The French team was fractious before the tourney started and the coach’s selections seemed political. The coach is a lame duck and everyone knows it. They would have been better served having an assistant coach the team during the tourney and let Domenich step aside. They look nothing like the team that so magnificently destroyed Brazil in the 1998 finals or even the team that went toe to toe with Italy for the title four years ago.
The First 10
The first 10 days of the World Cup is in the books. First impressions are that some teams are not as good as their resumes and reputations might suggest. Germany put on a great display in their first game, but looked more like what the pundits expected in the second game, crashing to earth against Serbia.
Spain looked lethargic in their first game and lost embarrassingly to Switzerland. Titleholders Italy had a 1-1 draw against New Zealand and by all rights should have lost that game. France and England are in internal disarray and playing well below expectations. The African teams have been generally disappointing while the South American teams have been playing some of the best football of the tournament so far.
So who’s looking like they can make a run at the trophy? Right now, I think the teams that look like legit contenders after two games are as follows, in no particular order:
Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Holland, and Chile. All of these teams are playing solid, sometimes flashy football and they all look like real contenders to win in the coming weeks.
I’m still not impressed with Portugal (R) Yes they dismissed North Korea; but let’s see how they do against Brazil (playing without their number 10 Kaka) before considering them real contenders.
My pre-tournament favorites, Spain, lost their first game to a plucky Swiss team, and won against Honduras, but I didn’t like what I saw in either game. Spain looked tentative in the box during both games, and Torres is clearly not 100 percent as of yet. If they don’t step up their game quickly, they could be sent packing early.
Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil… the South American teams are playing great right now. The Dutch, my favorite tease, are again looking like world beaters early on, but haven’t we seen this before? (Euro 2008, World Cup 2006, Euro 2004…) I’ll believe it if they make the semis.
A month ago I commented about and questioned the selection process of the French and Italian teams. The Italian team without Buffon is in trouble, and I don’t see them going too far. I had also previously said of the English team and their squabbles that it could have an adverse on their performance. The French, however, take the cake.
The actions of Anelka, Evra and their teammates were nothing short of disgraceful, but in reality, Domenich should have never been allowed to coach this team when everyone knew he was not going to be retained after the tournament.
It reminds me somewhat of former University of Michigan coach Bill Frieder’s situation. To those that don’t know the story, Frieder coached Michigan’s basketball team throughout the season 1988-1989. Frieder however accepted a job to coach Arizona State prior to the 1989 NCAA tournament, which Michigan had qualified for. Though he intended to coach Michigan through the end of the tournament, athletic director Bo Schembechler ordered Frieder to leave immediately and hired Steve Fisher as interim coach, declaring that “a Michigan man will coach Michigan, not an Arizona State man.” Once Frieder had announced his employment at another school, Schembechler no longer considered him a “Michigan man.” Fisher led the Michigan team behind Glen Rice and Rumeal Robinson to the NCAA title.
Looking ahead, the final first round games should provide some notable drama, with some teams clawing their way out of self-made trenches.
Will Germany and Italy exit in the first round? Will England? Are Spain and Holland really contenders this time or are they following the usual script of their national teams-flashy units that wilt under the pressure of the biggest global stage?
Is Uruguay more than Diego Forlan, and if not, how far can he carry them? How good is Mexico? Chile? South Korea?
Of the three, Chile has been most impressive so far, but I see Mexico as a team that can pull off a big win.
And what on earth happened to the African teams? Playing on their home continent they should have a distinct advantage, but that hasn’t been the case. Very disappointing.
The tournament has been uneven so far, the early games were tentative and some teams didn’t appear to be really ready to compete to their standards (yes, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, that means you) but going into the knockout phase, the real class will emerge and the picture will be more focused. There is a potential second round match-up between Spain and Portugal that could be tremendous. Lets stay tuned and keep the ear plugs ready for the vuvuzuelas!