Friday, November 01, 2013

Starting XI: Our Favorites for November

Hey, how convenient, I need a list of 11 things for this month's starting 11 and there are exactly 11 spots left in the World Cup! Why not talk about who we'd love to see win those spots--most especially the underdogs who deserve it most.

I've crossed all my fingers for these guys.
I. Ethiopia over Nigeria--I've been meaning to write a profile on Ethiopian futbol and just how much I love their underdog story for months and haven't done it yet...sorry boys...but take solace from the fact that if there's one team I really want to see in next year's cup it's you. From coach Senwet Bishaw's history as Phy Ed teacher, to the national passion for the game (with over 1,000 local clubs it's second only to Algeria in that number), to the fact that they started playing the cup back in 2011. At that time they were 139th in the world, they ranked behind Nepal...behind Kazakhstan...behind St. Kitts and Nevis...and yet, they are still alive and all those teams (not to mention about 92 others) are gone. On top of that, there's a chance to embarrass the increasingly autocratic Goodluck Jonathan!!

They need to win by 2 goals IN it's going to take some doing, but never, never sleep on the Walia.

II. Ivory Coast over Senegal--Strange as it is for me to write in favor of the underdog, I've got to toss in two cents for Cote d'Ivoire on this one for a single simple reason: they're the best that Africa has to offer. Rated in the top 20 in the world, filled with a line-up of potent and powerful players, they should easily be in line for a spot at the Cup and another dark horse label as Didier Drogba makes one last go of it on the world's biggest stage.

They need a win, a draw or a loss by a single goal (in Casablanca, Morocco, since Senegal is barred from hosting matches) for certain qualification

III. Tunisia over Cameroon--Fond as I am of geopolitcal rationales for who I root for and who I don't, Tunisia's a pretty easy squad to praise. One of two remaining Arab Spring nations in the cup, they're the only Arab Spring nation to maintain the veneer of moderation (as shown by people of all belief systems being pissed at the ruling party). Give the Eagles of Carthage a chance to develop a new strain of nationalist pride by booking them a spot in Brazil.

Having drawn the first leg in Rades, Tunisia will need a result in Cameroon to move on.

Sorry Bob-o, I've got to go against
you here...
IV. Ghana over Egypt--I've been to Ghana. I've lived in Ghana. I nearly died in Ghana (a little melodramatic maybe...but it was malaria and I had to be dragged to a doctor...if I'd been more stubborn things could have ended badly). Me pe Ghana, paa paa paa. (Plus, any nation that plays Shania Twain in public spaces as much as Ghana does has a secret affinity for us Montanans)

They've got a 6-1 lead over would take a disaster, or a Bob Bradley sized miracle for Egypt to reverse that lead.

V. Burkina Faso over Algeria--The Burkinabe are one of only two teams left in African qualifying who have never made it before. But unlike the Ethiopians, the Stallions have been rising up the FIFA rankings for several years now. They're ahead of traditional powers Senegal and Cameroon. They're a darling in the making and send a squadron of players throughout Europe to ply their trade. Plus, manager Paul Put needs something to hang his hat on, other than the unfortunate homonym-name game with the Cambodian warlord.

They've got a 3-2 lead over Algeria (who had their shot in 2010), so here's hoping Les Stalon can hold on for a draw or better in Blida

VI. Iceland over Croatia--When Burkina Faso and Algeria kickoff, the first of Europe's decisive kickoffs will  be happening in Zagreb for the second and decisive leg of Iceland v. Croatia. It's pretty easy to say that our favorite is Iceland. The only potential debutante left in Europe's field, Strakarnir Okkar (Our Boys) started their qualifying campaign ranked 122nd in the, they're 46th. In their way are the Blazers of Croatia who have bored me since 1998...I blame the ugly checks.

Iceland had a better qualifying campaign than Croatia, they've got a higher profile star in Tottenham's Gylfi Sigourson, but they open at home and will likely need a draw at least in Zagreb.

VI. Sweden over Portugal--You can root for Zlatan Ibrohimovic who did this:

Or you can root for Christian Ronaldo who does this:

Yup go with Sweden

Portugal's quadrennial underachievement in qualification has yet to come back to burn them. If Sweden wants to keep the Selacao back in Lisbon, they'll likely need to spread a weaker midfield with Kim Kalstrom and Sebastian Larson. A point in the first leg would be a huge help.

VIII. Greece over Romania
I was all set to root for Romania, a chance to revisit the glory days of Georgi Hagi and the wild color wheel of a badge, it would be perfect. But did you know that Greece is higher ranked than France, Croatia and the Ukraine? Did you know that, rather than embracing the violent Golden Dawn neo-nazi political party, Greek footie fans attack Golden Dawn headquarters? Can you imagine how much the Greek economy would be boosted by cheap knockoff soccer things? (Probably not enough to eliminate the deficit, but still, it's a step in the right direction!

Starting in Priaeus rather than Athens (you know with all the fire/riot issues), Greece will need to start out well and hold off Romania in Bucharest in the second leg.

IX. France over the Ukraine
Sure France is another irritating side, but how would Americans cope with a world cup without fish-in-a-barrell "cheese eating surrender monkey" jokes. If the Ukraine is the price we have to pay...that's a pretty easy decision.

This is one of the most tightly contested ties, but it ends in Saint-Denis home of famous French triumphs (the '98 Cup) and infamous French triumphs (the Hand of Frog).

X. Jordan over Uruguay
Two easy deciding factors here: Uruguay has Luis Suarez, easily my least favorite player on the planet (both for his behavior and for the Ghana quarterfinal three years ago), Jordan has never been to a World Cup. Without doubt, Uruguay should win...but just rooting for the people who should win is pretty darn dull.

It's vital that Jordan get off the mark strong at home in Amman, Uruguay will have to come to them from all around the world. The better the home score the more work Uruguay has to do back Montevideo a week later. A good home win could seal the upset over a flat and inconsistent Celeste squad.

XI. Mexico or New Zealand?
I've been going in the order of the games until now...because I genuinely have no idea who to root for here. Do you root for the Kiwis: the apple-cheeked underdogs who have the longest most inconvenient route to qualification (thanks a lot Pacific Ocean) and yet were a tremendous threat in South Africa helping to undo Italy's defense hopes (always good for some bonus points in our book). Or do you root for a team with a greater legacy, a greater history, a greater need for this trip after a tumultuous qualifying campaign (and a team who...if not in the cup will likely depress revenues, ratings and income for everyone associated with the tournament--that's not the point of the games of course, but it would be nice if people weren't calling it a flop before it ever started). I genuinely don't know: Chicharito or Shane Smeltz? Either team would be fun to root for...until they face the US.

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