Right now. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa starts on June 11 and the excitement has reached a fever pitch around the world. Now is the perfect time for Americans to start caring about soccer — not just because Obama’s presidency forces us to recognize the existence of countries outside American borders, but because we are good at it. With our players competing in strong leagues abroad and a strong showing in the Confederations Cup that saw us beat the number one ranked team, Spain, we’ve proven that we’re ready to play with the best in the world. That’s right, the USA is good at the sport we were once the best at ignoring.
For those of you who haven’t caught World Cup fever yet, let me remind you that the preferred regiment of treatment is blind nationalist support for the USA and drinking heavily in the morning while shouting at foreigners.
The winner-take-all tournament kicks off with the host country South Africa taking on Mexico on June 11. The tournament begins with group stages where the top two teams in each of the eight groups progress through to the knockout stages.
USA has been lucky enough to find themselves in a manageable Group C with England, Algeria and Slovenia. The first USA match is on June 12 and we do battle with the perennially underperforming English national team. However, under the management of hugely successful Italian manager, Fabio Capello, the raw determination of striker Wayne Rooney and strong defender John Terry, the Three Lions squad looks more potent than ever.
While USA is the underdog in this match, the likes of Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will give England serious problems. After completing a successful loan spell at English club Everton, Donovan is playing with confidence and newfound maturity. Dempsey is coming off a spectacular season with Fulham and has engraved the image of his chip against Italian giants Juventus into the minds of every proud American soccer fan. Tim Howard will continue to be a solid shot stopper and effective voice from between the sticks. With three veteran leaders in the squad, USA has a chance to repeat the legendary 1950 World Cup 1-0 victory over England.
With a draw or better, USA should progress out of the group stage with relative ease. Slovenia and Algeria are no pushovers, especially after Slovenia upset Russia in the qualifying playoff game and Algeria beat out Egypt in the corresponding playoff game. England and USA should have no problem getting through to the knockout stages, but Slovenia and Algeria will be stubborn and hard-fought games to play.
Elsewhere in the group stage, Group G, the group of death, promises to provide some clashing international giants. Group G is made up of North Korea, Ivory Coast, Brazil and Portugal. North Korea is obviously the odd team out in this group. The Ivory Coast is home to Chelsea teammates Didier Drogba and Saloman Kalou, but also to a host of other big name stars such as Barcelona’s Yaya Toure and Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue. If the Elephants can find a sense of discipline and play as a team, they can beat any team in the world.
Portugal boasts one of the most popular and talented players in world soccer at the moment with Christiano Ronaldo. However, the Portuguese had a rocky qualification process and oddly seemed to play better without the gelled superstar. Portugal clearly has the talent, but will have to compete against their Portuguese brethren – Brazil.
Brazil, under the management of Dunga, boasts – quite frankly – a team of creative superstars. They are the deadliest team in this group of death.
The traditional powerhouses of soccer will be in South Africa as well. Spain, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and France will all be competing for the coveted gold trophy. The knockout stages will be sure to serve up some earth-shattering clashes, but the lesser known teams are sure to give us a few surprises.
Ghana and Cameroon are two African countries packed with talented and powerful players. After missing out on Germany 2006, Barcelona striker Eto’o will be looking to make up for time lost. Ghana’s Michael Essien is racing to be fit in time after injuring his knee during January’s African Nations Cup. If Essien is healthy, Ghana will have an absurdly strong leader to follow on the path to World Cup glory. Mexico, Australia, Greece and Denmark also have the talent and determination to provide the world with some classic upsets.
The 32 teams in the World Cup Finals have gone through years of qualification games and now finally have the chance to bring national glory and world envy to their countries. There are few things more beautiful than a month-long (June 11-July 11) soccer competition played out for the entire world to watch. Fans from around the world will gather in homes, bars, pubs, restaurants, parks, city squares and stadiums to unite over their love for the beautiful game. For a month, economic woes will be cast out of minds, worries will be set aside and yelling “Goallllllllll!!” will not only be tolerated, but expected.
Despite the uniting characteristics of soccer, USA needs to go out to South Africa and kick some grass – some Euroafricanasiansouthamerican grass. We need to prove to the world that we are dominant in both our military and soccer. If we win, we could make the rest of the world call it soccer instead of football and that would be a victory in itself. USA: Number 14 in the FIFA rankings but number one in our hearts. USA No. 1!