Tuesday, May 16, 2006

World Cup Preview

By Tiger Fan

As we reach the summer lull for Mizzou sports, I figured it might be time to expand my coverage to include some other sports. And quite frankly, the sport I’m most qualified to evaluate is soccer. So, without further Adu, I present my 2006 World Cup preview (while sporting my Team USA Oguchi Onyewu jersey, of course).

Team USA

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the home side. The United States is sending a team to Germany next month that may be the best in U.S. history. They are currently ranked fourth in the world, but this seems a bit high to me. The World Cup organizers seem to agree, given that despite its lofty ranking and easy qualification, Team USA was not one of the seeded teams. The result? USA is joined in Group E by No. 2 Czech Republic and No. 14 Italy, in addition to lowly Ghana (ranking No. 50). The opening match for the Americans is June 12 against the Czechs (and I plan to be watching in a Vegas sportsbook).

When the official roster for the men’s national team was named earlier this month, it didn’t contain a lot of household names. That’s actually good news because it means that most of the players are coming from premier leagues in Europe rather than the MLS. Let’s go position-by-position:


Kasey Kellar, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann

With 91 international appearances and 44 shutouts, Kellar is the senior member of a talented group. Howard and Hahnemann both play in the English Premier League while Kellar tends the net in the German Budesliga. Look for Howard, the former goalie for world power Manchester United, to get the start as Kellar is beginning to show his age.


Chris Albright, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jimmy Conrad, Cory Gibbs, Eddie Lewis, Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Pope

Albright and Pope are the best-known names on this list because they both play in the MLS, but neither is likely to start come tournament time. Five of the other six players play in top European leagues and those players have garnered a lion’s share of the caps in recent years. Lewis, Cherundolo and Bocanegra are all likely starters. The wildcard of the group is young Onyewu, who goes by the nickname “Gooch.” Onyewu is a 6’2” monster in the backfield that is just 24 years old and still getting better. Right now, he is playing Standard de Liege in Belgium… but rumor has it that a solid world cup could land him a transfer to one of the top teams in England.


DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Pablo Mastroeni, John O’Brien, Ben Olsen, Claudio Reyna

Reyna is the captain of Team USA and will still play a pivotal role in the midfield, even as he begins to get older. But the stars of tomorrow (and if they can play well in the World Cup, the stars of today) are Beasley and Donovan. Both are explosive players and, particularly Donovan, will be the focal point of the U.S. attack. As for the fourth starting spot, look for it to go to Mastroeni, another veteran.


Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson, Brian McBride, Josh Wolff

McBride, with 90 international appearances, is probably the only guaranteed starter in this group. In all likelihood, the other spot will go to Johnson or Wolff, but don’t be surprised if Ching gets a shot as well. All four have had success scoring goals at the international level.


Bruce Arena

Arena has the longest tenure of any coach at this year’s World Cup, dating back to his hiring in 1998 after Team USA finished dead last in France. This eight-year period is one of the longest coaching tenures in international soccer history and Arena is largely responsible for changing the image of U.S. soccer from an international joke to an international force. Arena focuses on defense, which is good because he has solid defenders but his team lacks the athleticism to outscore teams like Brazil. Still, he has not garnered a lot of respect in European circles. A semifinal run in Germany would certainly turn some heads.

Unfortunately, given Team USA’s draw, I don’t see that happening. In fact, I don’t even think they’ll make it out of the first round. I think they beat Ghana, lose to the Czechs and tie Italy… but Italy advances with the second spot in Group E on the basis of goal differential. I hope I’m wrong, but I think this team will not be able to live up to the lofty expectations.

The Rest

So if I don’t think the U.S. will win it, who will? The easy answer is Brazil. They boast the world’s most electrifying player in Ronaldinho and a solid team behind him. They are the clear-cut No. 1 team in the world. But if you want a wildcard, look to Germany (the host country always seems to rise to the occasion) or Spain (the Spaniards are bound to win the big one eventually, right?)

Here’s how I think the tourney plays out (winner of group listed first, then runner up):

Group A:


Costa Rica

Group B:



Group C:



Group D:



Group E:

Czech Republic


Group F:



Group G:



Group H:



Round of 16:

Germany over Sweden, Mexico over Netherlands, Croatia over Czech Republic, Spain over France, Costa Rica over Sweden, Argentina over Portugal, Brazil over Italy, Korea over Tunisia


Germany over Mexico, Spain over Croatia, Argentina over Costa Rica, Brazil over Korea


Germany over Spain, Brazil over Argentina


Brazil 3, Germany 1

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