Saturday, June 03, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group C

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 C
Ivory Coast
Serbia & Montenegro

This is widely acknowledged as this year's "Group of Death", denoting a group where every team would have had a reasonable chance of advancing if they hadn't been drawn in a group with 3 other teams with a reasonable chance of advancing. There's a 2-time World Cup Champion, a former European Championship winner that's widely regarded as the best team never to win a World Cup, the strongest African team in the competition and a team that allowed a single goal in their 10-game World Cup Qualification campaign.

It's a real shame that two of the most attractive teams in world football are in the same group and if you've seen pictures of Carlos Tevez and Dirk Kuijt, you know I'm not talking about personal appearances.

Argentina, who can field a team with Tevez, Leo Messi, Juan Roman Riquelme and Hernan Crespo all on the pitch at the same time, rivals Brazil in terms of attacking talent. Unlike previous Argentinian teams, their defense is a real question mark, with a bunch of aging or untested defenders and no reliable goalkeeper. Given this, it's not surprising that this team is more attack-minded than previous Argie squads and more concerned with holding the ball than kicking at the other team. Or at least we can hope.

The Dutch come in the World Cup as another squad in transition. Coach Marco Van Basten has cleansed the squad of malcontents, dropping Davids, Seedorf and Makaay to name the big names. He seems to prefer the classic Ajax 4-3-3, consisting of the English back 4 with attacking fullbacks, 3 central midfielders and a forward line consisting of two wingers and a central striker.

In Arjen Robben they have one of the premier left wingers in the world, if he can stay healthy. On the other side, Van Basten seems to prefer Kuijt despite the fact that he generally plays centrally. If center striker Ruud Van Nistlerooy has issues with finishing, don't be surprised if Kuijt is moved to the middle position and Ryan Babel or Romeo Castelen come in on the right.

Everybody seems to be slagging on the Ivory Coast, with the exception of certain Latin American writers, who seem to recognize that anytime you get a fast and physically strong team with an experienced and confident striker up top, there's a definite possibility for upsets, especially when there's no pressure on the team, or at least no pressure compared to the insanity that both the Dutch and Argentinian team will have to endure. Having two defenders on a team that reached the Champions League final can't hurt either, and I fully expect the Ivorians to surprise a few people.

European writers also like to harp on the fact that African teams tend to be "reckless" and "hot-headed", which is shorthand for the fact that Africans are still regarded as savages by people who really ought to know better. Given the racism problems in European football, we shouldn't be surprised.

Speaking of racism in European football, we have the Serbs! I fully admit that I dislike these guys, mainly because their domestic game seems to be dominated by dimbulb racist hooligans and the fact that they've produced a number of complete and total shit-cock "politicians" who were nothing more than hired thugs.

This isn't helped by the fact that their team is dominated by their defense, with the main attacking option being Mateja "Neck Beard" Kezman. Unfortunately, the strategy of defense-first and run a counter-attack is incredibly successful in football and I fully expect them to be instrumental in knocking out either the Dutch or the Argies. I won't mind so long as they get beat by the Ivorians.

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