Friday, June 11, 2010

The End: Final Predictions!

I started this blog back on July 20, 2009, vowing to write at least one item per day on the 2010 World Cup until kickoff, on June 11, 2010.

Finally, we are here.

This may not have been the first daily "countdown" blog, but it was among the earliest.

At the start, it was difficult to get much World Cup-focused information because the club scene dominates the media in most countries. Even in South Africa, host to the 2010 World Cup, coverage of the event was a bit thin, early.

I owe a debt to the Johannesburg Times, which early on struck me as the most complete and balanced daily news source in the country; rarely did I go two days without poking around their homepage, and I linked to them hundreds of times. Well done, Joburg Times.

I also owe my daughter, Drew, credit for coming up with the idea -- as well as the colorful, five-digit countdown logo at the top of the page.

It was difficult, early on, to find Cup-oriented items during lulls in qualifying, and I did more than a few entries about the nature of South Africa. The infrastructure, the society, etc. ... topics I didn't think I would spent much time on. It clearly is a very complex, very interesting and perhaps a bit frightening society. It could have great things ahead of it. Or not. Perhaps this World Cup will be a harbinger. For good or ill.

As the countdown ticker has moved toward 0:00 ... coverage of the event has rocketed around the world. For the past month, this blog has been just one of many, many voices.

But we got through to the end. No major injuries or illness to keep us from keepin' on. Thankfully. And I posted items to this blog from Paris, Abu Dhabi, Long Beach and four cities in Italy. Today's comes from the little town of Vietri, on the Amalfi Coast.

This is item No. 341 in the 325 days of this blog's existence. It also will be the last, unless I have some huge change in attitude about taking a "countdown" blog past Zero Hour.

Even if it didn't always read like it, this blog took considerable time and energy. Certainly, more than I anticipated. And I am happy to set down this burden. For more World Cup coverage, check my regular blog over at

On the final day of countdownsa-2010 ... my predictions for the knockout rounds, through the championship match on July 11.

Thanks for reading, and on to the picks!

Round of 16:

France 1, Greece 0
Germany 2, England 2 (PK 4-3)
Netherlands 3, Paraguay 1
Brazil 3, Chile 1
Argentina 3, Mexico 2
United States 2, Serbia 1
Italy 1, Cameroon 0
Spain 3, Portugal 2

My thoughts: All the knockout-phase matchups are big, but the biggest in terms of global soccer is Germany and England colliding this early ... because I have Germany finishing second in Group D. Germany is something of a nightmare for England, and so are penalties, and I see those two factors conspiring to knock out England earlier than just about anyone expected. One of England's key players ... Frank Lampard, I believe it was ... conceded that penalties have become an issue of mental distress for England. And that is how I see them going out, after a spirited match with the always cool and collected Germans. ... France over Greece. Sure. Greece defends wonderfully, but Les Bleus will find a way to score and Greece will not. ... The Dutch will have little trouble with Paraguay and Brazil will rock Chile, turning up the effort with the final in sight. ... I see Argentina over Mexico in a vastly entertaining match. Lionel Messi perhaps doing enough to keep Diego "El Jefe Loco" Maradona's team in it. ... The big surprise here is the United States stunning Serbia 2-1. Serbia will get caught looking ahead a bit against the unfancied Yanks, who will just be hitting their stride after recovering from the tourney-opening defeat vs. England. ... Italy will do what Italy does, squeezing the life out of Cameroon, the only African national (from six) to survive group play. (And yes, for long-time readers of this blog; I have changed my mind on that contention that an African team would make the semis. I might have been able to see Ivory Coast in the semis, but that was before Didier Drogba was injured.) ... And Spain over Portugal will be great fun, as well. Lots of attacking.


Germany 2, France 0
Brazil 4, Netherlands 2
United States 2, Argentina 1
Italy 1, Spain 0

My thoughts: One major surprise here, one smaller one. The major surprise is the U.S. taking down Argentina. This is about the Americans, yes, but it also is about El Jefe Loco, who is going to cost the Argentines the World Cup ... and this is when it El Diego costs his team. Whether it is some idiotic lineup (benching Lionel Messi, for example), or ridiculous substitutions, or getting red-carded, or (most likely) tactical stupidity that allows a team with a fraction of Argentina's talent to pull off the upset. ... Italy over Spain is an upset in the sense of Spain's three-year run of dominance (only one defeat) , but Italy is the defending champion and a semifinals regular, so it's not exactly a global shock. The Azzurri always are well-organized in the back, and I see them frustrating a Spanish team that never got really comfortable on offense -- and certainly had not seen a defense like that of Italy in getting to the Final Eight. ... Germany over France is no great surprise. Any team led by Raymond Domenech (that would be France) is lucky to have made the final eight. ... The match that produces the most excitement will be Brazil over the Netherlands, where goals will come fast and furious. The Dutch are not afraid to go forward against Brazil, and will penetrate to the goal -- but will be stung by counterattacks and will give up a late goal to make the game look a little less even than it was.


