Archive for May 2010
14 days left till the World Cup in South Africa. Anyone else getting excited? Last time around I was lucky enough to have a flexible schedule and ended up watching every single game live. I was so pumped back then, I remember blogging about every game after the group stage, but alas, I have since moved platforms and my old blog is nowhere to be found. Those were the glory days when my beloved France surprised everyone (even myself) and went to the final. I tried to reminisce through my writings of that time, but I guess the internet doesn't remember everything. Sigh.
Interesting figures coming out of South Africa are none of the 64 games have been sold out, and over 160,000 tickets are still available. It goes to show the African continent is yet still not as attractive for a global event, and the world economy has put a major dent in spending. But that won't deter fans from enjoying one of the best sporting events in the world. Now, on to the other six players to watch. To read the previous post, go here.
Park Chu Young (Korea)
Everyone is raving about the double dragon, Ki Sung Yong and Lee Chung Yong. Sure, I'm looking forward to them succeeding this time as well, as they are both 21 in age and both have started to play in Europe this past season. Heck, my Korea jersey has Sung Yong in the back of it. I'm definitely a fan of them. But I'm an even more of a fan of Park Chu Young, the AS Monaco striker that has been given the privilege to wear the coveted number 10 shirt for a European team. To me, that's a huge feat for an Asian person trying to break into the European top flight.
I really hope that Park Chu Young performs well this year. He did well enough last world cup to get a call from a European club, but so far hasn't really made his mark yet, as AS Monaco hardly gets the publicity as a Manchester United or a Real Madrid. Will Park Chu Young elevate his game and play for a top tier club once in his career? I'm hoping that this summer will prove that he can.
Yoann Gourcuff (France)
France may not have its field general Zidane this summer, but they never cease to have great talent coming from the ranks. The 23 year old Gourcuff just might be Zizou's successor for the French national team. While Ribery is more comfortable on the wings, Gourcuff is out and out a midfield playmaker. He likes to roam in the middle, distribute the ball, and even score when necessary. Although he started out at AC Milan as a hot prospect, he unfortunately had to compete with Kaka (and Seedorf, Pirlo and Ambrosini) for a starting position and ended up warming the bench during his two year stint there. After moving to Bordeaux, he took them to a Ligue 1 title last year and a Champions league quarter-final this year.
France barely made it into the World Cup this year, thanks to "le hand of God". Domenech is an incompetent coach. Yet, I'm still rooting for Les Bleus. France has a solid defense with an awesome keeper Hugo Lloris, the back held by Evra, Sagna, Clichy, and Squillaci, and an impressive midfield in Diarra, Gourcuff, Malouda, and Ribery (depends on Domenech goes with a 4-4-2 or a more attacking 4-3-3), and Anelka and Henry up top. Hopefully they will advance the group stages behind Gourcuff's midfield magic.
Angel Di Maria (Argentina)
Many consider the reason why Messi has never shined on the international stage is because unlike his Barcelona teammates, his national side teammates do not have the same style of crisp passing and "on-the-ground" play where Messi thrives. While Di Maria has all the footwork and skill to keep possession and beat players, scoring is more of his strength rather than passing. That means, don't expect him to be a Xavi for Messi. Argentina is one of the few countries with endless scoring options (Higuain, Tevez, Milito, Messi) both from midfield and from up top. Regardless of how Argentina fares, Angel Di Maria is bound to leave Benfica for more glory. Hopefully, there will be enough organization from Maxi Rodriquez and Mascherano to provide their forwards with many chances.
Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay)
Some call him the "most good looking footballer in the world," but regardless of his good looks, Roque Santa Cruz is first and foremost a great soccer player. He's had a bad bout with injuries this past season and didn't contribute much to Manchester City this year, so the World Cup is definitely an opportunity to prove the world that he still has what it takes to be counted among the best. Paraguay is no longer with their first choice striker, Salvador Cabañas, but Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo (Benfica teammate with Angel Di Maria) will fill that gap. At 28, Roque (pronounced Rocky) is a through and through veteran, and will provide much leadership for Paraguay. Everyone considers Group F to be the weakest, and Paraguay should have no problem advancing through.
Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
Diego Forlan is one of those stars that continues to shine, in spite of his age. He's performed some last minute heroics to keep Atletico Madrid in the Europa League, eventually scoring in the final and giving Atletico the title. For an aging star, I'm looking forward to Forlan playing, because it's always a joy to watch older players still outperform many of the younger ones. Uruguay is currently the favorites in a tough Group A, where France, Mexico and South Africa will battle it out to come out of it as well. Everyone knows the tremendous advantage home field is, and France and Mexico have been very inconsistent as of late, so should be interesting to see who will push through.
