We have 8 teams left in this tournament and one of them will lift the World Cup trophy on July 11th. With no games tomorrow, let’s take a look at who we have left, who actually has a shot at this thing, and who may be set for an upset.
Uruguay has been outstanding in this tournament so far. They have two world class strikers in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, the typical craftiness of South American teams, and a rock solid defense that did not allow a goal up until the South Korea match. They are tough, smart, and dangerous on the break, and you do not need too much else to win it. I want to see them defend in depth again before making them an official contender, but they have shown me a ton and I think Uruguay has not finished writing its story in this World Cup.
Despite missing their top player in Michael Essien, Ghana is through to the quarterfinals. They represent the only non-group winner remaining in the tournament and the hope for Africa. They do have a real threat in Gyan, and a solid midfield with Boateng, but their defending has been somewhat suspect as the US revealed by creating chance after chance. However, I think they got a bit fortunate to come up against a US team they match up very well with. The US is slow, and they are very fast. The US gives up pretty weak goals and Ghana is not exactly a scoring threat. They kind of had an ideal matchup in the US, and while they did play well, I am not ready to put them in the contender category. The best teams do not get outplayed significantly in a half and Ghana has not been the best team on the field in several halves as it is, so I cannot see them making too much noise. The Black Stars have done Africa proud (if continental unity exists), but are not contenders.
I already sort of addressed this in THIS ARTICLE. I like the Netherlands talent, and feel that they are absolutely a threat to win the Cup, but before I can make them real contenders, I need to see them defend. Just as we predicted, the Dutch gave the Slovaks way too many chances and a top flight squad converts those. That game was far from its shining moment, but the Men in Orange still have things to solve before we can call them true contenders. I would put them as 4th most likely to win the Cup at this point, but if they beat Brazil and show some defensive prowess, they could go much higher than that.
My pick. Not that it took any guts to make it, but they are the favorites for a reason. They can beat you about 100 different ways, are not phased by slow starts or bad bounces, have a trio of strikers who are nearly unmatchable on the international level (meaning the 3 of them together for Brazil, not for club teams), and a sneaky tough defense. We know about the attacking pushes of Bastos, Maicon, and Dani Alves, but Lucio, Juan, Gilberto, and whomever else Dunga decides to play give Brazil a toughness and steel at the back that other contenders like Argentina and Spain cannot quite match. They are skilled players, but they are not finesse players, and that is very important in this tournament. That means they will not run into a striker who they do not match up well with since they have size, skill, and strength. For all the emphasis we put on attacking, the Brazilian defense is their key to success.
We wondered if Maradona would be a distraction for his team, and the answer has been a resounding no. He has been a lot of fun to watch on the sidelines, has been a part of the goal celebrations and his energy has helped keep the team loose rather than making them nervous. He has the players respect, and that is something we doubted coming in. With their strikers and midfield, Argentina will be in every game, but their defensive lapses are worrying. They just lose focus at times and it costs them and it could cost them down the road. Same thing goes for their keeper, who frankly had a pretty crappy game against Mexico, but was bailed out by some good breaks and the offense pressuring Mexico relentlessly. However, that is a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, these cheap goals have been problems that could pile up, but the optimist would point out that if the defense shores up, they are just about untouchable. Messi still has not scored, and look at where they are. Scary. Definitely a contender, but until they show some defensive steel, they cannot be on the same level as Brazil.
Coming into the tournament, Germany was too old and too shorthanded. After their 4-0 drubbing of Australia, they were contenders again. Then, after a loss to Serbia, they were old again. They they beat Ghana and found some happy medium that lets us talk about them in some kind of terms. As we saw against England, they have the speed and skill to tear most teams limb from limb. They are efficient, strong in the back, and a handful for any opponent. Their strikers are experienced and underrated, and their midfield is sneaky good. Why did we write off Germany again? Michael Ballack was a leader, but he was washed up so the insertion of Bastian Schweinsteiger as the main central midfielder was almost a blessing in disguise. You look at Germany on paper and you don’t see a World Cup contender, but you see them play and it is hard to say definitively that they cannot win it. I have seen too much soccer to ever count Germany out.
They have got to be the surprise of the tournament, though they have certainly had an easy road getting there. First they get the easiest group known to man (a group Italy still could not get out of) and then got Japan in the Round of 16. If they advance against Spain, you cannot say they have had it easy any more. Barrios has been very good for them, but they are not a team that is going to try to get into a shootout with you (penalty shootout not included). They are content to sit back and pick their spots and go for the 1-0 win rather than a stylish, swashbuckling 4-3 smorgasbord of goal. I was pretty impressed with their defeat of Japan, but that is just a testament to the craftiness and how difficult it is to break down a South American side. They are the long shots of teh finalists, but they should hold out hope. I mean if they beat Spain and then the winner of the Argentina-Germany game, and Uruguay beats Ghana and the winner of the Brazil-Netherlands game, we could have the Guay-est World Cup Final ever. Sorry, had to go there.
If Brazil is 1, Spain is 1A. They were clinical against Portugal and have all the skill you could ask for. We made a little checklist earlier with Uruguay to see if a team can win it, so let’s apply it to Spain even though we know they are going to fit it. Do they have a reliable, world-class goal scorer? How does David Villa’s 42 goals in 62 caps sound? Do they have toughness? I am going to give them a passing grade here, but it is their weakest category. One of the reasons I like Brazil over Spain is because of the toughness issue. Spain is very skilled, but the only really physically imposing guy regularly on the pitch is Sergio Ramos, followed closely by a slowly-aging Carlos Puyol. All their players are good, but I am not sure if they have the physical toughness to deal with the stronger, bigger strikers in the competition. So far, I would also give them a check mark for their defense because despite the toughness questions, they have only conceded one goal so far, and it just so happened that the goal was a winner. Spain has what it takes and should not be taken lightly at all, but I want to see more toughness out of them first.
Handicapping the Cup
Alright, I have no idea if those are realistic odds for real, but let’s act like they are. If I was a betting man, and I am not, here is what I would do. The safest money is clearly on Spain and Brazil, so I would get a little money on those. I would then skip down to the Netherlands and put a little money on them with the hopes that they end up being solid defensively, because if they do they can win it all. I would then put a little more money on Germany, who has a very tough road ahead, but could pay off huge. I would also put a few bucks on Uruguay, partly because I have been sticking with them throughout this tournament, but also because they have everything it takes to win this tournament.
I would not put any money on Paraguay, Ghana, or Argentina. Why Argentina you ask? They have a brutal road ahead (potentially Germany-Spain-Brazil) and have inconsistency issues in the back (as supposed to question marks like Netherlands). I realize you could say Germany faces that road, but when they get rolling they do not stop easily. I mean they are really good, but I would avoid putting my money on them for those two reasons. Paraguay and Ghana are a bit easier to explain. Neither really has a shot and should just be happy to be in the final 8.
I am sticking to my picks that are outlined HERE.
Brazil over Argentina in the final. Even though I have my concerns about Argentina, I picked them before so I will stick to it.