Brazil 2, Germany 1
Italy 2, United States 0

My thoughts: As expected, really. Germany shows grit and organization, but Brazil has just too much offense. Italy has been out this late plenty of times. The United States hasn't. And the Yanks play poorly on a big stage, never coming close to scoring after the best showing in the country's history.


Brazil 2, Italy 1

My thoughts: Brazil still has great talent, but under the stern and clever Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri -- ridiculously known as "Dunga" (dopey) -- will demonstrate that his nickname has far outlived its usefulness. Under Dunga, Brazil can defend, as well attack. The South Americans will score early, and Italy will come out of its shell, allowing Brazil to get forward for a 2-0 lead. Italy gets a late coach with everyone thrown forward but will not be able to get even. ... Brazil is champion of the world for an unprecedented sixth time, and Europe's inability to win outside its home continent (about to be 0-9 all-time) continues.

Game 1 kickoff in ... about 90 minutes. Good luck to your team!
Read more!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Predictions! Groups G and H

So far, we have two sides (England and Italy) blowing through group play unbeaten. We have five (!) not scoring a point (Algeria, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea).

And we have Europe up to its old tricks in dominating play. Seven of the 12 teams we have identified for the second round hail from Europe, with two from North America, two from South America and just one from Africa.

Today we look at groups G and H to see if any of the trends change.

Group G:

Portugal 2, Ivory Coast 1; Brazil 4, North Korea 0.

Brazil 3, Ivory Coast 2; Portugal 3, North Korea 0.

Ivory Coast 2, North Korea 0; Brazil 1, Portugal 1.

Standings: Brazil 7 points (plus-5 goal differential), Portugal 7 (plus-4), Ivory Coast 3 (plus-o), North Korea 0 (minus-9).

My thoughts: This is the so-called Group of Death (every World Cup has to have one; it's a Fifa rule), but the group looks a bit less deadly with Ivorian superstar striker Didier Drogba apparently out with a broken elbow. The key match is Portugal vs. Ivory Coast in Game 1. Whoever wins is going to the Round of 16, and we like Cristiano Ronaldo and the lads over the Drogba-less Elephants. Brazil also will take care of Ivory Coast in a game with far more goals than no-nonsense coach Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri (Dunga) would like to see put up and, later, with a second-round berth secured, will coast a bit in the match in a draw with the Portuguese -- but still win the group via goal differential. ... Ivory Coast will complete North Korea's utterly miserable World Cup by chalking up the third decisive victory over the Boys from Pyongyang. If it is true that North Korea never televises its team in matches it doesn't win ... well, there won't be anything to watch back home. North Korea was already in trouble, and that was before its national association listed one of its best attacking players as a goalkeeper -- the only position he will be allowed to play. Oops. Good thing North Korea has such a chilled-out government.

Group H:

Chile 2, Honduras 0; Spain 1, Switzerland 1.

Chile 2, Switzerland 1; Spain 2, Honduras 1.

Spain 3, Chile 1; Switzerland 1, Honduras 1.

Standings: Spain 7 points (plus-3), Chile 6 (plus-1), Switzerland 2 (minus-1), Honduras 1 (minus-3).

My thoughts: Spain hasn't been particularly sharp, despite its standing as co-favorite with Brazil, and with striker Fernando Torres not at full speed will be stunned by the on-the-rise Swiss in the opener. But then Del Bosque's crew will get it together, and his stars will shine, with Spain taking the group on the last day of group pay by defeating Chile. ... Chile, however, will have clinched a berth by then by taking care of business against the two lesser teams in the group. ... Switzerland's highlight will be its first-game stunner, but failing to defeat Honduras will doom it to an early exit. ... Little Honduras has had some good moments in the past year, but it has not looked good of late and Wilson Palacios apparently will miss the tournament.
Read more!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Predictions! For Groups E and F

On to the back half of the group-play matchups.

