Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

USA verses...

The Czech Republic
Alright, I admit I hardly know how good this team is, let alone many of their players. But I do know that many praises are sung of one midfielder Pavel Nedved and 'keeper Petr Cech. It is important to note that this is technically the Czech Republic's first Cup, except they've always been good, just under a different name: Czechoslovakia. So as confused as I was as a wee high school sophomore trying to figure out what the heck all those countries east of Italy were called, I am similarly dumbfounded at how good they could be - hype and all. Yeah they are 2nd in the world behind Brazil in the "power rankings." Portugal was probably up around there too 4 years ago, but they were arrogant and we exploited that. Don't expect such an embarrasing outcome for our opponents this time around. The US is for real and (unfortunately) everyone knows it--and can't wait to take us down a notch. But back to the CR. They missed the Cup 2002 due to a loss to Belgium in a playoff. They lost to the Netherlands in qualifying this time around, but the Orange country and Norway were to be their only real competition before earning a pass to Germany. Regardless, watch out for these scary names: Poborsky, Baros, Rosicky and the two mentioned above. They will have much to prove in a tough group - possibly, dare I say, more than the States in this tournament. And the more I read about coach Karel Bruckner (a Gandolf-esque figure who can craft free kick set pieces like any wizardy quarterback), I am convinced this team will be the Yankees' toughest opponent. Their defense has even been listed to easily join the attack which will test our midfield and defense in ways we never would dream in our easy qualifying via CONCACAF. We have a strong offense but if our defense shows up big time (and again I'll call out Keller to play the game of his life) then we can earn a draw.
Italy
So with the CR pegged as the front runner in our group, what do I make of Italy? Overrated, over-dramatic, underwhelming in past years and a ton of anger just waiting to explode. You'd think I'd be happy with this depreciating description, but I'm neutral here at best [Ok, at second glance I realize I'm hardly a Switzerland here but I though ambivilence would prevail...]. The thing is Italy has talent and always has. They have passion and playmakers galore. Actors/divers a plenty...yet a finishing touch and fluidity to the game that might just be uncovered this tournament. There's no question I was incredibly let down by their showing in Japan/Korea 2002. Euro 2000 and 2004 both provided dropouts from each tournament that must have provided Italian tabloids blame-pieces for at least 3 years straight. And now there's this whole Juventus game-fixing scandal in the top Italian division that has marred the whole country. What does a team do with all of that? Bent on revenge against anyone and everyone for nothing more than respect I see no middle ground for the Azzuri this time around. They will either begin clicking well and put to rest the demons of years past or explode while trying to force each other to do so. Despite their hiring Marcello Lippi as coach (a celebrated national figure who could provide leadership and needed discipline) I see the latter happening. There may be less pressure from outside on this team because expectations are already lowered. But not from within. Age also will be a factor on a great defense and striking corps that has been their strength in the past. And some key injuries may keep those that would be the difference makers from fully showing up. All of these factors equate (in my mind) to an ultimate (team) explosion on a grand stage. An opening draw to Ghana would cause a panic yet all would not be lost. To lose to the African nation, however, would irreversibly light a fuse. A loss to the USA in the pivotal second game would shamefully erase all hope for a nation looking for some light ever since the dark days in July 1994 when penalties doomed a good team from winning it all. I am openly pessimistic about this Italian team but I'll throw some optimism their way. They beat Germany (in a friendly) 4-1 somewhat recently. They are poised for a comeback (not this year). Their incredible goalkeeper, Buffon, may even be available to play despite allegedly being involved in the Juventus scandal. Italy still can progress beyond the group stage. As much as I'd like to say with confidence the US will eek through with the Czechs, second place is open. Italy can come together and win if many things change. They luck out to play the Czechs last, but I'd be very wary to say the group will already be decided and that game will be meaningless. And besides...who really knows that much about Ghana?
Ghana
Underdogs in a group of fear (not death, mind you) give Ghana a great chance this month to step up aggressively as they have been know to do. While going through a few coaches leading up to this year, coach Ratomir Dujkovic could provide the needed leadership to unite the team nicknamed the Black Stars. Ghana's youth teams have normally been impressive despite this being the country's first World Cup appearance. Michael Essien is the most well-known player and he joins an excellent midfield. It will be interesting to see how this strength compares to that of their opponents in this group - especially the midfield-talented US. So there are the stereotypical weaknesses of a hot-headed young side with nothing to lose and the world stage being an added difficulty new to this team. But remember Senegal-France in 2002? Although I'd love nothing more than a similar match between Ghana and Italy in the first match one must wisely wait and see instead of predicting such an outcome (my dark horse bet is the Ivory Coast). Ghana could be a big player in this group even as the last place team and by this I mean goal differential. Teams always start slow (ESPECIALLY Italy) and should the US need goals in it's last game we might have the best chance here. But no one wants to play the tie breaker game at this point. And that's where I leave it. Not much on Ghana here so I'll be watching like y'all to see what kind of team they end up to be. Honestly, that goes for each team above, including the States. Everyone in Group E is planning to top the group (goes without saying) and each has the potential. One other motivator is that the second place team could potentially face Brazil in the second round...
Monday will set the stage for a tense and exciting rollercoaster of a week and half. Even if you hate futbol, I challenge you to at least watch a few minutes of the world party that will unfold over the next month. Countries live for this, commerce (except in pubs) even slows during games, and all around the globe conversations will be turned to what happens in Germany.
So for the first time in my life I can now say: C'mon Monday morning! Hurry up and get here!!!

posted by El Jefe @ 4:52 PM  0 comments

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