Upstart takes on the World (Cup): Day 1

11 June 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

It’s finally here!

As Mike Patton would ask, ‘What is it?’

How about this: a series of matches where one team aims to get a ball into a net more often than the other team, with the ultimate goal of lifting a trophy and being called World Champions.

Some might say, ‘Well yes, but you could also include the NBA Finals the same way’, and they would be right. And given the Sydney Morning Herald has already opened a column today with the ‘big event mistaken identity’ gag, let’s instead just call a spade a spade. ‘It’ is the FIFA World Cup.

As you have surely worked out by now, this isn’t going to be the straight wrap of what’s happened – there is no shortage of material around on the web if you need to know that – but will touch upon it, look ahead and generally hope to be almost worth the time spent reading this.

But of course, not a great deal happened last night, the final full night’s sleep many of this nation’s soccer/football (shall we compromise with footsoc?) fans will get before July 11. Three Greek players had some money stolen from their hotel rooms, but crime in South Africa is hardly news. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that 24 whole hours passed without a key player being injured.

So therefore, here are some quick predictions that we can look back on in a month’s time and reflect upon how laughably wrong I got it:

Winners: Spain Are you really surprised? It’s simply their time. Watch their second goal against Poland from their final warm-up – just brilliant. World Cups might not be necessarily won with golazos but with a solid defence also it’s hard to see any team beating the Spanish.

Runners-up: Netherlands This selection is made with the caveat that Arjen Robben must recover from his hamstring strain. This looks to be the best chance the Dutch have of making the final since their consecutive runners-up performances in 1974 and ’78 and if they can top an unpredictable Group E then the draw should open up nicely.

Golden Boot: Fernando Torres (Spain) – David Villa sat at the head of the goal-scorers at Euro 2008 with four, but three of them came in the one match. He’s the popular pick but when Torres can stay on the pitch there is nobody deadlier.

Golden Ball: Xavi (Spain) – Just like at Euro. Not to fawn over the Spanish but the Player of the Tournament usually comes from the winning team. And watch what he did for Barça against Málaga.

Yashin Award: Hugo Lloris (France) – France just might surprise after such a wretched qualifying campaign, and it will be the young guns to step up like Lyon’s excellent ‘keeper, Lloris. A gambling man may well even be tempted to have a few bob on France at 18-1. (Perhaps at this juncture it may be worth pointing out that the author is a gambling man who is easily tempted.)

Best Young Player: Mesut Ösil (Germany) – The talk is that Germany will be better-placed to conquer the world in 2014. (Yes, yes, ‘Germany and ‘conquer the world’ all in the same sentence…) So we should see good signs from their emerging generation in the next month, and Ösil has impressed for Werder Bremen; therefore I’m picking him to become Germany’s second straight Best Young Player award-winner, and his transfer price to shoot up immediately.

OK, the oracle hat is now (briefly) coming off.

MUST-SEE: This is from the letters section from the Daily Mail in the UK. There are people like this who walk the earth, people. And they vote! Oh dear…

EYEBROW-RAISER: The German team is a very balanced team, without big stars, it is a very, very balanced team. So I think in this case it is an advantage.’ So says Franz Beckenbauer, who has won a World Cup as a player and another as a coach. Nobody else has done that (yet). I, on the other hand, have not won anything since junior tennis. But it’s hard not to question the German legend’s claim that the loss of any team’s captain and best player could be an advantage, in any sport, ever. If the German team proves to be useless, you can bet Ballack’s injury will be top of the list of excuses.

REASON TO CHEER ON SOUTH AFRICA: We love an underdog and South Africa are certainly that. We can say for sure that they wouldn’t have qualified had they not been hosts. And you know who else we love? Nelson, of course. Have you ever wondered if it gets tedious having people gushing that meeting you is the highlight of their life? I imagine it would. (Sadly, breaking news indicates he has much more on his mind than tedium right now, so to avoid poor taste let’s move on.)

TONIGHT: As the oracle hat returns to the noggin, let’s check out tonight as the hosts take on Mexico. The team once coached (badly) by now Côte d’Ivoire leader Sven Göran Eriksson were at times impressive during their warm-up matches but didn’t always get results. South Africa could be inspired by the occasion, and might get an early goal but I don’t see it lasting. South Africa 1-2 Mexico. And in the other match, Diego Forlán and his band of merry Uruguayans will look to make a statement by knocking off those pesky handballers from Team Handball who some say don’t even deserve to be there. Look for a late goal, possibly in controversial circumstances, and a final score of Uruguay 2-2 France.

Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and an ill-conceived $50 bet on France at 18-1.