I stole this post from the soccer expert on The Victors Board. Aside from his inability to spell Ronaldinho and his tendency to overrate French players, AdamantiumBlue is always a good source of information. He follows the Bundeliga and Championnat, neither of which I can be persuaded to follow closely. Anyway, his thoughts are below, with my comments in CAPS:
Time to start keeping tabs on who is in great form going into the cup. Taking a look at some of the top players:
Premiership- As I posted the other day, Cristano Ronaldo appears to have taken that giant step from a flash player to scary good. He has 4 goals in his last two games, and one of them was a real cracker from long range. Portugal made the Euro finals with a young Ronaldo that was mostly flash. Antrade is considered the best defender in the Spainish League (plays for Celta) and Carvhalo is pretty well respected at Chelsea. Add in Deco in midfield, and Portugal is shaping up as a decent contender (and may have a healthy Simao this time to add some speed opposite CR).
THEIR PROBLEM HAS ALWAYS BEEN UP FRONT. THEY'VE NEVER HAD A QUALITY STRIKER TO FINISH THE CHANCES CREATED BY FIGO, RUI COSTA, RONALDO, ETC. IN FACT, I'M NOT SURE WHO THE STARTER IS GOING TO BE FOR THEM UP FRONT. STILL PAULETA? PLUS, AS BAD AS SPAIN'S HISTORY IS IN MAJOR TOURNAMENTS, PORTUGAL'S IS WORSE.
Another player to note, Hernan Crespo is really in top form at Chelsea. Argentina will come in with one of the top two or three defenses in the World and if they have an in-form striker to go with the young playmmaker (Riquelme)-look out. the defender Walter Samuel is routinely named one of the top 11 players in Serie A this season as well.
NO DISAGREEMENT HERE, ALTHOUGH RIQUELME HAS BEEN MUCH BETTER AT VILLAREAL WHERE HE GETS TO RUN THE WHOLE TEAM, AS OPPOSED TO AT BARCA WHEN HE HAD TO FIT WITHIN A FRAMEWORK WITH OTHER GREAT PLAYERS AND GOT LOST. (THIS WAS ALSO LANDON DONOVAN'S PROBLEM AT LEVERKUSEN, I THINK.) ARGENTINA SEEMS MORE LIKE BARCA THAN VILLAREAL, NO?
Bundesliga- Michael Ballack has grabbed the gamewinner two weeks in a row and Bayern are strolling through the league. The key player on the home team, Ballack's play is enough to pencil Germany through to the playoff rounds in a group with a very weak draw. Add in the fact that both Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn are playing some of their best that they have in years, and there is some reason for optimism. That optimism grew even stronger when Polish goaltender Jerzy Dudek looked like complete crap when filling in for the suspended Reina (nice acting Robben). The Polish defense is descent, but a bit too slow and flatfooted to cover for an out of form goaltender. Speaking of which, Tim Howard is starting to get looks again at Man U. Up 3-0 and with Van dersaar having had a horrific week or two recently, Howard found himself starting the second half this week.
GOOD POINT ON DUDEK, WHO HAS BEEN CRAP FOR SEVERAL YEARS, ASIDE FROM HIS GROBELAAR IMPERSONATION IN PENALTIES AGAINST MILAN LAST YEAR. (HIS BIG SAVE IN EXTRA TIME WAS NOTHING MORE THAN SHEVCHENKO DIRECTING THE BALL RIGHT AT HIM AND I WILL NOT BE CONVINCED OTHERWISE.) ALSO AGREE ON BALLACK, BUT THE GERMANS HAVE YET TO SURROUND HIM WITH TALENT, AS THEIR FLOP IN THE FRIENDLY AGAINST TURKEY SHOWED.
Defensively, keep an eye on Dutch defender Boulahrouz. Hamburg had one heck of a defensive run going for most of the first half of the season, and Boularouz was right in the middle of it. He has been joined by countryman De Jong at the winter break. The Serb Krastyek is considered the best central defender in the Bundesliga (along with Bayern's Brazilian big man Lucio), but after the 7-4, 11 goal, marathon between Schalke and Leverkusen this past weekend, I don't think any defender made it to the lockeroom with a good tongue lashing from their respective coaches.
