Tuesday, June 18, 2013

In it...but win it? #2 Australia, South Korea, Iran

We're ready to continue our look at teams that have qualified for the 2014 World Cup, by analyzing their chances as quickly as possible, thereby removing all responsibility for doing things well.

File:Football Federation Australia logo.svgQualifier #3 Australia
Contender Credentials: The Socceroos have quietly become one of the most consistent teams in the Asian Football Confederation. Building off a trip to Germany in 2006 (their last year in the Oceania Confederation), they have now made three-straight World Cups. Furthermore, the power of local players has become increasingly apparent as long serving national team members continue plying their trade in the top divisions of Europe, and increasingly do so along side well regarded younger players (24 year olds [GK] Mitchell Langerak, [F] Robbie Kruse and [MF] Tom Rogic).

Pretender Problems: Though heavily favored to qualify, Australia was totally lack luster in the first several rounds of qualifying matches, mustering just 1 in in 6 tries (though they did earn points in all their others). It's hard to imagine a team threatening the best in the world when they struggle with Oman as much as the Aussies did. Add in that favored veterans like goalie Mark Schwarzer are nearing 40 and the power house looks more like the old age home.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: The Aussies were playing it cool in the early go, but now are a force to be reckoned with, and with familiar hands helping the newbies they shock the world en route to the semis, while the lousy Kiwis stay home.
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Worse than their qualifying campaign, one rank outsider beats them like an old didjeridoo while New Zealand shockingly makes the knockout stages.
Prediction: A few stellar showings marred by inability to finish the job leaves them just outside of the knockout stage--3rd in their group.

File:Football Federation Of Islamic Republic of Iran logo.pngQualifier #4 Iran
Contender Credentials: Over the last two decades Iran has had a familiar pattern--qualify, fail to qualify, qualify, fail to qualify. Though even in their failures they often come heartbreakingly close. They head to the tournament next year with coaching golden(ish) boy Carlos Quieroz at the helm, a man who led South Africa and Portugal to the Mondiale before doing the same for Team Melli and is as doggedly loyal and supportive of Iran in general as your friendly neighborhood Imam. Under Quieroz they have perhaps the most fearsome defense in Asia, ceding just two goals in the last round of qualification.

Pretender Problems: Ceding two goals was nearly two goals too many as Iran was tied with Qatar for third place coming into the month, only a startling offensive outburst from Standard Leige's Reza Ghoochannejhad boosted them in (largely on the back of a 4-0 romp over Lebanon). Iran also has a habit of promoting players attuned to the local political philosophy rather than those who are really really good (hence Ali Daei's 100+ caps...though his 100+ goals also have something to do with that).

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Slotted in a group with decadent westerners (and Israel) Iran crushes them all; then they do the same through the knock out stages until decimating the U.S. 10-0 in the final [this fantasy brought to you directly from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's brain]
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Quieroz implodes (as he is want to do) the goals dry up and all the players start drinking, swearing and saying provocative things like: "hey, whatever people want to do is cool with me, live and let live I always say" [this nightmare brought to you directly from Ayatollah Khameni's brain]
Prediction: The defense is not as effective on the world stage as it is in Asia and a dearth of goals (another Quieroz trademark), Iran finishes bottom of their group. But the players remain good muslims, inshallah [this dose of reality brought to you by everyone not named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad/Ayatollah Khameni]

File:Emblem of Korea Football Association.svgQualifier #5 South Korea
Contender Credentials: The fourth and final member of Asia's elite four teams: South Korea may have been playing the game the longest (assuming you count chuk-guk, which you should...if only for the name). They have a World Cup streak that might just shame the rest of the continent, having been to every Mondiale since 1986 (That's 8 straight to 3 for Australia and 5 for bitter rivals: Japan). Finally they offer perhaps the best developed and organized talent nurturing program on the continent, with national team fixtures (like Park-ji Sung) gladly making way for younger talents (like Son Heung-Min) that all routinely play in the top flight of international competition.

Pretender Problems: Chuk-guk is not futbol, and players who qualified in 1986 will not be taking the field in Brazil next summer. And for a talented team, the Taeguk Warriors sure didn't look like one in their final matches, as (on their home soil mind you) they needed an own goal to get past Uzbekistan and lost 1-0 to Iran. An onslaught of goals in Takshent nearly put the Uzbeks through and sent South Korea to the dread play-in...a pretty mighty fall from grace for a team that was on top of the group heading into last week.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Fueled by dynamic young talent, South Korea plays their most fluid style of futbol reminding everyone why they are the top talent in Asia and top their fourth place finish in 2002 by a solid three spots.
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: The far flung players in Europe are worn out when they have to trudge to Asia for training and thence to South America for competition, finishing with three losses...meanwhile Japan wins the tournament and taunts Korea with it across sea, while North Korea takes their failure as a sign of weakness and attacks.
Prediction: Some underperforming European side [*cou{HOLLAND}gh!*] comes apart in their group and the Warriors capitalize to make their second straight appearance in the round of 16.

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