Thursday, June 10, 2010
Your TBC Guide to the World Cup, with NHL Analogies (updated below)
The Stanley Cup thingy was exciting stuff, but tomorrow the Planet Earth will witness something at least comparable in excitement: the start of the World Cup! What is this World Cup and where does it come from? Let's find out, together:
Apparently, the World Cup is a great big international soccer tournament, except the Foreigners find assorted ways to call the sport "football." It comes along every 4 years, like the Vancouver Winter Olympics. This year it will be held in South Africa, in both characterless smogpit Johannesburg* and charming sea-breeze-filled model haven Cape Town. South Africa has come a long way since the days of apartheid, but my are they ever beastly to their extraterrestrial population.
Since this is a hockey blog, allow me to explain the various national teams using NHL analogies.
Are they any good? Very much so. If one team has a super-serious chance to win it all this year, it's Spain. They play a flashy offensive game, much like the team of their main striker David Villa (and your TBC editor's favoritest soccer team) FC Barcelona. That's probably because they have a lot of other players from Barcelona on the team as well. They will have a ton of scoring power, they will overflow with fancy footwork, and in net they can choose between one good goaltender and two brilliant ones. Real Madrid goalie Iker Casillas is the first choice, and he's a mighty good one, but Barcelona goalie Victor Valdes is also a splendid net-dweller. Rounding out the goaltending trio will be Pepe Reina of Liverpool FC, who is probably the Spanish version of Pekka Rinne. Which is just as well, because Liverpool is the British Nashville. Think about it: the Beatles, Echo and the Bunnymen, Clinic, COME ON PEOPLE SEE IT MY WAY.
Oh yeah, look at this Iniesta-Silva play as well:
NHL analogue: The Washington Capitals. Will they choke as well? Probably not, but time will tell. I admit I'm a fan.
And now...5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, let's take a trip to RI-O!!!
Are they any good? Ugh, God yes. As usual, they're disgustingly good. It's pointless to even list the talented players they have, because not only are they stocked with talented players, they're stocked with super-talented players. Most of them have only one name, because in the football world they're deities, not mortals. Gobsmackingly brilliant midfielder "Kaka" is a super-religious evangelical, so I guess he's sort of like a Brazilian Tim Tebow.
NHL analogue: The Detroit Red Wings. This team is a freaking dynasty. They're the only team to ever qualify for every single World Cup, and your TBC editor despises them for it. Bored with this lot, hope someone will do like France did last time and knock them off their pedestal (for whatever it's worth: the France-Brazil game from the last World Cup is the single most exciting soccer game I've ever seen).
Are they any good? Sigh. The Englanders have all kinds of great players, and they're very strong in almost every position (one slight question mark is goaltending). As usual, they're contenders. If there's anything "as usual" about this World Cup though, they'll go down choking like always. They haven't won since 1966, so naturally everyone in England thinks the Cup belongs to them by rights. Your editor has immense affection for the Land of Hope and Glory, and counts several Englishers among his dearest, but good lord I do not like their football team. Names you should know: striker Wayne Rooney, midfielders Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard, defenders John Terry and Ashley Cole. Three of those fellers play for Chelsea, who your editor likes, the end.
NHL analogue: Toronto Maple Leafs. Not the current Toronto Maple Leafs, but the Maple Leafs for the past few decades. If I wanted to be more precise, I'd say this year's England squad bears some resemblance to the Anaheim Ducks circa 2010. Don't misunderstand me, kids, it would be cool if England achieved something this year. The endless choking can be wearying, though.
Are they any good? Quite good, I'd say. They probably no longer have the all-around firepower of a Brazil or Spain, but they have plenty of it in players like Franck Ribéry and Thierry Henry (your editor's favorite soccer player of all human history). They will miss the great Zinedine Zidane, or maybe they won't, seeing as how the only reason they didn't win the whole thing last time was Z's scarcely believable head-butt on that dumb Italian player. Really, they were minutes away from winning it, then Zidane had to go and get himself thrown out of the game with the stupidest penalty of all time. Sad sad sad, especially considering that up to that point he'd been such a classy player. Oh well. What will they achieve this year? They have the potential to achieve a lot. And how could you not love that Gallic rooster on their blue uniforms?
NHL analogue: The Vancouver Canucks, Henry and Ribéry being the Sedins, with a stellar supporting cast of smart, hard-working midfielders and defenders. After the USA, this is the team I most favor. Mainly because of the photo above. However, they are getting some discouraging press at the moment, and in the comments section below Go Puck Yourself makes the case that they're really more like the Calgary Flames. My argument: people said very similar things about France last time, and they nearly won the Cup.
Who's next? Let's try Portugal. Let me find a suitable photo...ah, okay. I can see where this picture gallery is going.
Are they any good? Yes. They might even be good enough to knock off Brazil in Group G. Mainly because of the masterful but imminently hateable Cristiano Ronaldo, who is kind of like Sidney Crosby if Sidney Crosby showed interest in human females.
NHL analogue: Do you even have to ask? The Pittsburgh Penguins, without question.
Are they any good? Well, they have the single greatest player in the world right now. Lionel Messi is his name. You can't miss him.
Also worth keeping in mind is Argentina's coach Diego Maradona, who is one of the greatest and most hilariously arrogant soccer players of all time.
NHL analogue: The San Jose Sharks. They have all the talent in the world, but they haven't quite been able to get it done in recent tournaments. We'll see what happens this year. Always been a fan, since I was a tyke.
But you know who might do really, REALLY well this World Cup? So well that I'm actually picking them to win the whole thing...
Are they any good? YES. In fact, just let this article explain why they're in fact the best team and will probably win everything. Hint: it has to do with their love of the color orange. And their ridiculously talented roster: they're strong in every single position. And they have a super-easy group to get through. So hooray for Holland!
NHL analogue: Chicago Blackhawks.
There are a lot more teams, but honestly I'm just too tired to keep typing. South Korea is alright, Ghana will try their best, as will Uruguay, homeboys South Africa will try to put on a good show, Germany and Italy just might get something done, and the Cote d'Ivoire has Didier Drogba.
Well, that's it. Thanks for reading. Didn't leave anyone out, did I?
What about the USA?
Are we any good? We're not bad. In fact, I think we have the potential for some upsets, though this Saturday's joust with England probably won't be one of them. If our fine goaltender, Tim Howard, plays as well as he's capable of playing, we just might get somewhere. Hooray!
NHL analogue: Florida Panthers. World class goaltender, okay team up front, potential to play above our level.
Okay, exhausted now. To leanr more, take a look at the Guardian's witty and ultra-comprehensive liveblog and the New Republic's excellent World Cup blog Goal Post. It stars the always-fun, always-Brazil-bashing Brit Alex Massie. Worth your time.
*Sort of like Atlanta! And don't get angry, South Africans. As I say, Cape Town is a lovely place. Or so I hear. Including this one time I was told by a South African model, around whom I was so bumbling and dumbstruck I couldn't speak. It was sad/hilarious.
UPDATE: Two teams I didn't mention that could do well: Mexico and, as stealth operative Go Puck Yourself points out, Chile. Both of them could go farther than many would expect, particularly Chile. Mexico isn't going to get super-far, but they can do some damage. They might be on par with the US.