Tuesday, October 29, 2013

IBWI: Europe's Top Offerings

We're just a few weeks away from all of European futbol descending into a pitched dog-eat-dog, man-beats-man, no-holds-barred, battle-to-the-dismemberment for five measly plane tickets for Brazil. But while those teams have work still to do, four others punched their own tickets by finishing top of their qualifying groups in October.

We could wait for the full field to be set, the groups to be arranged and the rosters to be finalized before we predict their results...but that sounds responsible/lame. So let's just make inaccurate assertions to fill up time.

File:Russian Football Union logo.jpgRussia
Contender Credentials: The double headed Eagle and former powerhouse will be making their first appearance since 20002 in advance of hosting the cup themselves in four years time. They topped perennial qualifier Portugal in their group, boast a tightly knit group of players who all ply their trade in the Russian premier league, and have media-darling manager Fabio Capello as their coach.

Pretender Problems: Topping Portugal in qualifying's a lot easier than in the real thing. The only real chance for Russian Premier League players to face top tier opponents is the Champions' League, which means that unless you play for CSKA Moscow...good luck. And having a media-darling manager wears thin...just ask England (Capello's last squad)

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Vladmir Putin steps in as a shirtless center half and guides the team to the title (possible through KGB tactics, but who really cares?)
Pits of Despair Scenario: Ongoing international spats cause Putin to through a pout and keep the team home leading to the first intentional disqualification since India in 1950.
Prediction: They go, they have one good match, they struggle against a better team and one they should beat and Capello's star dims further as they wind up 3rd Place in the Group

File:Logo of the Football Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina.svg
Our First Debutante

Contender Credentials: The Golden Lilies debut in the World Cup having soared as high as 13th in the world and with two players (Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibevic) with more than 8 goals (only Argentina has a similar tandem: the slightly higher profile Messi/Higuain). Their defense was similarly stingy ceding only 6 goals in all of qualifying.

Pretender Problems: The Lilies lost their #13 ranking swiftly when they were squashed by America (yes...America) at home. Take away their absurd 21 combined goals in victories over Lichtenstein and Latvia and their totals are slightly less impressive (7 of Dzeko's 10 came in those games). Then again, they also ceded half their goals to the mighty forces of Lichtenstein and Latvia...so maybe that Defense merits some questioning too.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Not content to just appear in the Cup, Bosnia is inspired to push themselves to greater heights and inspires a new golden generation to pick up the game with a second round berth.
Pits of Despair Scenario: Coach Safet Susic has to go into hiding after all his timidity and substitution quirks cost them any continued glory.
Prediction: They're by no means incompetent, but they're also unlikely to reach the same heights against better competition: 4th Place

File:England crest 2009.svgEngland
Contender Credentials: They have some of the world's most prolific players, who all earn their keep playing in the world's toughest league, many of whom also face off against the best teams in Europe, while facing the relentless pressure of the World's most intense fan base. And even if they didn't have all those things, they still invented the darn thing!

Pretender Problems: As long as there have been World Cups there have been English teams finding new ways to lose them. Every four years the entire (English speaking) world is deluged with predictions of England finally taking back what is rightfully theirs, and every four years they find a way to screw it up (or almost screw it up). Is it really crazy to predict the same thing again this time?

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Inspired by enough media coverage to make a Kardashian blush, the Three Lions finally get their just reward and take home the spoils from the cursed usurpers land.
Pits of Despair Scenario: The WAGS are disappointing, the players are more so, the sun is too hot and Sepp Blatter is so irritated by their complaints that he connives to cheat them out of all three matches.
Prediction: It's England, so they'll survive the group stage. But it's England, so they'll screw it up in the Round of 16

File:Spain National Football Team badge.pngSpain
Contender Credentials: Credit where it's due, the Red ones, The Red Fury, or the Fury are the best team in the world. They have the trophy from South Africa, they have the number one ranking in the world, they've won an absurd three straight major tournaments. They've lost one game in two years [to Brazil, in Brazil]. Until they're beaten, they are the team to beat.

Pretender Problems: Until 2010 Spanish futbol was known much more for their ability to squander opportunities than for their ability to finish them. With the golden generation of Spanish talent rapidly passing 30 and entering their decline, a repeat may be difficult--especially since the tournament takes place in South America.

Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: South America, Shmouth America; the most indomitable collection of international talent racks up a second title as nonchalantly as they do everything else. Every other national association pays obscene sums of money for the secrets to player development and solves the Spanish debt crisis.
Pits of Despair Scenario: A couple of injuries keep heroes like Villa, Xabi, Xavi, Iniesta and others from playing. Latin Americans take their vengeance on conquistadors by intentionally ruining the erstwhile colonizers return.
Prediction: As golden as all get-out, Spain slides into the Quarter-Finals when an unfortunate red-card and a little homefield advantage send them home.

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