On any given day France will easily overcome, but the new firepower in Carlos Vela, Dos Santos, and now Chicharito, Mexico may outperform and advance beyond the group stage. Look to Forlan to deliver some magic yet again.
Cesc Fabregas (Spain)
And finally, I'm looking forward to seeing Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas perform this world cup. No, I'm not biased. I just think all eyes will be on him. Iniesta is injured, Xavi will probably be playing his last world cup, so this is Cesc' moment to shine. With all the hype and rumor about Cesc making a move to his boyhood club Barcelona this summer, everyone is buzzing about his future. Spain is considered the favorites to win it all and they do have an impressive squad, but whether they can shed their perennial "great squad that never wins" stigma, we'll have to see.
At 23, Fabregas is still quite young and already shows loads of talent. Depending on playing time this summer, I have no doubt that everyone will count him among the best, right up there with Messi, Rooney and CR.
Next week, I'm going to gaze into the crystal ball and lay my predictions for who will go to the finals and who will win it all.
One thing I'm looking forward to most is seeing how certain players perform at soccer's biggest stage. This is a chance for budding stars to break into the scene. It's also a chance for older athletes to prove that they still have what it takes to change the game. And then for some, it's an opportunity to be grouped with the best of the best, where their exploits will be made into legends and folklore, passed to future generations through Youtube.
Here are the players that I will be watching closely this World Cup. Right off the bat, there is no Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, or Kaka. I didn't include token USA player Landon Donovan either. People are going to pay attention to them anyway, for their star power, and to see if they can outperform the expectations set upon them. This list of twelve players is mostly to see developing talent (with a few already established players), ones who truly have potential to breakthrough into the top tier of world soccer players, and perhaps those who have quite a story to tell at the world's biggest stage for football.
Robin Van Persie (Netherlands)
During Robin Van Persie's first few years at Arsenal, there was an outbound Dutch compatriot legend named Dennis Bergkamp. I suspect those few years together gave Bergkamp the chance to pass on his legacy to an upcoming star. The similarity of their style of play is very striking.
Although RVP has been injured most of last season, he is still a force to be reckoned with. He is a superb passer and an out and out goal scorer. He has deadly accurate free kicks, and a knack for finding the back of the net from awkward angles. And for a European, he has deft footwork and creative ability to get past defenders… much like the Brazilians. Man, I can't say enough good things about him. I expect team Nederland to perform very well this year, even though they lack a strong defense (as usual). Their scoring options are endless, and as the originators of total football, I expect every match to be amazing to watch. And if RVP shines, then the world will know what Arsenal fans have known for a long time, that what a top class player he is.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (Mexico)
Javier Hernandez, also known as "Chicharito", is Mexico's newest sensation. He's no longer a secret, as Manchester United signed him for an undisclosed fee back in April. At age 22, he is young enough to continue to develop and arrive at his peak around when he's 26. I've seen a few friendlies and didn't think he was on target at all, but still the prospect of him doing well is there. Will he choke in front of the whole world watching? Or will he be laser sharp in front of goal? We'll find out soon enough.
Marek Hamsik (Slovakia)
Everyone is talking about the 23 year old Marek Hamsik these days. Yesterday, he was virtually an unkown footballer, quietly plying his trade in Napoli (who follows Napoli unless they live in Naples?) Today, seems like all the big clubs want him, including money-is-no-object Manchester City.
He is most often compared with Xabi Alonso, for his passing ability and creative play in the midfield. Slovakia may not have a strong team this time around, but watching Hamsik will be a treat in my opinion. And depending on how he does, he will definitely be bought by a bigger club. Just look at what Euro 2008 did for Arshavin.
Gervinho (Ivory Coast)
Gervinho, also known as Gervais Yao Kouassi, is a Ivory Coast striker that's going to be eager to overcome the shadow of Didier Drobga as a threat from the Elephants this summer. He has an interesting Brazilian name, supposedly a nickname given to him during his youth academy days by a Brazilian coach. He's only 22 so he has a long way ahead of him, and if all the scouting reports are true, he can easily break into a bigger club in Spain or England. I remember rumors of him joining Arsenal a few years back, and although that never materialized, I wouldn't be surprised if other big clubs come knocking on his door depending on the performance of the Elephants in South Africa.
