We’ve been over the hype victims, darkhorses and well as the disappointments, but now is the time when I tell you who I think can win the 2010 World Cup. I started this post last week with five teams that I really thought could win it. Now, after Robben’s injury, I think it may be down to just four. Let’s start with the defending champions Italy.
Italy. I’ll sum it up this way. This team and manager have all “been there” and “done that” as it comes to the World Cup. Seven of the 2006 final-winning lineup return as does Marcello Lippi and that alone means you have to take Italy seriously as threat in this World Cup. Sure, they’re four years older and in the case of guys like Cannavaro (36), Camoranesi (33) and Zambrotta (33), that really means something but still, it’s Italy and if the altitude doesn’t kill this bunch, the cool winter temperatures might save these guys.
If there is a question about this Italy squad beyond its age, it’s whether the team will pay for its lack of a truly inspiring attacking force like a Del Piero or Baggio. Andrea Pirlo remains a threat whenever there is a deadball but can a forward unit made up of Vincenzo Iaquinta, Antonio Di Natale, Alberto Gilardino, Fabio Quagliarella, and Giampaolo Pazzini really leave elite opposing defenses too worried? If I were Lippi, I’d go on form and start Serie A leading scorers Di Natale (29g with Udinese) and 3rd highest scorer Pazzini (19g with Sampdoria). If I supported Italy, my fear would be that Lippi would instead go with forwards from “bigger” clubs like Gilardino (Fiorentina) and Iaquinta (Juve). All that being said,with the second best goalkeeper on earth (Buffon, second only to Casillas) and a defensive spine that has won everything there is to win in the sport, Italy will still be a force in 2010.
Holland. Until Robben suffered a “small” hamstring tear in a pre-tournament friendly, I really thought Holland could contend for the title as sort of a “surprise finalist.” Wesley Sneijder comes into this tournament with some of the best form of anyone here and if Van Persie is fit and can stay fit, almost any combination of Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Kuyt, and target man Huntelaar will concern any defense they face.
But that’s all “on paper.” In reality, Van Persie was hurt much of last season, Kuyt was stuck in the debacle that was Liverpool, Huntelaar struggle to escape Milan’s bench, and now Robben will have quickly recover from an injury of his own. Can Holland recover from all of that? Maybe not, but it might just take them recovering from most of those problems to allow for Holland to reach the semifinals. Plus, Ajax goalkeeper Stecklenberg is a true penalty-stopping specialist.
Argentina. Based purely on club form, Argentina should run away with South Africa 2010. But should is the operative word, and thanks to coach Diego Maradona’s incompetence, stubbornness, intransigence, and sheer unpredictability, a team that should be stone-cold locks to reach the final would instead surprise the hell out of me if it reached the semis. Look at the talent they have and the form they’re in. Leo Messi just wrapped up a dominant season with Barcelona, Carlos Tevez just finished up scoring 29g for Manchester City, Diego Milito just singlehandedly won the Champions League final for Inter along with Walter Samuel backstopping the defense. Yet, it must be asked, will Maradona’s decision to leave Inter captain Javier Zanetti, and teammate Esteban Cambiasso off Argentina’s roster will hurt the campaign?
But, there is the massive question overshadowing the entire effort which is whether or how much will Maradona’s instability affect the team? Can he actually coach? What happens if Argentina trails, especially in a match where they wouldn’t figure to fall behind (like say, to South Korea). Will Maradona be able to tactically adjust or will he instead just throw on his talismanic (and utterly washed up) favorite Martin Palermo and stomp around look like he’s going to cry? Frankly, more than any other team in this World Cup, predicting what this team will do is nearly impossible. They could completely explode internally under the crazed Maradona and fail to get out of the group phase or they could win the entire thing. There is no other team in the 32 where I could say the same thing to the same extent.
Brazil. They’re Brazil, of course they’re in amongst the favorites. I think Dunga might be one of the best managers in this tournament and one that hopefully, very soon, gets his chance at a club atop the European club scene. He’s done very well to impose a real defensive strength to a team whose entertaining impulses can lead them to weakness at the back. I like that he left Ronaldinho out, as anyone who has watched Milan this year could see that he lacks the mobility and motivation to provide even a modicum of defensive cover in midfield. Luis Fabiano will be one of the discoveries of this tournament for fans unfamiliar with the Sevilla striker. When he’s with Brazil, all he does is score to the tune of 25 goals in 37 Brazil appearances including 11 in the qualifiers – wowza. Beyond him there are familiar star names like Kaka, Robinho (who seems to still have some friends in the Brazil camp, unlike at Man City), as well as Lucio, Maicon, and Dani Alves in defense. Another less familiar name that may burst on the scene is Lyon’s Michel Bastos, who has played well in the warmup matches will subsequently likely see more time in the tournament itself. They’re one of the two teams at this tournament where I really cannot find a weakness. They look like clear finalists to me.
Spain. They are the clear, resounding favorites to win this tournament. They got over the hump of actually winning a major tournament by winning Euro 2008 and now with Vicente Del Bosque in charge, there is absolutely no reason to believe they cannot win in South Africa. Not only is the Spanish starting lineup the strongest of the 32 teams (narrowly beating out Argentina), but Spain’s depth is far and away the strongest of anyone in South Africa. What other team could boast of having talent like Cesc Fabregas, Marchena, and depending on his fitness, even Fernando Torres coming off the bench? Just look at the midfield they played against Poland in their final pre-tourney friendly: Xabi Alonso and Xavi in the middle with David Silva and Iniesta out wide. Oh, then it’s the small matter of dealing with David Villa (37g for SPA). Finally, they have the consensus top goalkeeper in the world in Iker Casillas. No one, not even the Brazilians can match all that. If I am look hard, maybe, maybe, I see a bit of weakness in the center of defense with the increasingly aged Carles Puyol. But that assumes the other team will have the ball long enough to ever get near Puyol with it.
So here it is, my final pick. I know it’s a dreadful example of picking the “chalk,” but honestly, I can see no other final right now than Brazil v. Spain with the Spanish coming out as winners of their first ever World Cup.
So that’s what I think. Tell me why I am wrong in the comments or on Twitter. I can’t wait to hear from you today and all through the tournament.