So far, we have no African or Asian teams advancing. We have one team winning its first three matches: England. And we have three failing to gain a point: Algeria, Australia and South Korea.

Any more extremes coming up? Take a look and see.

Group E:

Netherlands 3, Denmark 1; Cameroon 2, Japan 0.

Netherlands 2, Japan 0; Cameroon 3, Denmark 2.

Denmark 1, Japan 0; Netherlands 3, Cameroon 2.

Standings: Netherlands 9 points (plus-5 differential), Cameroon 6 (plus-2), Denmark 3 (minus-2), Japan 0 (minus-5).

My thoughts: The Netherlands is the class here, a team with panache and scorers galore, even with Arjen Robben out. Robin Van Persie, Dirk Kuyt, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, et al, should score enough to make up for the typical Dutch insistence on going forward, which inevitably yields some counter-attack goals by the opposition. ... Cameroon as the second team out of this group (and first African team to advance) isn't difficult, either. The Indomitable Lions, led by Samuel Eto'o, will have a chance to win the group, but we see the Dutch outscoring them in a madly entertaining third game. ... Denmark is fairly solid, but the other two have too much firepower, and Japan is just overmatched here. Coach Takeshi Okada will be roundly derided for his prediction of a semifinal berth, and fired before Japan gets on the plane home with not only no points ... but no goals.

Group F:

Italy 1, Paraguay 0; Slovakia 2, New Zealand 0.

Paraguay 2, Slovakia 0; Italy 2, New Zealand 0.

Italy 1, Slovakia 0; Paraguay 2, New Zealand 1.

Standings: Italy 9 points (plus-4 differential), Paraguay 6 (plus-2), Slovakia 3 (minus-1), New Zealand 0 (minus-5).

My thoughts: Italy landed in the weakest group of the tournament and may not even break a sweat while playing its usual conservative style -- packing it in on defense and coming forward just enough to get the goal or two it needs to win. If you're betting on the "one team most likely to make the second round," Italy is as good a choice as anyone. Yes, including Spain and Brazil. ... The Paraguay-Slovakia game is the pivotal in determining who gets out of the group. We think the underrated South Americans, led by Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardoza, will not be deterred by their opening defeat against Italy and will bounce back to handle Slovakia, which hasn't played well in about a year and won't last long in its first World Cup appearance. ... But we like the Slovaks to handle semi-professional New Zealand, the weakest side in the tournament. Yes, weaker even than Japan, even though we see the Kiwis scrounging up a goal in the "means nothing" match with the Slovaks.
Read more!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Predictions! For Groups C and D

Moving along with our crystal-ball look at South Africa 2010.

Today, how we see things shaking out in groups C and D.

Group C:

England 3, United States 1; Slovenia 2, Algeria 1.

Slovenia 1, United States 1; England 2, Algeria 0.

England 2, Slovenia 1; United States 3, Algeria 0.

Standings: England 9 points (plus-5 goal differential), United States 4 (plus-0; 5 GF), Slovenia 4 (plus-0, 4 GF), Algeria 0 (minus-6).

My thinking: England walks through. The Three Lions aren't as good as England prefers to think, but I see them scoring with relative ease against the U.S., overpowering Algeria and playing just hard enough to defeat Slovenia even when a tie would win them the group. I anticipate an ultra-tight race for the second spot in the knockout phase between the Yanks and the Slovenes, and this one comes down to Goals For, with the U.S. squeaking through with a late goal against nothing-to-play-for Algeria -- much as the U.S. advanced in the Confederations Cup in South Africa a year ago by beating Egypt 3-0. ... The schedule sets up well for the Slovenes; they get the weakest team in the group up front while the Yanks face the English. The key to the U.S. campaign will be ignoring the daunting history of teams losing their first match (they rarely advance to the knockout round) and taking a point from Slovenia, then piling up a big victory over Algeria. Algeria just doesn't look ready to play Cup-winning football. Also, coming from north Africa, the home-continent advantage doesn't seem as if it will be as big a deal for Algeria.

Group D:

Serbia 3, Ghana 2; Germany 2, Australia 0.

Germany 1, Serbia 1; Ghana 2, Australia 1.

Germany 1, Ghana 0; Serbia 2, Austalia 0.

Standings: Serbia 7 points (plus-3 goal differential, 6 GF), Germany 7 (plus-3, 4 GF), Ghana 3 (minus-1), Australia 0 (minus-5).

