The old order strikes back!
Here is an observation about the teams that reached the quarter-finals in this World Cup in Germany: six out of eight teams have won the cup at least once.
- Brazil - 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002.
- Germany - 1954, 1974, 1990.
- Italy - 1934, 1938, 1982.
- Argentina - 1978, 1986.
- England - 1966.
- France - 1998.
These six countries have shared all but two of the past World Cups. Only Uruguay (1930 and 1950) is missing from this list. Of course, Uruguay never qualified for the current tournament. All these teams are considered to be the powerhouses of soccer. They also have the best soccer leagues to boast about. Germany 2006 has not showed much surprises as compared to the previous tournaments. No new power like Turkey, South Korea, or Croatia has emerged. The only saving grace is the performance of Ghana and Australia. However, they got eliminated in Round 2. Ghana did not have much choice as they faced Brazil but the elmination of the "Socceroos" by Italy with the last minute penalty kick of Totti was painful. The "Socceroos" brought a nice fearless quality into the game. They were never awestruck by their opponents.
Portugal and , the upstarts, Ukraine, are the only teams that do not seem to have the history of doing well in the grand stage of the most popular sport in the world. Portugal reached the semi-finals of the tournament in 1966, eventually losing out to England, the eventual winners in that year. That team featured the great Eusebio
- "the black pearl". Ukraine has had a modest history in the sport. The team is playing in their first world cup after parting ways with the erstwhile Soviet Union and they have done well to reach the last eight.
Here are my predictions about the teams that will play in the quarter-finals and proceed to the semi-finals:
- Germany v/s Argentina - Germany: Germany and Argentina are playing exciting soccer. Both teams thrive in attacking their opponents. This is one of the best teams that Argentina has had after many years. The second goal scored by M. Rodriguez against Mexico could be the best goal of this tournament. Tevez, and Messi are incredible talents. Couple this with Javier Saviola, Crespo, and Riquelme, you have probably the most potent attack in this world. On the other hand, Jurgen Klinsmann has completely transformed Germany's style from a hard, physical, and defensive style to free flowing, exciting, and attacking style. Germans have not had any serious opposition till now. They have demolished all the teams. Michael Ballack, Miroslav Klose, Podolski, Frings, and Lahm have enough firepower to test a bit shaky Argentinian defense. I predict a German win because of home ground advantage. Moreover, I think Germany has finally ironed out their problems in the back. This match will belong to the team that has a better defense because the offense of both the sides is not only the best in the world but also comparable.
- England v/s Portugal - Portugal: England has displayed awful performance in this world cup. All the hype about this team being the best that England has seen in the last thirty years is, sadly, hype. Beyond the set-piece goal of Beckham and the thunderous half volley of Cole, England, my friends, is down in the dumps. The team has no rhythm, relies too much on the long ball and has only one striker in the front. Wayne Rooney might be talented but he can't do jack without support. Portugal has had a nightmare game against Netherlands in the previous round. One of their most creative forward - Deco, will be sitting on the bench because of the Red card that the referee dished out unfairly in the game against the Dutch. Moreover, the fitness of Christian Ronaldo, who injured himself while playing against the Dutch, is a big concern for them. If Christian Ronaldo is fit and plays with Maniche and Figo, English defense will have their hands full. I am rooting for Portugal because they display more fluidity in their attack. English football needs to do some serious rethinking with the long balls that they are so fond of and it is better that they reflect upon this without boring the rest of the world in the semi-finals and the final.
- Brazil v/s France - Brazil: Brazil has a dream team in Ronaldo (seems to have regained some form), Ronaldinho, and Kaka. Their support cast of Robinho, Adriano, Juninho can be as good as the first string team of any other country. Brazilian defense is shaky. I doubt the efficacy of Cafu, Roberto Carlos, and Ze Roberto. However, the French team does not have the firepower to challenge them. Viera, Zidane, and Henry belong to an earlier era. Zinedin Zidane is past his prime. I feel sad after looking at the great man who single-handedly led France to glory in 1998. He reminds me of the great Kapil Dev who remained in the Indian cricket team for more than two years just on the basis of his past performances and nobody had the heart and the courage to throw him out. If there is one thing that the French team lacks, it is their ability to score goals. In the Round 1 games, the French team missed sitting ducks. Trezeguet is no replacement for Cisse who has not played in this tournament after breaking his feet in a "friendly" ;-) warm-up game before the world cup.
- Italy v/s Ukraine - Italy: This will be the most boring game among the four quarter-finals. I hate Italian style of defensive soccer. They win by putting their opponents to sleep with their "defend first" attitude. They are lucky to get a relatively weak and inexperienced opponent. Ukraine has reached this far riding on some good luck. But this is the end of the road for them. Shevchenko of Ukraine is exciting but his supporting cast is too weak to help him unravel the famed Italian defense.