By Kevin Koczwara and Ryan Fleming
Ryan and I talked about a lot of stories we could write about who could and who would win the World Cup over the last few months. I have rattled my brain over and over again trying to make arguments for players and teams I like, but only one team stood out from the rest for me — it was almost the new look Brazil team lead by Dunga. Ryan thought about who could win the World Cup, especially on style points — so not the new look Brazil. He kept coming back to a certain color, a certain team that has had bundles of talent, but only one major trophy. Our picks are similar in this way. We each picked a team that has never won a World Cup, but has certainly had the talent to do so. We both picked teams that are about attacking their opponents, not sitting back and waiting. We picked teams that as Americans turn us on to the beautiful game.
Let’s take a look…
Spain — Spain has to be one of the favorites to win, they have way too much talent not to be. I don’t think there is another team out there that can line-up the midfield and attacking power that Spain has.
Andrés Iniesta and Xavi are the motors for mighty Barcelona and for Spain’s midfield. The ball seems to stick to Xavi and Iniesta’s feet, rarely making a bad pass or losing the ball on the dribble.
By no means are Iniesta and Xavi the only gifted and world-class players on Spain.
The attacking power of Spain is unmatched, they have a deep midfield (Cesc Fábregas, David Silva and Xabi Alonso all world-class and a part of the midfield), a plethora of attacking wingers, and two-world class strikers who can score from anywhere on the field in Fernando Torres and David Villa.
Villa made a huge impact for Spain in Euro 2008 — Spain’s only major tournament win. He has scored 38 goals in 58 appearances. Torres, a world-class striker in his own right, and Villa will be two favorites to win the golden boot award for the highest goal scorer in South Africa. If they can stay healthy then Spain’s high pressure and skill from front to back makes them almost unstoppable. If I were a betting man, Spain would be my safe bet to win it all.
Netherlands — Yes, you’re right, no one is picking the Oranje to win it all. You also might be right on with the assumption that I have no idea what I am talking about and that I just picked the team with the most interesting supporters. But, what you don’t know, might help you.
I’m picking the Flying Dutchmen because I really, truly believe they can win it all. For a country that has famously underperformed on the grandest of stages, this could be the year where they upset everyone, when they are barely visible on anyone’s radar.
The Netherlands have historically some of the best offensive teams in the world; nothing has changed. With Dirk Kuyt, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder and a recovered Robin Van Persie, the Oranje will give any defense fits — just ask Hungary. True, Arjen Robben was recently injured, but the injury that was once feared to end the forward’s World Cup hopes has been deemed less serious. I’m confident a 80-percent Robben is better than no Robben at all.
The usual question marks arise when the topic is the Netherlands.
Is their keeper good enough?
What about their defense? No one ever hears of them.
Both can get the job done, and I believe they will get the job done. Many defenders like Gregory Van Der Wiel are still rather unproven on the international stage, but have gained priceless experience in the last year.
Yes, a significant amount of the Oranje play in the Dutch Eredivisie, which is now basically a feeder league; the exact opposite from the Dutch “glory years” of the 1970’s, but the Dutch have proven that they can push back forwards and repel attacks albeit their reasonably easy qualification group.
No one is picking the Dutch to win because of the question marks on defense and at keeper. Whether Sneijder is tired or if Robben can truly be effective are still lingering issues. But the Oranje are off the front-runner list for the first time in the while. Without all the pressure to perform is a role in which the Dutch should grasp and shock the world. Then again, it is the friendly Netherlands, where we never know what to expect.
Ryan Fleming and Kevin Koczwara are the editors of The Soccer Guys.