Wednesday, May 31, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group A

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group A
Costa Rica

Ah, the host group. This group should be more competitive than you think, with every team in the group having a reasonable shot at advancing. Only Germany seems to be a lock to go through to the next round.

If the tournament were being played anywhere else, I'm not sure if Germany would warrant that distinction, since this is a fairly weak squad. Ever since the final death of the old guard in France '98, Germany has been struggling to find a solid core of players. Michael Ballack is world-class, one of the very few box-to-box midfielders in the entire sport; however, the rest of the team is questionable.

The real problem seems to be that Coach Klinsmann prefers a system that depends on mobile defenders who are comfortable with the ball at their feet building up play from the back, an admirable style that runs into the problem of there not being any German players that really match this description. The attempt to overhaul the defense is part of a greater overall change, as the Germans appear to be in transition, abandoning the physical and deliberate style that has been their trademark since the early 80s (oddly enough the style that allowed Klinsmann to flourish and claim a World Cup in 1990) and trying to be more fluid and attacking (some kind of liquid football perhaps).

I say good luck to that and also not-so-secretly hope that the Germans knock out the English on penalties in the second round (a combination of a first-place and second-place finish between the two of them would produce this matchup) before losing in the quarterfinals (probably to Argentina).

(It should also be noted that Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn both continue the trend of German goalies being unsufferable pricks, a tradition dating back to Toni Schumacer back in '82.)

Costa Rica is a bogey team in that they're fast and physically strong, which can make for a tough opponent as long as they don't give up the early goal. So long as they can sit back and make life difficult for the other team, they'll be tough. If they have to go forward, they'll probably get eviscerated. The real reason why things will be tough is that to my knowledge, they've never produced a goalie that was better than "above average".

Ecuador is, supposedly, a team built around the old German style of defend first, defend second, kick them third and score on a set-piece fourth. This is actually a pretty decent way to go about things in international soccer and they have what I would judge to be a slightly-better chance than Costa Rica for pulling it off. Everybody seems to be hating on Ecuador for winning most of their matches at home, which just happens to be 9,000 feet above sea level. Well, fuck you guys, the Broncos still won two Super Bowls. I'm not sure that I could name a single player on the team aside from Ivan Hurtado and Ivan Kaviedes; they're still a Middle Foam Finger favorite only because Rosco lived there for a while and I was there for a short time in high school.

Poland has a team of reliable professionals who will probably give Germany a hard time and are a good bet to beat either of the other two sides. They seem to play the standard game for middle-of-the-road European teams (see also: Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc.) in that they play some kind of 442 and rely more on the other team fucking up than actually breaking down a defense. The fact that they can choose between the reliable-yet-not-spectacular Artur Boruc and the sometimes-spectacular-sometimes-horrid-always-a-nutter Jerzy Dudek as goalkeeper gives them a serious advantage over both of the Latin American teams. Extra points for having a player nicknamed "The Hash Bomber" (and yes, they mean that kind of hash). Extra extra points for Ebi "The Hash Bomber" Smolarek receiving his nickname while playing at Rosco's club of choice, Feyenoord Rotterdam.

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