I’m still depressed.
Last Friday, FIFA announced the groupings for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. Let me explain for the non-football fans out there. This drawing is really important because only two teams can advance from the group stage to the knock-out round. If your country’s drawing is really bad, your team has little hope of advancing to the next stage. That means your team might as well start planning for World Cup 2018 in Russia.
If you’re really politically connected, you can somehow get a great draw. Ahem, France is playing with Switzerland, Honduras, and Ecuador in Group E.
Let’s review Group G which some are arguing is the “Group of Death” of this World Cup. The US was selected in the group with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana.
They’ve won the whole thing THREE times. And they have come in 2nd or 3rd the last three World Cups. This is their current squad:
- Roman Weidenfeller, Goalkeeper, Dortmund
- Marcel Schmelzer, Defender, Dortmund
- Benedikt Höwedes, Defender, Schalke
- Mats Hummels, Defender, Dortmund
- Per Metesacker, Defender, Arsenal
- Jerome Boateng, Defender, Bayern Munich
- Sven Bender, Midfielder, Dortmund
- Andre Schurrle, Midfielder, Chelsea
- Julian Draxler, Midfielder, Schalke
- Thomas Muller, Midfielder, Bayern Munich
- Toni Kroos, Midfielder, Bayern Munich
- Mario Gotze, Midfielder, Bayern Munich
- Marco Reus, Midfielder, Dortmund
- Max Kruse, Forward, Mönchengladbach
Honestly, I had never heard of Dortmund until this year. That’s when Dortmund played Bayern Munich for the 2012-2013 UEFA Champions League title. They beat Real Madrid on the way to the final. Players who are still in contention for their final squad include:
- Manuel Neuer, Goalkeeper, Bayern Munich
- Philipp Lahm, Defender, Bayern Munich
- Dennis Aogo, Defender, Schalke
- Mesut Ozil, Midfielder, Arsenal
- Sami Khedra, Midfielder, Real Madrid
- Bastian Schweinsteiger, Midfielder, Bayern Munich
- Lukas Podolski, Midfielder, Arsenal
- Ilkay Gundogan, Midfielder, Dortmund
So, let’s all assume that the Germans are going to the knock-out stage.
The best they have done is third in 1966 and fourth in 2006. That’s pretty good for a tiny sliver of a nation with only 10.5 million people. Right now, “The Gentle Land” is synonymous with Cristiano Ronaldo. This ridiculously good footballer plays for Real Madrid; he is young, good-looking, and a bit of a paparazzi magnet. Ronaldo is currently in contention for the Ballon d’Or or Golden Boot for best player of the year. His rivals for that prize is Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich).
One Teresa in the office said that Portugal is just Ronaldo. A good strategy may be just to take him out with a blatant foul. Not only is that not sportsmanlike, but she forgets that Portugal has a few rather good players who play on great squads. Moreover, the whole 2013 team plays in Europe which is considered the best place to play. These “notable players” include:
- Pepe, Defender, Real Madrid
- Fabio Coentrao, Defender Real Madrid
- Nani, Midfielder, Manchester United
My country of current residence: Ghana. Until I moved here, I didn’t appreciate how good Ghana was. Ghana is a country of 24 million people. As far as the things Americans care about, they don’t have much. But they do have football.
The Black Stars, as the national team is known, have a bunch of young players who play well as a team. That’s pretty important. Consider how the close-knit South Korean team (The Reds) have progressed much farther than the nearly invisible Chinese team. In order to qualify for the World Cup, the Black Stars beat perennial African powerhouse, Egypt, 6-1. (Perhaps the Egyptians had more important things to worry about, e.g. their country falling apart.)
The Black Stars have beat the Team USA the last two times they played AT THE WORLD CUP. The reaction here to the drawing was, “We’re playing the US again?!!” There is no doubt here that the Black Stars will do it again. The team has several players who play at good teams in Europe including:
- Michael Essien, Midfielder, Chelsea
- Emmanuel Frimpong, Midfielder, Arsenal
- Kevin-Prince Boateng, Midfielder, Schalke
- Anthony Annan, Midfielder, Schalke
- Sulley Ali Muntari, Midfielder, AC Milan
Half of the team plays for less well-known teams in Europe. I’m American so I plead the Fifth for being ignorant of good European teams. Their main weakness is lack of great goalkeepers.
My understanding is that Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach, has yet to put together the final roster for the World Cup. Most of the team plays for “soccer” teams in the US. The few notable players include:
- Tim Howard, Goalkeeper, Everton
- Jozy Altidore, Forward, Sunderland
- Jermaine Jones, Midfielder, Schalke
Prediction: The US is going home early.
1. The CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) needs to be disbanded.
Until I looked up the list, I didn’t realize some of these countries had professional teams. None of the teams are any good. The league seems to have been created to assure the US and Mexico spots in the World Cup. But the league also seems to have inflated the egos of the teams that qualify. Due to games played in CONCACAF, the US has an unusually high FIFA ranking. The US is ranked 14 in the world right below England. England! By definition, most of their players play in the English Premier League!
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Trinidad and Tobago
2. The CONCACAF should be merged with the CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation). The CONMEBOL consists of many of the best teams in the world:
Anyone who watches football will recognize these teams and be scared. But you’d have to admit that if Team USA somehow managed to do well in such a league, they would deserve respect. Seriously, in the modern era, their worst teams (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia) are better than the US team.
Americans don’t like hand-outs. Why should they accept them in football?
3. Maybe a country that insists on calling what 99 percent of the world “football” something else, doesn’t deserve to be in the World Cup.
After writing this whole post, even I wonder why I should care about football. The answer is that the World Cup is about being recognized and respected. Americans ignore football because we’re bad at it.
The World Cup is the only venue where little countries that get pushed around can earn glory and fame. Countries that seem harassed with sanctions or in states of war all somehow still field a team that can qualify for the World Cup.
- North Korea reached the quarter finals in 1966
- Iran consistently plays in the group stage and has qualified for 2014. Sure, no one is allowed to sell anything to Iran but somehow they can still put together a good enough team
- Cote D’Ivoire qualified in both 2006 and 2010 despite recovering from the 1999-2004 civil war and going back into crisis in 2011.
Since we’re one of the main countries doing the pushing, I think we should invest in a team that we, as Americans, can be proud of. And no, the women’s football team doesn’t count. Considering the number of societies that oppress women, I do not consider success in that arena a level playing field. For instance, how can women play football in Iran when they’re expected to be covered from head to foot? (Yes, they have a team but it’s not very good.)