Thursday, December 24, 2009

Making a List, Checking It Twice

Back when this blog started, in July, my second and third entries were entitled "If I Got to Choose the World Cup Teams" ... and were about which nations I would have preferred to see in the World Cup.

Not from a Ground Zero perspective, but looking at qualifying that was well-advanced and including only those sides that had a realistic chance. Like, one of the "Stans" (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc.) in the World Cup would be cool, but they had no chance by mid-July. China would have been interesting, but the Chinese were already out.

Since it is Christmas, or almost so, let's take a look back at my wish list ... and see if Santa thought I was naughty or nice, and rewarded me accordingly.

So, looking back at what I wanted, and what we got, and how that strikes me, on Christmas Eve:


Wanted: Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria.

Missing: Egypt, Gabon.

Instead: Algeria, Cameroon.

Comment: Got only 60 percent of my wish list, but the changes aren't a disaster. Gabon would have been fun because it's a tiny nation that has never played in the World Cup finals and has some really obscure players. A Cinderella story, you bet. But Cameroon blew past Gabon to win the group, and that's fine. The Indomitable Lions are headed for their sixth World Cup, and have a better chance of making noise than little Gabon would have. And Algeria instead of Egypt? Well, I still prefer it the other way round because Egypt has more than twice the population of Algeria (77 million vs. 34 million). And since Egypt covers the "North Africa needs a team" part of things, we then come down on the side of the country with more people, generally. But no gnashing of teeth here.


Wanted: Australia, Bahrain, Japan, North Korea, South Korea.

Missing: Bahrain.

Instead: New Zealand.

Comment: All the nations I "wanted" (aside from Bahrain) already had qualified. The other four were in. I'd rather see one of the "stans" or China rather than both Koreas. But that ship had sailed. ... As for Bahrain, I wanted them to give the Gulf a team. Bahrain got past Saudi Arabia in the Asia fifth-place playoffs, which was good, because Saudi Arabia has been to several finals and been a crashing bore ... but Bahrain choked against New Zealand in the last playoff. Australia already is the "Oceania" representative, as far as I'm concerned, and adding New Zealand to South Africa 2010 is gilding the antipodean lily. Plus, the Kiwis can't really play. Fine chaps, and all, but a tiny country that brings nothing to the table. Not like one of the central Asians would have (in terms of curiosity) or China would have (in terms of population) or, specifically, Bahrain would have (representing the Gulf). So I rue this one. Yeah.


Wanted: Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Serbia, Turkey.

Missing: Ireland, Israel, Russia, Turkey.

Instead: Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland

Comment: A bit annoyed with how this turned out, too. First, though, I have to express my thanks to the soccer gods for giving us the six Euro teams I said, back in July, no World Cup seems right without. Those being England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Spain. It's the rest that rankle. How can you not want the Irish in the tournament? Their matches are an automatic party, and they're not nearly as likely to brawl as other Britons. Israel would make people think, bringing some geopolitical tension to the event, which often makes for good story lines. Russia? They should be here. An important soccer nation. But they gagged/quit when it came down to a playoff against tiny Slovenia. And Turkey would have been the standard-bearer for all those central Asian countries from the Turkic-language speaking group. ... Instead, we get the thrill-an-hour, defense-first (second and last) Greeks, Slovakia and Slovenia (which is one Gutty Little Minnow too many from Europe) and Switzerland, which we all know is going to do nothing important. OK, the Swiss are becoming vaguely interesting because one of the most uptight nations on Earth is allowing some minorities onto its national side, but they're still not that good. I still want the four I didn't get. And of the ones who are coming, I wouldn't mind Slovenia or Slovakia, but not both, and not the other two. Ugh.


Wanted: Nobody.

Missing: Nobody.

Instead: New Zealand.

Comment: See the Asia comment, above. New Zealand is making only its second appearance, and that seems about right for a country that prefers rugby and cricket to soccer. And did I mention that New Zealands has, like, one semi-significant club team? As I noted, back in July, since Australia left Oceania for Asia, Oceania is New Zealand and about 10 coral reefs. Nothing personal, Kiwis. ... We just have about 55 million more people with a "neighborhood" rooting interest if Bahrain had made it instead of you.


Wanted: Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, United States.

Missing: Costa Rica.

Instead: Uruguay.

Comment: As a native North American, I was hoping that the fourth-place team in the Hexagonal could win the playoffs with South America's No. 5 team and give Concacaf four berths. It didn't happen, with Costa Rica going down by a 2-1 aggregate to Uruguay. No disaster. Mexico was in a bit of trouble, when I wrote my wish list, and we have to have them, so El Tri making South Africa is good. The U.S., gotta have them, too. And Honduras ... first time since 1982, and it's a big deal to them, and they've got the sidebar of the upheaval in the government, so I'm OK with this. One Banana Republic in the World Cup is never a bad thing.


Wanted: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay.

Missing: None.

Instead/in addition: Paraguay.

Comment: At least Argentina made it, despite having a ninny (Diego Maradona) as its coach. It did go down to the wire. ... Brazil has to be in. No discussion. It's not a World Cup otherwise. (Only nation to play in 'em all.) And if we have to have four out of South America (and we do, even if the rest of the world doesn't really care who the others are, once we get past Brazil and Argentina), why not Chile, which has some interesting attacking players? And Uruguay, a nation with lots of World Cup history (two championships) and a reputation for playing dirty? That's kind of fun. ... I guess. ... Gaining Paraguay does nothing for me, though. I know the Paraguayans can play a little, but I'd rather see Costa Rica. I imagine it's a wash, for everyone in the Old World. (What's the difference between Paraguay or the Ticos in the World Cup, if you live in Europe, Africa or Asia? Right. Nothing.)

So, am I happy? Was Santa nice to me?

Yes. On the whole. Yes. A couple of key teams (Argentina, Mexico and Portugal) survived rocky qualifying runs and got in. I got Nigeria by dint of a late rally and a Tunisia collapse.

My biggest beefs are in Europe (Greece, an extra "Slov" and Switzerland) instead of the four I wanted, which are more interesting for a bunch of reasons, and Asia, which already was done, aside from Bahrain/Saudi.

I'm not complaining about what's in my stocking. Of the 31 teams I was backing (not counting host South Africa), 22 got in ... and of the nine that didn't make it, a couple already faced long odds of surviving.

Be nice to have Russia in this thing, and Ireland, and a Gulf team, and Turkey ... but I think we will be OK.

Thanks, Mr. Claus.

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