YES, THE DUTCH ARE THE BEST!!! PREPARE FOR AN ORANJE SUMMER!!! (THIS IS WHERE I START TO GET MY HOPES UP IN PREPARATION FOR THE INEVITABLE DISAPPOINTMENT.) BOULAROUZ OUGHT TO BE THE CENTRAL DEFENSE PARTNER WITH WILFRED BOUMA THIS SUMMER, BUT VAN BASTEN DOESN'T SEEM TO TRUST BOUMA.
And the outstanding play of one young Hamburg player is going to leave Klinsmann with a very tough choice. He has already brought a half dozen young players into the team, but right now the second best midifielder in the entire league after Ballack is Piotr Trochowski of Hamburg. He is really in amazing form and a major part of the reason that Hamburg has spent the season as one of the top two or three teams in the league, but a crowded midfield that is pretty well estabalished and Klinsmann's fear of introducing far too many young players already will likely keep Trochowski out of the national team. Trochowski was part of the amazing Bayern youth team of a few years ago that featured Lahm, Schweinsteigger, Trochowski, Feulner and Lell. He got a number of starts for Bayern before moving to Hamburg for an everyday role, and he has truely soared as an up and coming star this season (he, Marcel Jansel a big, speedy left side winger/defender, and Kiessling- a tall forward-are the youngsters that have really established themselves as young stars this season-with Podolski coming on at Cologne as well under the new coach).
UNFORTUNATELY FOR THE GERMANS, THE YOUNG GENERATION SHOULD HAVE HAD THEIR NOSES BLOODIED AT EURO04, BUT VOLLER OPTED INSTEAD FOR THE GENERATION THAT WILL PLAY NO ROLE THIS SUMMER. THANKS, RUDI.
Serie A- the hottest team in Europe right now is Roma and the player at the center of the attention is Francesco Totti. Totti is scoring and sliding back into a playmaking role that has seen Roma win 9 straight and is now one win away from tying the most successful Italian teams of all time for consecutive wins. This could be a huge sign of life for the doormant Italian national team that has been very dull on the international scene the past few internationals. The infamous spitting scene in Euro 2004 left the Italians devoid of a playmaker and struggling for wins against the Scandanavian duo of Sweden and Denmark. In qualifiers they couldn't come up with an impressive road win and lost to friggen Slovenia. They have the forwards in Gilardino and Toni, but the key is a playmaker to put the ball through, and an in-form Totti would make a huge difference in a tough group (Czech, USA, Ghana).
COLOR ME A HUGE TOTTI SKEPTIC. HE ALWAYS COMES INTO TOURNAMENTS ON FORM AND THEN DOES NOTHING FOR ITALY. HE'S A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO IN THAT SENSE. SOMEONE WILL WIND HIM UP AND IT WILL GET HIM OFF HIS GAME. BRUCE ARENA, PABLO MASTROENNI SEEMS LIKE THE GUY TO DO SO. SHOW HIM SOME ROY KEANE TAPES AND THEN TELL HIM TO MAKE TOTTI HIS PERSONAL VIERA.
The top team in Serie A is Juventus and the key players are the all star combo of Nedved, Viera, Emerson and Trezeguet. Ibramovich will be a force for Sweden, but the Viera/Trezeguet combo could be interesting for the French. As Grits [THAT'S ME!!!]loves to point out, on the international scene it is Trezeguet rather than Henry that has the greater impact in how well the French do in a given tourney. [ACTUALLY, I JUST LIKE TO RAG ON HENRY.] Granted the French have had some struggles in the qualifiers, but they seem infused with some fresh defenders - Revilrie and Abidal (Lyon); Givet (Monaco); Mexes (Roma) to go with veterans Sagnol, Gallas, and Thuram and their weakness has only been scoring goals. The loss of Viera has been devastating for Arsenal, who can't seem to find any real spark this season, but it could be a boom for France if the chemistry he has found with Trezeguet at the club level can translate at the international scene.
FRANCE WILL RISE OR FALL ON ZIDANE AND HIS HEALTH. VIERA WAS ON FORM IN 2002, BUT HE'S A DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDER AND WAS UNABLE TO SPARK ANY SORT OF ATTACK FOR THE FRENCH. AS A RESULT, THEY WENT 270 MINUTES WITHOUT A GOAL. THEIR SCORING PROBLEMS CONTINUED IN QUALIFIERS WHEN ZIDANE WAS OUT, THEN HE CAME BACK AND THEY SQUEAKED THROUGH. ZIDANE IS STREAKY AT THIS STAGE IN HIS CAREER, WHICH MAKES FRANCE IMPOSSIBLE TO PREDICT.