My thinking: Serbia and Germany will take this group down to the final minute, and a late goal by Serbia will give it the tiebreaker it needs to win the the group. The key match for Serbia will be the first, when it gets dangerous Ghana in its opener before a pro-Ghana crowd. Serbia's craftiness will get it just enough goals to get three points as Germany is taking care of Australia. Then, in a cautious (both ways) second match, the Serbs and Germans play to a tie (and it could be 0-0, as well), each confident it needs only a point in that match because each plans to win its final match, and does. ... Ghana will be a handful for everyone, but only against Australia will its physical prowess lead to victory. ... Australia is no slouch, but this is a very tough group. If the World Cup weren't being held in Africa, maybe it is able to beat Ghana, but I don't see it happening in South Africa.
Read more!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Predictions! For Groups A and B

I've been doing the Countdown to South Africa 2010 World Cup blog since last July. I feel as if I know a little about all 32 teams. More than a little. Enough, actually, that I've forgotten a fair share of it.

I concede, I do not know as much as you know about your team. (Unless your team is the U.S.) No way. But what do you know of North Korea, Paraguay and Honduras? Aha!

We will start with group-phase predictions for groups A and B. On Tuesday, groups C and D. On Wednesday, groups E and F. On Thursday, groups G and H.

And on Friday, before the first match kicks off, predictions on the knockout phase, right up to the championship match.

Here we go!

Group A:

Mexico 1, South Africa 1; France 1, Uruguay 0.

South Africa 1, Uruguay 1; Mexico 2, France 2.

Mexico 2, Uruguay 1; France 1, South Africa 0.

Standings: France 7 points (plus-2), Mexico 5 (plus-1), South Africa 2 (minus-1), Uruguay 2 (minus-1).

My thinking: France is poorly led by Raymond Domenech, but the French have considerable talent and have played in big matches -- and have the considerable advantage of a favorable schedule. I would pick Mexico to win this group, except that Mexico gets South Africa in the opener, and the host team won't know yet it isn't going to advance and will play out of its mind in a very supportive atmosphere, the sort that will influence a referee. So, Mexico gets only a draw out of that match. But by the time South Africa gets to its third match and knows it is basically out of it, France wins. Uruguay just not up to getting out of this group, even though it is better than South Africa on a neutral field.

Group B:

Greece 1, South Korea 0; Argentina 3, Nigeria 2.

Argentina 3, South Korea 1; Greece 1, Nigeria 0.

Nigeria 3, South Korea 1; Argentina 0, Greece 0.

Standings: Argentina 7 points (plus-3), Greece 7 (plus-2), Nigeria 3 (plus-0), South Korea 0 (minus-4).

My thinking: This is an outstanding group for the Greeks and coach Otto Rehhegel. Three teams it should frustrate to madness with its ultra-conservative occasional-counter style. Euro teams that know the Greeks have trouble with it, and these three haven't seen it. ... Argentina has so much talent that not even Diego "El Jefe Loco" Maradona can mess up the group stage. I'm pretty sure. ... Nigeria could get the "home continent" boost, but its results just haven't been that impressive of late, and Greece will frustrate it and Argentina will have too much talent. Nigeria will take out its frustrations on South Korea in the final match, and then the country will sit back and rue the cheesy late goal that Greece scored in the opening match. South Korea is the better of the Koreas, but this is not a good group for it. Maybe next time.
Read more!

Local Lingo You Should Know

The Johannesburg Times has compiled a list of 40 South Africanisms you should know.

These are intended for World Cup tourists ... but for those of us who will be following the event, it doesn't hurt to know what they mean. And maybe toss a few of them at the TV, now and then. Like, "I need a 'dop' or 10 because we played so badly. And I don't care if I have the 'babbelas' to end all 'babbelas' in the morning."

It strikes me that The Times could be making all of these up. But they should legit ... a sort of mix of Afrikaans and black African words.

A few other interesting usages:

BLIKSEM (BLUK-SEM): If you're in a pub and you accidentally spill a beer belonging to a man with a thick neck, he may say: "Do you want me to bliksem you?" Don't respond. Just run. Run for your life. It's the Afrikaans word for hit or strike or punch.

DAGGA: Again pronounced with a harsh "g". Marijuana. Illegal, but admittedly very easy to get hold if you're so inclined.

DOF: Stupid.

EISH (AYSH): Common term that denotes a wide range of emotions from joy and surprise to confusion and anger. When in doubt, use it.

