Last night was a great night around the world. Not only because lots of people kicked off their weekend in style, but because four more teams punched their tickets to Brazil.
But now it's Saturday morning and the cartoons are loud, the heads are pounding and reality starts to set in. They may be in the world cup, but can they win it? (I have no idea...which means I'm just as qualified as anybody else to be making irresponsible predictions now! WHEE!)
Contender Credentials--Do you see the three stars on the crest? Have you seen the ruthless, calculating, machine-like efficiency with which Germany decimates its rivals? If Germany's at a World Cup, its a contender for the title. Add to that the fact that the German Bundesliga, where most of the DFB-Elf is playing, is one of the strongest leagues in the world right now and you have a team of superbly trained, superbly coached, superbly prepared athletes who are expected to make the quarter finals at the very least.
Pretender Problems--The strength of the Bundesliga (and the fact that the other main players in die Nationalmanschafft regular rotation play for such European luminaries as Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Lazio) means that many players are likely to be exhausted when the World Cup rolls around. Then you've got a trip to South America and all the associated headaches.
Pie-In-The-Sky Scenario: Laser-visioned dedication, hard-work and great coaching strategies from Joachim Low see Germany to the title it has just missed in '02, and '06, and 2010.
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Some kind of Greek/Portugese/Irish/Icelandic hex dooms Germany's favorite 11 to a bottomless pit of sovereign debt and a shocking last place finish.
Prediction: I initially was going to put them as losers in the round of sixteen...but come on, this is Germany we're talking about. They'll be runners up...again...sorry Germany.
Contender Credentials--La Nati cruised through a not all together easy qualifying group, besting recent World Cup qualifiers Norway and Slovenia as well as daring upstart Iceland. The mix of German and Italian families in Switzerland attempts to merge to successful styles of play and has been impressive in guiding them to regular appearances including a victory over Spain in the first group stage match in South Africa. The team is familiar with each other and with coach Ottmar Hitzfeld who has been coaching the same national team for an astonishing 5 years! (Practically an eon by national team standards)
Pretender Problems--As long as Hitzfeld has been at the helm of Switzerland they've been good but not great. Fans have come to expect strong workmanlike, but not transcendent victories. In a sport that values innovation and adaptability, being comfortable with a job and a coach does not always equate to being victorious with a coach. Add to that the fact that only midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri is likely to be making a run against top European talent regularly (as a player for Bayern Munich) and the Swiss may well "miss" in Brazil.
Pie-In-The-Sky Scenario: Someone, somewhere says "I want to play like insert name of Swiss player here" and makes their hearts glow as they lose in the round of 16.
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Uncertain and unfamiliar with each other players tepidly execute Hitzfeld's game plan, which the rest of the world already knows and Switzerland is once again just a footnote on someone else's epic ass.
Prediction: Third place in the group, but at least one Swiss child gets excited by a well struck goal.
Contender Credentials--The hype around the Red Devils has been humming for years now. Eden Hazard's tremendous play in the Premiership will do that, but the flood of young Belgian talent in the World's top leagues has buoyed their performances and boosted the Belgians to a number six world ranking.
Pretender Problems--That flood of young talent is a double-edged sword, especially since the Belgians haven't made a World Cup since 2002 when Hazard and co. were a bunch of prepubescent daydreamers. Much as we might like to have a new power emerge, there's a reason why so few teams have won the world cup...very few know how to.
Pie-In-The-Sky Scenario: The hype is real and they soar into the finals as an unheralded wunder-team.
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: The hype is well...hype and intense marking of Hazard limits distribution and playmaking chances for others, forcing the Belgians into an embarrassing fourth place.
Prediction: Truth be told, the hype probably is a bit much, but with the tonnage of talent and a likely seeded position, they will easily be good enough for a round of 16 berth where a team that phoned it in during the group stage beats them, and starts the fears that another golden generation will go wasted.
Contender Credentials--After a 16 year hiatus, los Cafeteros are back in business, but without the same starry-eyed hype as the Belgians (despite being ranked 1 spot higher in the world). Columbia's best performance came a little over 20 years ago when a young and impetuous team (led by my still beloved Carlos Valderamma) made a great run in Italy.
Pretender Problems--Valderamma's not on this team (which is actually probably for the best since he's now 52). The Columbian fan base has a tendancy to overreact and heap a little too much pressure on to the players (witness the epic wikipedia page and the horrible events surrounding defender Andres Escobar's assassination). It's little surprise that, like the overwrought Red Sox fans of decades gone by, the team's frequently underwhelms when they're expected to do well (both in continental and international competitions). Since they're expected to be good now...well...
Pie-In-The-Sky Scenario: Like Uruguay in 2010, Columbia shakes up the established order of things as they rise up to the Semis while Brazil and Argentina get dumped out before hand.
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: Like Columbia in 1994, they think they can, they think they can, they think they can...and then they don't.
Prediction: Without a true leader at the front of the field, but a truly sinister back defense they'll get through the group stage but struggle in a Round of 16 exit.