Tuesday, December 03, 2013

In it, But Win It? #9: Better Late than Nevers

There's a sad truth about the play-off games for qualification to the world cup: often times they are easier to win than the regular qualification stages themselves.

Think about it. You're several points down, thrashing and battling with a continental rival who knows exactly how you're going to play and what you're going to do, because you've played each other dozens upon dozens of times, and your players face-off in club leagues on a regular basis. Sure, you could grit your teeth and charge head long into the face of certain death.

On the other hand, you could shrug your shoulders, let your rivals win and not worry about it, because in one month you'll get to kick the snot out of a group of part-time semi-pros from around the world who will be happy just to shake your hand.

So it is with the last two teams who qualified for the FIFA World Cup. Mexico and Uruguay. Both are talented, both should have been in long before, both got to beat up on a pair of lesser luminaries en route to their eventual destiny.

(What is that destiny you asked? Allow me to make a wildly inaccurate guess!)
File:Mexico national football team seal.svg
Contender Credentials: Mexico is and will always be the class of the non-power associations. They have been the most consistently excellent team not from either Europe or South America. They make the second round every time out, like clock-work and have, in Giovanni dos Santos and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez a prodigiously talented top two striking combination.
Pretender Problems: Mexico has been playing abysmally for the last three-four years. The once nightmarish setting of Azteca means nothing to their fellow CONCACAF foes and they look utterly baffled by any pressure or difficulty thrown their way. Mexican fans are already despondent about El Tri's chances (as one of my students said: "we don't deserve to go there...we just don't.") On that, we agree lad.
Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Enrique Pena Nieto swings a free trade deal with Brazil just in time to offer Mexico City "drinking" water to every other country's training camp. Montezuma's revenge leaves Meixco victors by default.
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: The team struggles to find their way out of their hotel rooms. The FA fires three coaches after each dispiriting group loss, and Mexico crumbles into their worst showing ever.
Prediction: Chichirito chokes on the biggest stage of his career, no body else has any idea of how to help. The ugliness continues 4th place.

File:Uruguay football association.svgContender Credentials: The most dangerous team in South America: La Celeste combines all the creative prowess of three of the world's most feared strikers: Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and (new gun) Edison Cavani. While the highly touted Brazil and Argentina went into South Africa as favorites, Uruguay was the only one still standing by the semi-finals, and pulled the same trick again in the Copa America.
Pretender Problems: Good as they were four years ago...it was four years ago. Forlan is on his last legs, Suarez has become the Diego Maradonna of his nation (both in talent and in bizarrely erratic behavior). The midfield is older and still underwhelming, so it will fall to the strikers to create their own chances...good luck with that.
Pie-in-the-Sky Scenario: Forlan finds the fountain of youth. Suarez finds the fountain of Adderall and a stout defense of Pereria and Caceras hold off all foes en route to a repeat of their last title...in Brazil...sixty years ago.
Pits-of-Despair Scenario: The magic is all dried up and they play much more like the squad that struggled versus Venezuela than the world beaters of 2010. Only now there's no Jordan to beat up on.
Prediction: Forlan has one shining moment, Suarez does something sketchy, Cavani looks brilliant but exhausted and only a group of death (plus suspect goalkeeping) marks them out as a stunning underachiever. 3rd place

In case you haven't been keeping score at home: here's how I've predicted the tournament before I know who will be on the rosters and whom will be playing whom.

4th places: Iran, Costa Rica, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Honduras, Algeria, Cameroon, Greece, Mexico

3rd places: Australia, Holland, Switzerland, Russia, Ecuador, Nigeria, Croatia, Uruguay

16s: South Korea, Columbia, Belgium, England, Chile, Ivory Coast, France, Portugal

Quarters: Japan, Italy, USA, Spain

Semis: Brazil, Ghana

Runners Up: Germany

Champions: Argentina

That would require pretty much, this exact draw:

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