This allegiance to the United States didn't happen easily. There was much soul searching and an inordinate amount of pacing up and down the hall. I've never really identified politically with the USA apart from confessing to being a big fan of President Bartlett; but I identify completely with American music a million times more than its British equivalent, and frankly, I'm enjoying the idea of the USA in the unaccustomed role of rank underdog (it also doesn't hurt that, theoretically, they could cause the downfall of England).
Required reading before attempting to make sense of the World Cup for the average American Sports fan is Brendan Hunt's excellent 'World Cup Translated into American'. In this piece he very accurately compares the tournament's clear favorites, Spain, to the Boston Red Sox 2005 team. A team that has played for so long with a monkey on its back, promising so much, and delivering so little, has very recently turned a corner and won the 2008 European Championships. They are clear favorites for the tournament because they A) play the best football and B) have the best players. Barcelona have recently offered 33 million pounds sterling to Arsenal for Cesc Fabregas and he can't even make the starting 11! But, very rarely does the best team win this rollercoaster tournament.
The Brazilians are underrated, primarily because of poor seasons for Robinho and Kaka, but have a very balanced system under Dunga—much more defensive than previous Brazilian incarnations.
The Argentinians have a crazy demigod as a head coach who left Champions League winners at home in favor of younger local boys, and once the aging supreme passer Juan Veron was named in the squad one can't help but suspect that their game plan is "get the ball to Messi" and let him wave a magic wand. Not exactly from the FIFA strategy DVD.
The English have a manager this time, but their defense is slower than a week in jail. Especially that Rio Ferdinand is now icing his knee and his partner in crime, John Terry, has been repeatedly exposed when playing higher up the field under Capello than he was sitting on his 18 yard line under Mourinho.
Italy get my vote, because Italian football is undergoing a huge injection of feelgood right now after winning the Champions League, there is also the siege mentality the Italians possess that made my wife plump 100 euro on them in 2006 when they were rank outsiders at 12/1. One penalty shootout and a very nice handbag later she has assumed football bragging rights in this residence for almost four years and it has to stop. She, for anyone interested has plumped for the Spanish this time around.
The Germans, as Kinky Friedman famously said, "Are my second favorite people, my first, is everybody else." They play the most cumbersome style of football. Like a giant Aryan Borg collective they bore their opponents into submission in wars of attrition and feats of strength. This time around they have no leader though. Michael Ballack was ruled out after a particularly bad tackle in the FA cup final.
You could possibly see potential in the Dutch side, but they always promise so much until the infighting starts and they beat themselves before they even kick a ball. The usual noises are being made about a 'new' winner of the tournament, but unless the Dutch or the Spanish go the distance I really can't see a Serbian or a Mexican or even a preening Portuguese number 7 hoisting the trophy.
Every four years we hear how it's time for an African team to step up. Ivory Coast or Ghana were the pre-tournament favorites, but with Michael Essien gone from Ghana's team and Didier Drogba likely to miss out for Ivory Coast I fear another barren year for the Africans.
We've avoided it thus far... the USA. Well as I mentioned at the top, the town of Dunshaughlin on the Meath-Dublin border will be getting behind the US of A. Primarily because they remind me so much of the Irish team from Italia 90. A team built on organization and commitment that revels in the role of underdog. First game versus the perennial blowhards of Engerland will be nasty on the eye. USA will try and stifle the aging English midfield. Torres, the Texican terrier, will bite the ankles of Gerrard and Lampard. Rooney will run into the huge corn-fed Jay DeMeritt at his peril, Carlos Bocanegra will marshall Joe Cole into the corner and maybe, just maybe, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey can conjure a goal between them. If they avoid defeat in the first game, qualification is almost guaranteed. Algeria played recently here in Dublin and they have sparks of class but it is well hidden amidst the complete lack of concentration they display 80% of the time. Slovenia are the weakest of the Eastern European teams and qualified via the playoffs, so the US should come out of the group.
But what's next. Germany or Serbia? I personally would take a shot at the Germans (no pun intended), because their defense is creaky. Serbia could go to the semi's simply because they don't concede, with two massive players in Vidic and Ivanovic at the heart of their defense. After that it's the quarters, and anything can happen as was evident in the Confederations Cup last year.
So that's the teaser. I'll be bringing you the weekly round up once the tournament kicks off as well as hosting a podcast with various soccer experts from the island of Ireland and an American correspondent or two. Oh, and look, I never mentioned France!