Nedved also appears to be staying relatively healthy. The Czechs will be an interesting team to watch, but how deep they can go may depend on getting big man Jan Koller healthy. It will be very close to see whether he has recovered from his surgery in time for the Cup. In the midfield, though, Rosicky is healthy and in outstanding form (defensive injuries and youth are plaguing Dortmund which are starting a 16 year old), but Rosicky is in outstanding form. Keep an eye on Jiri Stajner (Hannover) though. He may be one of the ugliest forwards in the game (looks like a guy that played Igor in one of those bad Frankenstein movies), but he does score and gives this team some depth up front. In the back, Peter Cech is just flat out as good as anyone in goal right now. The significance is that the aggressive and attacking play of the Czech national team and their head coach Karl Bruckner is even that much more aggressive when Czech and central defender Ufalusi are in good form, as everyone else on the entire team will join an all out attack when they feel secure at the back.
MILAN BAROS IS THE ANTITHESIS OF TOTTI: POOR WITH HIS CLUBS, BUT VERY GOOD FOR HIS COUNTRY. THE CZECHS CAN SURVIVE WITHOUT A HEALTHY KOLLER, ALTHOUGH THEY PLAY MUCH BETTER WHEN JAN IS HEALTHY BECAUSE HE'S A PERFECT PARTNER FOR BAROS, THE NIALL QUINN TO BAROS' ROBBIE KEANE. I COMPLETELY AGREE ON CECH. HIS PERFORMANCES AGAINST THE DUTCH IN '04 AND THEN BARCA IN '05 STILL GIVE ME NIGHTMARES. SHUTTING THE U.S. OUT THIS SUMMER WOULD COMPLETE THE HAT-TRICK AND COMPEL ME TO FLY TO LONDON TO EGG HIS FLAT.
In Spain- another young player who is making the transition from flashy to scary good is Robinho. He scored again this weekend for Real, and, if you haven't seen him play, just look for the guy that looks like he is twice as fast as everyone else on the field. Seriously, this dude can just flat out fly, and gives Brazil yet another dynamic scoring option. He is truely scary looking.
ABSOLUTELY TRUE. HE'S STARTING TO SCARE ME. FORTUNATELY, MADRID STILL HAS NO DEFENSE (WHAT'S THAT ABOUT SIX GOALS AGAINST ZARAGOZA?) AND THAT WILL DOOM THEM IN THE PRIMERA. I'LL BE INTERESTED TO SEE HOW ROBINHO PLAYS WITH RONALDINHO, WHO IS NOT MENTIONED IN THIS POST, BUT BARCA'S DIP IN FORM HAS COINCIDED WITH RONALDINHO'S SUSPENSION (IN ADDITION TO THE FACT THAT THEY'RE MISSING XAVI AND DECO, THEIR TWO BEST MIDFIELDERS.)
For the Spainish national team, they need to keep some midfielders healthy. In the center, Alonso may have to take on a bigger role as the Barcelona one (forget which one is Xavi and which one is Xabi) (IT'S XAVI) has struggled through injuries this year. They also need a fully fit Joaquin on the right side. They were the most exciting side at Euro 2004, but got burned with cynical tactics trying to coast through the group. Hopefully, they just turn everyone loose for the Cup, but placing your hopes on Spain to turn really show up for a Cup is like betting the house on Michigan in South Bend (even when it sounds good on paper, it is a dumb bet).
PAINFUL, BUT TRUE. DAVID VILLA IS SPAIN'S IN-FORM STRIKER. HE SCORED AGAIN THIS WEEKEND, DRAWING TO WITHIN THREE OF ETO'O FOR THE PICHICHI, AND WITH RAUL INJURED, THE SPANISH ARE GOING TO BE LOOKING FOR OTHER OPTIONS UP FRONT. THAT MIGHT BE A BLESSING, GIVEN RAUL'S TOTTI-ESQUE HISTORY FOR THE NATIONAL TEAM. GOING INTO THE TOURNAMENT WITH LITTLE HYPE AND AN EASY OPENING GROUP ARE BOTH GOOD FOR THE SPANIARDS. THEN AGAIN, THE SAME IS TRUE FOR MICHIGAN GOING TO SOUTH BEND NEXT YEAR AND THAT DOESN'T MAKE ME ANY MORE CONFIDENT THAT I'M NOT GOING TO HAVE TO LISTEN TO TOM HAMMOND GLOATING FOR FOUR HOURS, ANYWAY.