World Cup 2010: Year of the Underdog

06/25/2010 1:06 PM |

diego forlan

On Saturday night at 7:30pm local time, the town of Dunshaughlin in north county Meath will host it’s 31st annual 10Km road race. At the same time that the earnest running population of the eastern seaboard set off around the picturesque countryside, the men of the USA will take the field in yet another test of character as they face the Ghana national football team for, wait for it, a place in the quarter finals of the 2010 World Cup.

As I prepare to try and break 50 minutes for 10k I am thinking of declaring Dunshaughlin an independent sovereign state or maybe the “United States of North Meath” (would mean we could get that half decent goalkeeper from Ratoath that coaches the under 12’s on Sunday mornings), and entering the 11 ‘ne’er do wells’ I play with on Thursday nights into the next World Cup. Going on the results and performances thus far, I think we’re in with a shout.

The USA national team is a good role model: Limited players, making up for their limitations with application, drive, energy and above all guile. They are a clever team. Their plays are well thought out and the manager Bob Bradley does a sterling job of transforming his band of merry men into a force to be reckoned with. And they never, ever give up. It’s refreshing to see a team that plays the game like it used to be played before the egos and the sponsorship deals. The way the game is played on Sunday mornings up and down the country.

As for the opposition, Italy, would be no sweat. A team built around a world class goalkeeper, a once iconic centre half, and a midfield magician cannot really function if said keeper is in a back brace and said midfielder appears for the first time in the dying embers of their third qualifying game. England, the inventors of the game, can’t function as a team with no midfield general and a static back four that looks as leaky as a BP oil pipeline. France, mon Dieu, les enfants terrible n’est ce pas? And as for Serbia, the great hope of Eastern Europe has been dwarfed by its much smaller and newer Slovakian neighbors: a team that promised so much in qualifying has gone the way of so many other Eastern European teams at major championships and completely freezing like the Czech Republic and Croatia last time around. It may be a fanciful dream but the crux of the argument is that if you can get a team together you can be in with a shout to win this thing.

The semifinals will contain one of Uruguay, South Korea, Ghana, or the USA this time around. They will get to play in a one-off semifinal game to reach the final of the World Cup. There is very little to choose between the four, but they all have one thing in common: Unity. They’re unified teams with a system and questionable talent. Yes, there are pockets of brilliance: the once premier league journeyman Diego Forlan has reinvented himself in Spain. Landon Donovan is playing as if possessed. Park Ji Sung looks masterful in Korea’s midfield and the Ghanaian centre half pairing of Mensah and Mensah look formidable.

So far, apart from the Dutch and Maradona’s men, all the big teams look vulnerable. Portugal fired blanks versus Ivory Coast, a team that was put to the sword by an underwhelming Brazil (by their standards). Spain were victims of their own vanity against Switzerland. Germany seemed decidedly un-German against Serbia (they even missed a penalty!).

Yes, this is the year of the Mexicos, the Uruguays, the States, Koreans, and quite possibly the Dutch. The bookmakers are laughing all the way to the bank, the sponsors are taking down the 100 foot billboards of the ‘superstars’ of Italy and France, and the dreams of kids, small and big, all over the football world seem that little bit more achievable when New Zealand finish ahead of Italy in a World Cup.