Monday, January 11, 2010

For a Few Teams, an Embarrassment of Riches

You think there are, oh, about 25 national teams that are headed for the World Cup who wish they had the "problems" a handful of elite squads have in winnowing down all their talent into a 23-man squad?

Well, of course, would be the answer to that one.

Most nations are happy to have a fairly decent First XI ... with a couple of soft spots they will try to hide, in South Africa. Others have 4-5 real players, and the rest are mediocrities.

And then there are that handful of nations where coaches sigh deeply and express their dismay at having to limit the team to 23.

Take, say, Italy.

You may remember from the other day, when we linked to a story about Francesco Totti expressing interest in coming out of international retirement to play for Italy.

Now, we've got another veteran striker, big and rangy Luca Toni, talking about how he would like to play at South Africa 2010, too.

And in that story Italy coach Marcelo Lippi is quoted as saying Toni had a nice game, for AS Roma, in his first match this season since Bayern Munich dumped him.

Lippi is also quoted as saying he doesn't get to take 35 guys to South Africa.

How many other teams have that worry? How to get 23 players from 35 or 40 or 100 really good players?

Well, let's make a list:

I count seven teams that have that problem.

1. Brazil. The Brazilians could field four World Cup teams and two of them might end up playing each other for the championship.

2. Italy. Can't decide if Totti and Toni could help them. And they're only 33 and 32 respectively. That's depth.

3. Germany. The Germans will never admit this, though. They will tell you how this guy isn't ready and that guy is too old but they dozens of guys who can play at an elite level. That's how they get to the final eight nearly every time.

4. Netherlands. Getting their guys to play together always has been the Dutch problem. But no one doubts they go 2-3 deep at every position.

5. Argentina. Real players everywhere. The test of Diego Maradona's incompetence will be managing to waste all the talent.

6. Spain, at the moment. Though I'm not sure they're much deeper than 20.

7. England. Though they have that issue of "who to pair up top with Wayne Rooney," which is a bit of an embarrassment for an elite side.

And now we're done. France doesn't quite make it. Lots of competent players, but how many of those guys would start for any of the teams above? Really. Who do you want off of France's team who will make you instantly and massively better. See? Portugal has a half-dozen really good guys, but do you want all 11 of them? Didn't think so.

After that, we have teams with good players and some not so good, teams that play well together and have cohesion or style or heart and character ... but not great talent.

Anyway, when it comes to having talent deep enough to beat other people's First XI with your Second XI ... what a luxury that must be!

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