and recent rehire Luiz Filipe Scolari struggling even more in the run-up to the Confederations Cup, this is not your pappy's Seleção. They've fallen to 22nd in the FIFA world rankings, their lowest ranking...ever. They have now slipped behind Ecuador, Switzerland and Bosnia/Herzegovina, leaving them just one step ahead of Mali. How a team like that wins the World Cup? I do not know

Pie-In-The-Sky Scenario: The salubrious effects of playing at home rejuvenate Brazil and they steamroll every opponent enroute to their sixth championship
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Without clear focus in the attack, and with the pressure of their home fans around them at every turn, they crumble in a Round-of-Sixteen game for their worst performance in 24 years.
Our Ridiculously Early Prediction: A little home-cooking helps, but can't overcome natural deficits Semi-Finalists

Qualifier #2: Japan

Contender Credentials: Japanese football is clearly on the rise. Its best domestic players are battled over with the same passion you hear about around elite African or Latin American prospects (Shinji Kagawa of Man United to name but one). Manager Alberto Zaccheroni has crafted the best winning percentage of any Japanese manager since Hans Ooft nearly twenty years ago. Add to that a fourth place finish at last year's Olympics, a spot at the Confederation's Cup this month and an impressive march to qualification and you've got a hot squad.

Pretender Problems: Though they've had some success in recent cups, Zac Japan (so called in honor of its manager) has not yet won a game in the knock-out stages. And as well as they've played in qualifying, the best teams in recent years have played together or against each other far more than they play apart. The youngest players on the national team play in Japan, the more experienced players are scattered from England and Germany, to Russia, Belgium and Italy, making it more difficult to prepare as one cohesive unit.

Pie-In-The-Sky Scenario: Building off recent successes and spurred on by the largest Japanese population outside of Japan (1.8 million), the Blue Samurai make a shocking run to the finals!
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Worn out by disparate club schedules and stuck in a difficult group, they continue their alternating pattern of stink-knockouts-stink-knockouts...with a decidedly stinky performance.
Our Ridiculously Early Prediction: There's too much talent to be ignored, but not enough to shock the world: Quarterfinalists

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