Well... the "Greatest Show on the Planet" is now well and truly underway and almost everything else in my life seems to have taken a back-seat. Anyone that knows me is well aware of my love (bordering on fanaticism) of the sport that 99.9% of the world knows as football. (The other .1% being the US). There's at least a couple of aspects to this world cup that are a welcome change from the last world cup, jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea. The first and most important: It just so happens that the time the matches are played at makes for very convenient viewing in India. Among other things that have made this world cup a little more enjoyable are:
* More teams are playing attacking football, and surprise, surprise.. getting rewarded for their approach..
* Defensive minded teams are getting shafted.
* The refereeing is infinitely better than the atrocity that was the 2002 World Cup.
* The traditional footballing powers are doing well. Let me clarify a bit here... I'm all for the underdog, social justice, "stick-it-to-the-man" philosophy and all that, but I believe that in football part of the charm is in watching your heroes perform on the big stage. And while it's big news if any of the bigger teams falls early, the cup is left poorer in the latter stages by their absence.
The first round of matches of the group stages are now over and I believe now is as good a time as any other to pen my expert views on the cup so far. So here goes:
a) "The geriatrics club": Undeniably France. Half of their team is composed of pensioners who are probably with the team in Germany because it was the cheapest way to get there. The rest of the team is composed of individuals who are as surprised at their inclusion in the team as is the rest of the world. It's hard to see this French team go anywhere but back to their Old-age homes in France.
b) "Grandads with pizzazz": With an average age of 33+ years, the Czech midfield that includes Nedved, Poborsky and Rosicky isn't exactly the Youth Club of the Czech Republic. But they gave no indication of that advanced age in their first game of the Cup in which they gave the USA a hiding they're not likely to forget in a hurry. While their lack of striking options is probably going to prevent the Czechs from getting too far in the tournament, they are likely to entertain while they last.
c) "Caution: Roadkill ahead": The US entered the tournament amidst great hype and being ranked 5th(seriously.. I'm not kidding..) in the latest FIFA rankings but their performance, or lack of it, against the Czechs must have left them, the FIFA and GWB (who supposedly called to wish the team success before their game against the Czechs) all with egg on their face. While team-USA really entertained in the 2002 WC, this time around they looked totally out of their depth. Most surprisingly, the team didn't have the typical "We're-the-USA-and-we're-here-to-kick-ass" attitude that typified the earlier US teams. Team-USA plays Italy in a couple of days and the players must be dreading another "good-luck" call from Dubya. In any case, it's not too hard to see them as one of the roadkills from the "Other group of death".
d) "If it ain't done the hard way, it ain't done at all...": If there's anyone who has the right to say this at this WC, it's got to be one of the Swedes. With Larsson, Ibrahimovic and Ljungberg, Sweden has one of the sharpest attacks on paper and while they created enough opportunities in their first two games to end like 10 games, all they have to show for it is one crummy goal scored in the 89th minute of the second game. Sweden is, without doubt, one of the most entertaining teams to watch, but if they continue with their philosophy of doing things the hard way, at some point it's going to come back to bite them in the rear.. and very soon too..
e) "It ain't over till the fat lady sings": I'm not a big fan of the Aussie football team. The players seem to have trouble remembering that they're playing football and not rugby. Consequently, you see plenty of un-football-like thuggery on the field when the "Socceroos" are playing. But if there's one thing you have to hand to the Aussies, it is that they play with plenty of spirit. Their match against Japan was proof that you could win a world cup match with little talent, solely on the back of a never-say-die spirit. They might not go too far, but are likely to impress more than a few with their spunk.
f) "Lack defense, will attack": That seems to be the latest mantra of the Germans, traditionally known for their water-tight defenses. With their defense practically non-existent this time around, Coach Klinsmann's thinking seems to go thus,"Gee... Our defense is likely to ship atleast two goals in this game, so maybe we should try to score three to get something out of the match.." While the philosophy makes for awesomely exciting games, it's not likely to get them too far.. unless Podolski, who can't seem to score at this point even if his life depended on it, suddenly rediscovers his golden touch and scores a couple of goals in every match.
g) "All talk, no walk": It's only early days of the tournament yet and things might change dramatically pretty soon, but a couple of teams have flattered to deceive until now. The "All talk, no walk" award jointly goes to Brazil and England. Both the teams came into the tournament red-hot favorites and both teams struggled famously in their opening games. In Ronaldo (who, with each passing day is beginning to look more and more like a hot air balloon) and Owen, they have the two most out-of-form strikers in the tournament (ya, even more out-of-form than Podolski). Both teams boast of midfields that would bring tears of envy to the eyes of most other coaches at the tournament and both the midfields in their opening games were about as creative as the Dodo bird was in its heyday. There's no denying the abundance of talent in both the teams but unless they pull up their socks soon, they might very well be targets of lynch mobs back in their respective home countries when they take early flights out of Germany..
Well, that's about it for now. If all goes well (read, if I can overcome my inherent inertia) , I'll probably have another post in by the time the knockout stage starts. Until then, stay cool, pray that Ronaldo floats off the football pitch and enjoy the "Greatest Show on the Planet".. later.. cheers.. 8-)