By Ryan Thies of The Long Beach Post
As I told you last time, there is no clear-cut favorite in this year’s World Cup. This year’s field is more wide-open than any in recent memory. But it’s not just that there are no clear-favorites, it’s that every team in the tournament has a glaring weakness. Some commentators will say that means that whoever wins the Cup will be the team that kept their weakness in check; I say, these weaknesses mean that no one will win the Cup. Group B is probably one of the weakest groups of the whole tournament, but at least I can find all of them on a map (I’m still trying to find Uruguay–it’s an island, right?). So without further ado: here’s why no one in Group B can possibly win the World Cup.
Argentina- I love this country and I hate this team, so it is a mixed bag of emotions when I say, wholeheartedly, that the Albicelestes (“Powder Blues”) will not win the Cup. And they will not because like all under-achieving powers their leader is bonkers (I told you yesterday it was a theme of this tournament). Diego Maradona is the Argentinian Mickey Rourke. He was great in the 80s but today he is bloated and crazy–which means that once he gets fired he will become the Argentinian Nick Nolte.
Argentina has a great mix of a veteran back four (although a relatively inexperienced group of Keepers) along with some young talent up front. However that talent is young, only 2 players (Messi and Maxi) have even scored in double-figures for the National Team. But add to that Tevez and Champions League hero Milito, and this team will score. But Maradona is undoubtedly the weak link.
That said, Argentina’s coach is still the best player in his country’s history and he is undoubtedly one of the two best players the world has ever known (there is an argument to be made that he was better than Pele, but that’s not a fight I’m going to start here). Like all great players, he is not a good coach, as shown by Argentina’s difficulty in qualifying despite the superior talent over everyone on the continent–including Brazil. And like all great players, there is a new generation threatening his place at the top.
That new generation is Lionel Messi. El comodoro (my nickname for him, trademark pending) is the best club player in the world, but those brilliant performances have never been translated back home. In 44 National team games Messi has only scored 13 goals; he has played a similar number of Champion’s League games (45) and has nearly twice as many goals (25.) Does he need the talent that FC Barcelona surrounds him with to truly shine? Does the international game stifle him somehow? Is Maradona secretly sabotaging him to preserve his spot in his nation’s heart? Either way this team has talent and flair in a very easy group. (An interesting matchup could be if Argentina stumbles, or Mexico does, and one wins their group and the other finishes second. The two Latin American teams meeting in Round 2 would be an excellent game. Or Argentina could meet Germany in the quarters, which would also be a fantastic rematch. But Argentina has to get there first.)
If they don’t make it out of the group stage it will be a massive upset, but the biggest surprise of all would be them actually living up to their potential.
Greece- The fightin’ Gyros pulled off a miracle in 2004 and out of nowhere won the European Championship. But in hindsight their success far exceeded their talent, in fact you could say their success created a “bubble” of expectations. And their problems were deeply hidden by someone, let’s say: Goldman Sachs. But now a few years later, when the bubble burst suddenly they were exposed and risked dragging the entire region down. Too much econ lecture?
Well, let’s move to more literal history: they have never won a game in the World Cup. Not a single one. They qualified only once (in ’94) and were quickly eliminated, similarly they tried to follow their ’04 success in Europe but in the ’08 tournament they again were swept quickly. They had an easy qualifying path to the World Cup (which is the only reason they made it) and they are now in a relatively easy group in the actual Tournament. They have played very little together (only 2 warmup games) but they have already showed their strategy will be to grind-it-out. In ’09 that worked to keep Denmark and Italy to 1-1 draws, but it’s hard to win when you’re playing for a draw.
They could definitely steal a game or two in the group stage and advance, but expecting them to win the whole thing is about as likely as expecting them to become a world financial power again.
South Korea- the Ying-Yangs (why yes, I did make that nickname up, how did you know?) have a remarkable streak of qualifying for the World Cup. This is the 7th straight Cup they have qualified for—however, their success ends there. The one exception was 2002 when they (along with Japan) hosted the Tournament and they used the home-field advantage to propel them to a 4th place run (a roadmap South Africa hopes to follow this year). They’ve had some decent wins in the last few years, and their talent is something of an unknown to the rest of the world–only one player on their team plays for a major European club. This means they could theoretically sneak up on someone like Argentina, and it suggests that they could beat Greece and Nigeria. But it also means that they just don’t have enough firepower to compete with the big boys and that they will have trouble climbing out of an early hole should they stumble. Mostly, it means they won’t win the whole thing–but you already knew that.
Nigeria- Just as South Korea felt an advantage, even in games played in Japan, many believe that all African teams will feel a bump having the game on their continents’ soil. Nigeria might be the toughest test of this theory. The Super Eagles (I know what you’re thinking but I actually didn’t make that nickname up) missed the ’06 cup and haven’t survived the Group stage since ’98. Even within African tournaments, they don’t have a big win to hang their hat on, and they aren’t a particularly fun team to watch (which means Greece/Nigeria will be ugliest thing this side of Khloe Kardashian), but they excel at defense and they have a strong chance of keeping a few of these games nil-nil. Will that be enough to advance out of group? Maybe. Will it be enough to win it all? Absolutely not.
Come back next week to find out why no one in Group C–including England and the US–will win it all…
Ryan Thies is a writer for The Long Beach Post. This Column originally appeared on the Long Beach Post and is republished here with written consent.