HUNDREDS: Normally repeated twice in a sentence as in "Hundreds, bru, hundreds." It expresses either total agreement with what someone has just said, or confirmation that your life is all good (eg: "How are you?" "Ah, hundreds, man, hundreds"). Can also be used as a way of simply saying yes.

JOL: Party. Can be used as either a noun or verb, as in "That was a lekker jol" or "I went jolling last night and ended up in Fabio Cannavaro's hotel room. It was great. We set fire to it."

LANK: Beyond cool is lank cool. Also means a large amount of, as in "There were lank vuvuzelas at the game last night."

LEKKER (LAKKA): Great, awesome, amazing.

NOOIT (NOYT): Expression of disbelief or disdain. As in "Aah, nooit! There's chewing gum on my seat!" or "When I saw that advert with Ronaldo striking a homoerotic pose in a pair of tight underpants, I just thought 'Nooit, bru!'"

ROBOT: When you're asking for directions and someone says: "Left at the third robot," it is not because our streets are overrun with menacing cyborgs made by Japanese scientists. No. A robot is simply our word for traffic light.

SIFF: Gross, disgusting. "Check, that guy is picking his nose." "Siff, boet."

If you want to see the entire list ... follow the link, up in the first line.
Read more!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Paper Describes 'Fifa's Great SA Rip-Off'

It appears that some media outlets have tumbled to the notion that Fifa, soccer's international ruling body, is not a philanthropic organization.

And some of the media are ticked.

Specifically one City Press, a Sunday newspaper which has published a scathing report on tax breaks Fifa will get during the World Cup, as well as a variety of other advantages the country agreed to give Fifa -- presumably before Fifa boss Sepp Blatter and the lads agreed to do such a forward-looking thing as award the World Cup to Africa.

The deals could lead to the staging of the event costing South Africa's government hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue, the newspaper suggests. Oh, and one unnamed government official is quoted as saying, "Fifa are a bunch of thugs. Not even the UN expects you sign away your tax base. These mafiosos do."

The crux of the problem, the newspaper suggests, is that the South African government agreed to a "tax bubble" around almost all things "2010 World Cup," which "exempts Fifa, its subsidiaries and foreign football associations from paying income tax, customs duties and value added tax (VAT)."

As the newspaper not-so-daintily put it: "For the next five weeks get used to Sepp Blatter being your president and (actual president) Jacob Zuma sitting on the bench as a bit player whose government is legally bound to perform the international football federation's every bidding."

The Johannesburg Times, a more cautious newspaper, has picked up the story, crediting the City Press, but leading with the idea that the World Cup was never supposed to be about making money.

It uses a quote from the South Africa Revenue Service (SARS) up front, but only in part.

According to the City Press, SARS spokesman Adrian Lackay said, "From the perspective of what we spent as a country and from what the country stands to make in terms of revenue and profits it is almost negligible.

"Our approach to the World Cup is that it was never going to be a revenue-raising exercise. Certainly it would be wrong to view the World Cup contributor in itself.

"The concessions we had to give to Fifa are simply too demanding and overwhelming for us to have material monetary benefits."

However, the national press association quotes Lackay as saying, "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and there's a cost that comes with that" -- and that is the quote The Times uses.

The Times does a good job of summing up what Fifa has been guaranteed:

"A supportive financial environment by waiving customs duties, taxes and levies on the import and export of goods belonging to the Fifa delegation, its commercial affiliates, broadcast rights holders, media and spectators;

"Unconditional visas to foreign visitors and anybody in any way associated with Fifa;

"The unrestricted import and export of all foreign currencies into and from South Africa;

"Free work permits to delegates, media and merchandise partners;

"Ownership of all media, marketing and intellectual property;

"And that Fifa cannot be sued for claims arising from the staging of the tournament."


Oh, and just FYI ... the City Press misspelled the SARS spokesman's name.It is Lackay, not Lackey. So take that into account if you want to evaluate your sources.

Still, it is good to have one angry media source out there, even if not every particular of what it has reported is correct.

The reality of this is ... that Fifa probably gets many (most? all?) of the same concessions from other host countries. "You should consider yourself lucky that we are coming to your home" is the guiding principle behind the awarding of berths. And if you are not living in a wealthy country, you probably shouldn't be staging the World Cup.

Anyway, who is getting rich of this World Cup? Not the South African government. That seems clear. Not unless you want to consider potential long-term (and probably unmeasurable) benefits such as all that presumably positive publicity SA will get over the next month -- which will want us all, people and companies, to go there and spend money. In the future.

Not sure that always works out.
Read more!