[NB: I wrote this before today's results.]
This might be a bit rubbish. If you want a solid analysis, turn to long time friend of LGM Randy Paul, who did a better job than I ever could. Find it here.
16 teams, four group. Who will be this year’s Spain? Or Greece?
Up front, I’ll say I’m pulling for the Irish, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. I believe that either the Dutch or the Spanish will win it, which is likewise not going out on a limb at all.
As I live in England, it is unfortunately the English side I know the most about. I’m a fan of Roy Hodgson. He’s a solid appointment. Uninspiring, but he has a track record for both club and country. The England side in 2012 is their weakest in decades, so it’s going to take tactics and organisation to get the Three Lions to progress. I think boring Hodgson is precisely the guy to make it happen.
He has made a couple of egregious blunders on selection, however. First, the Rio Ferdinand / John Terry problem. In my opinion, if you’re going to drop one, you drop the guy about to go to jail, and not the guy pissed off that the first guy is going to jail. When Hodgson first left Ferdinand out, he could logically argue that it was for footballing reasons. But once Gary Cahill goes down, and you choose to replace him with Martin Kelly, all of 22 years old (and one cap, earned just the other day) and is lucky when he gets a game with Liverpool, over Ferdinand, you’re caught out, mate.
The second mistake is the keeping. Hart and Green are obvious. But when John Ruddy goes down with an injury (sorry Canary fans, but who?) you replace him with Jack Butland, on loan from the well regarded Birmingham City to the equally well regarded Cheltenham Town (fourth division) this past year? Hello? There’s an English lad playing that position for a quite small club in Scotland called Fraser Forster, who has spent the past two seasons on loan from Newcastle to a side called Celtic. He’s used to playing in front of 60K people, in cup finals, and winning leagues. So Butland is better than Forster how? I get that Cheltenham Town are a power, toe to toe with Barca etc., but seriously?
The parenthetical is the current FIFA ranking, which is a pretty sketchy measure, but people give a damn about it, so I list it here.
Greece (15), Russia (13), Poland (62), Czech Republic (27) [one above the USA (28)].
By miles, the softest group. And the most boring to think about, let alone writing about.
So I won’t. Considering their respective run ins, I’m going with this: Russia, Czech, Greece, Poland. Russia impressed against a number of sides lately, including a draw against Uruguay (2) on the 25th. Poland have an ex Celtic keeper, who was great for Celtic for several years. Greece are great at teaching the rest of the world how (not) to balance your checkbook (and they won the damned thing back in 2004, with a Hodgson like tactical acumen). I once named a beer after the Czech Republic.
Netherlands (4), Denmark (9), Germany (3), Portugal (10).
A comfortable walkover, this one. Or, in other words, holy fucking crap. Seriously?
In my assessment, it’s going to be the Oranje, Germany, Portugal, Denmark.
When Dirk Kuyt sits on your bench, you’re a good side. (I know. One of my best friends here in Plymouth, lives just down the street from me and flew out to my wedding in Oregon last summer, is a Liverpool supporter. I’m inviting the shit here.) But previous to my interminable sentence in England, I did live in Holland for three years. They remain an important part of me. Like ex wives.
Spain (1), Italy (12), The Republic of Ireland (18), Croatia (8).
There are two international sides I support AFTER the USMNT. The Republic and the Six Counties. Even if Chris Brunt were playing for the Republic this year, it wouldn’t make a difference: Spain, Italy, Croatia, Ireland.
As a Seattle supporter, I’m not at all upset that Robbie Keane is off for a few weeks. That, and I’ll never forget that day, when I lived in Amsterdam, me and my best friend in AMS (German) went to the one authentic Irish pub in Amsterdam (address is 100 Amstel if you’re interested) to watch Ireland – Germany during the 2002 WC. Keane’s stoppage time equaliser was pure sporting magic. And, oddly enough, everybody in the pub was happy. Aside from the aforementioned German guy.
Group D: Ukraine (54), Sweden (17), France (14), England (6).
I love the English media. They call this the group of death. I think they call it that because they know damned well that England will fail to flatter, as they always do.
This will play out: England, France, Sweden, Ukraine. But don’t be surprised if Ukraine pip Sweden for third.
I’ll be following, and writing about this, in the coming weeks. I do think either Spain or Holland will win it in the end, which I know is a mere reconstruction of the 2010 WC. But both of those sides are that good. And, I am shocked that I’d ever use these words in this order, but England might surprise. Like I said above, Hodgson is not flash, but he is organised, and he organises his side. And that’s the key to a short term tournament with players who typically do not play together: organisation. Hodgson is as sexy as Greece 2004, but look what they did.