With the powerful Drogba and Kalou up front, Ivory Coast is going to field an impressive squad with the likes of the Toure brothers, Keita, and the resurgent Aruna Dindane. I don't think Gervinho will start ahead of Kalou and Dindane, but hope when he does, he will deliver a performance everyone will remember.
Guiseppe Rossi (Italy)
Also known in some circles as Il Traditore (the traitor), Guiseppe Rossi actually is a New Jersey native that decided to play for the Azurri rather than the Red White and Blue. At 5 foot 8, he's pretty small but he has a good sense of space and can finish on either foot. Once again, there's a lot of talk of moving Rossi to a bigger club than Villareal, but I really don't think he will be any better than he is now. The World Cup obviously is the stage to prove skeptics like me wrong, but with an aging Italy squad behind him, and with the likes of Gilardino and Toni starting ahead of him, not sure if he will create too much buzz with his play. But of course, I can imagine all the ESPN announcers lamenting how he got away from the US national team's grasps every time he comes on the pitch. Maybe a special segment on his family back in New Jersey, and an interview of his hometown friends. Suffice to say, our American broadcasters will definitely make a big deal out of him.
Mesut Özil (Germany)
Germany is another one of those teams, like Italy, who have an aging squad that is virtually unchanged from World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008. However, this is a great time to see Mesut Özil rise to prominence. At only 21 and already competing in German Bundesliga (9 goals last season for Werder Bremen) at the highest level, it seems that there is nowhere but up to go for the young midfielder. Frankly, there hasn't been any German player worth following since Ballack, and he is definitely past his prime. Özil seems to carry a lot of promise, and I'm anxious to see how well he fares. Plus, it puts me in good graces with my wife who was born in Germany.
Next week, I'll finish it off with the rest of the 12 players I'll be watching carefully this World Cup. But for now, I leave you with this Youtube clip, Dennis Bergkamp's wondergoal back in the 1988 World Cup. You won't see a prettier first touch than this.
I'm retiring my car of 9 years, 130,000 miles, four trips from Michigan to the East Coast (Boston, New York, New Jersey), countless weekend commutes from Chicago to Ann Arbor, treks through Canada, one cross country trip from Michigan to California, several Norcal-Socal trips, rain, snow, sleet and hail.
Now ushering a new era in.
Just 27 days left till the beautiful game starts, and most of the national teams have announced their provisional squads. there's quite a bit of controversy for some of them so I thought I'd lay them out here.
The biggest controversy is with France. I'm no fan of Domenech, and think that he should've been axed a year ago. Yet, he's still in charge and with his ineptitude, continues to steer Les Bleus nowhere but the ground. As a Francophile, I'm truly sorry for the way France is going. Domenech announced his squad, and left out Viera, Benzema, and Nasri. I might understand leaving out Viera because of his age, but shutting the door behind Benzema and Nasri?? Those two represent the future of French football. Leaving them out does not help the team this World Cup or the future.
Nasri may not have had much playing time with Arsenal due to injuries, but his play is brilliant and can provide much needed creativity on the field. Benzema, while in a slump during the year and mostly warming the bench, still possesses more skill and charisma than a Hatem Ben Arfa (6 goals this season, 9 goals last) or a Sidney Govou (3 goals this past season, 8 goals last). Shame on Domenech. Lois Blanc should start already.
They say Maradona cleaned up his act and stays away from coke, but not sure if he was sober when he selected his squad for Argentina. He included the geriatric Veron, Heinze and Palermo (38 years old this year!), while excluding the dynamic duo Cambiasso and Zanetti from Inter. I mean, there's a reason why Inter is on top of Serie A and in the Champions League final (hint: midfield defense). To leave Cambiasso and Zanetti out is a shame.
Coach Dunga left out in-form Ronaldinho, Adriano, and Pato. Sure, too much partying left Ronnie and Adriano out of touch with their footballing brilliance, but they've been working hard all year and have proven that they still have some spark. The more defensive minded Dunga figured he didn't need any more joga bonito. If you look at the curent squad, it's very reminiscent to no-nonsense teams that Mourinho would sculpt in Chelsea and Inter.
I was looking to see if Pato would develop into the world class player that everyone hyped him to be, but that's not going to happen anymore.
Next, I'm going to highlight 12 players that I'll be following closely this World Cup.