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Monday, June 05, 2023

THE AZZURRI – The defending champion Italians enter the tournament older than an adult YMCA basketball team. While Italy can never be written off, will the hunger still be there on a team that looks identical to the one that won in 2006?

BAFANA BAFANA – South Africa has the opportunity to host the world’s greatest tournament, it doesn’t have much else going for it. Bafana Bafana, or “the Boys the Boys,” are ranked dead last in the field of 32 teams and could become the first host nation ever not to advance past the group stage.

THE FAVORTIES – Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Argentina and England. These eight, in order of FIFA rankings, all have a legitimate chance of winning.

THE CINDERELLAS – USA, Serbia, Mexico, Denmark and several African nations are not expected to win the tournament, but could. Ghana, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) and Nigeria are African teams to watch.

THE UNDERDOGS – Greece, Australia, Switzerland and Cameroon are all solid teams with good players, unfortunately they all ended up with tough draws. While it wouldn’t shock anyone if they advanced past the group stage, none are expected to.

THE BOTTOM-FEEDERS – New Zealand, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Honduras, Japan, South Africa, Uruguay, Algeria, Slovenia and Slovakia are just glad to be included in the world’s greatest tournament.

THE GROUP OF DEATH – Group G is the consensus Group of Death, even though it also contains perhaps the weakest team in the field, Korea DPR. Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast comprise the strongest contingent of any three teams in one group.

THE QUARTERFINALS – It’s the round that separates the men from the boys. Advance from the group: good. Advance into the final eight: great. The quarterfinal round is where teams start to believe they can capture the cup.

INJURIES – Rio Ferdinand (England), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Michael Essien (Ghana) and Michael Ballack (Germany) are all superstars or captains of their respective teams, yet none will likely play this summer. Injuries have struck nearly every team in the field as players from all countries have been dropping faster than Stormtroopers in “Return of the Jedi.”

VENUES - South Africa hosts 10 sites including two in Johannesburg. Several of them have yet to ever host a big game and questions linger over security and transportation.

WEATHER –The climate in South Africa is different all over the country. Some games will be played in temperate weather, while others will be played in the cold.

JABULANI – The Adidas Jabulani is the official match ball for the World Cup. Jabulani means rejoice in Zulu, but there’s been more complaining than rejoicing over the ball since its unveiling.

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CHEMISTRY – Some teams have it, some teams don’t. USA, Italy, and Germany got it – England, not so much. With sex scandals, temper tantrums and more, England has worse team chemistry than the cast of Jersey Shore.

VUVUZELA – All the cup games will be played with background noise of a continuous foghorn drown emanating from a traditional South African blow horn.

ESPN – Every match will be televised on ESPN’s family of networks.

LA FURIA ROJA – Spain, also called “The Red Fury,” is easily the most talented team in the tournament. ESPN ranked the top 50 players in the World Cup and nine of Spain’s starting 11 were in the rankings.

MARADONA & MESSI – Arguably the world’s best player is paired with the world’s most unpredictable coach. Can this former soccer-star-turned coach coexist with the new Argentinean star?

R-STARS – Ronaldo (Portugal), Rooney (England), Ribery (France) and Robben (Dutch) are other stars to watch. The R-stars all excelled this year at both the club and national levels.

TEN – It’s more than just a number. As an ESPN commercial stated, “it’s reserved for the best, the playmaker, the leader and the one that will be remembered forever.” Legends Pele and Maradona wore it, and now Messi, Kaka, Rooney, Landon Donovan and others wear it.

THE YANKS – Advancing by any means necessary is priority one for the USA, led by Donovan, Clint Dempsey and goalkeeper Tim Howard. “We’re a known commodity in the soccer world,” ESPN soccer analyst David Hirshey said. “We’re not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. The scouting report on us is fairly simple, we make up for a lack of pedigree and technical skill with lots of heart and physicality.”

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