Monday, June 26, 2006

World Cup predictions redux -- CORRECTED

The group stage of the World Cup is over and it's knockout time -- each match will actually have a winner (technically if the teams tie after 90 minutes plus overtime, it is officially a draw and the team that "advances" does so by penalty kicks). Here are the matchups and predictions, with The Monk's correct predictions of group stage survivors in italics.

Germany v. Sweden -- The Monk actually correctly predicted Germany would win group A and Sweden would come in second in Group B. On a neutral pitch, this is a toss-up; not in Germany.
Argentina v. Mexico -- The Monk got this matchup, but in reverse: I predicted Argentina would finish second in Group C and Mexico first in Group D; the opposite occurred. Like the US in 2002, Mexico is fortunate to survive the group stage; unlike the US in 2002, the Mexicans face a great team in the first knockout stage, not a second-rate power (er, that was Mexico, which the US beat).

England v. Ecuador -- England should beat the runner-up of Germany's weak group with relative ease.
Portugal v. Netherlands -- the inverse of the Argentina-Mexico match -- I got the matchup right, but predicted Netherlands #1 in Group C (finished second) and Portugal #2 in Group D (finished first). This is a definite heavyweight matchup between a perennial European powerhouse (the Dutch) and the other routine World Cup flopper from Iberia. Portugal finished second in Euro 2004 (the intra-Europe championship), but that was in Lisbon. Go with the Orange from tulipland.

Italy v. Australia -- the Soccerroos have had a great tournament and should be a solid match for the Italians. After all, nearly all of the Aussie team members play in the top European leagues and Guus Hiddink, the Soccerroos' manager, led So. Korea to a win over the Italians in 2002. Then again, Italy is closer to Germany than So. Korea, and the refereeing should not be nearly as poor as that SoKor match for the Azzurri from four years ago. Italy thumped the two best teams it has faced and should advance.
Switzerland v. Ukraine -- The Ukrainians finally showed up in their second game and became only the third team in the three 32-team World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006) to reach the knockout stage after losing its opener (Turkey 2002, Ghana 2006). The Swiss played uninspired soccer in winning a weak group. The Ukrainians should face the Italians.

Brazil v. Ghana -- The joyride for the Ghanaians ends here.
Spain v. France -- Spain was the best team in the group stage, France needed to beat lowly Togo in the third group match to advance. The French have tons of talent, but it's eight years older than when it won the Cup in 1998. One Iberian survivor into the final 8.

Germany v. Argentina -- what a final 8 matchup! Argentina is nearly as good as Brazil but this match is in Germany. The Monk still doesn't like Germans.

England v. Netherlands -- this should also be a blast. The English have scraped by time and again so far, the Dutch are very good. I picked the English to win before the tournament and think they can still do it, even without Michael Owen.

Italy v. Ukraine -- the final 8 shoudl be where upstarts go to die, but in 1998 Croatia whacked Germany at this stage. Italy is more balanced.

Brazil v. Spain -- No good comes of being in Brazil's half of the draw.

The following part is corrected after reviewing the bracket on; The Monk misread an earlier chart

Argentina v. Italy -- Italy gets a favorable path to the semis as a reward for winning Group E and can avoid the Brazilians until the finals. Argentina is nearly as good as the Brazilians, and beat Italy in Italy in 1990. Revenge would work nicely here. And if the Germans beat Argentina (certainly more than just possible), it'd be great to see the Italians swat the Germans in Germany after suffering the indignity of watching the Huns raise the Jules Rimet Trophy in Rome 16 years ago.

England v. Brazil -- By this point, Brazil should be rolling after its three warmups in the group stage and two wins in the knockout rounds. At some point Brazil has to lose, right? England outplayed Brazil in 2002 but lost because the English seemed too cognizant of the fact that they PLAYED BRAZIL. If they can get past that, and can play at more of a Rooney pace (fearless, attacking, relentless) and less Beckham (slow, calculating, useful only on free kicks), then the English can win.

Argentina v. Brazil -- the World Cup has a third-place game. The championship of South America at stake, with the usual suspects.

England v. Italy -- the English ultimately may have the least impressive looking run to the Final of any team in recent memory. They were uninspired in the group stage, but won because the group stank (outside Sweden); they can beat Ecuador using only reserves; they will be keyed up for both Brazil and Italy but each game would have to be a close win. I think they could resemble the Canadian gold medal hockey team in 2002, scraping by time and again until putting together its best game in the championship match. In 2002, the English gave Brazil all it could handle in Japan but couldn't finish its scoring chances and lost 2-1 in the Quarterfinals. European teams win on European soil unless Pele is around. If the English can escape the samba attack, they will beat the Italians who will have benefitted from a relatively weak bracket.

So The Monk reiterates his pick of England to conquer Germany again. No matter how I've sliced it (and received or perceived bad info on the bracket alignment), I'm taking the English. That said, I'm not putting a nickel on them.

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