We're two-and-a-half weeks away! Hide the women and children. (Speaking of which, my wife happily pointed out that all of the games will be during the day, so I'll be watching them at night after she goes to bed. When I pointed out that there are games on the weekends, she was less than pleased. Then again, I watched all of Dancing with the Stars this season, so I'm loaded with ammo.)
1. Argentina is the most interesting team in the tournament and might be the most interesting World Cup team of all time. The race of the Ballon D'Or right now is between Leo Messi and Diego Milito, both of whom play for Argentina. However, Milito might not make it into the side because if Argentina's depth at the position. There is no team in the world that is as deep at a position as Argentina is at the striker spot between Messi on the right and Di Maria on the left: Milito, Higuain, and Tevez, all of whom had great seasons against top competition. And best of all, Argentina have a madman making the decision. A guy who ran over a photographer and then showed his remorse by saying "What an asshole you are! How can you put your leg there where it can get run over, man?" Frankly, I can't wait to see what happens. This will be like Kate Gosselin being made Chairman of the Federal Reserve, only without the worldwide economic meltdown as a result.
2. I participated in a World Cup draft with some friends and I was struck by the fact that there is a broad consensus as to the hierarchy of the teams. Every time I was thinking that two or three teams were the next logical picks, those two or three teams would be the next ones off the board. When I got excited that we were three picks away and Portugal, Serbia, and Paraguay on the board, all three got taken in rapid succession. Other than the USA going ridiculously early (9th pick!), the draft went exactly as one would expect.
3. I'm disappointed that Brazil isn't on the same side of the bracket as Serbia. Brazil are the odds-on favorites, but they struggle mightily against defensive teams that go not expose themselves to the counterattack. Brazil are not good at breaking down an opponent that is waiting for them and that is doubly true with Kaka out of sorts. Serbia sets up as the perfect team to upset them, but they could not meet until the final. Serbia could end up playing England in the Round of 16, which would be a tricky tie for the English.
4. It's hard to look toward the second round after the performance of the Nats' backline last night, but the uncertainty surrounding the German camp is good news for the U.S. because the Germans are a likely second round opponent. Michael Ballack scored the winner against the US eight years ago, but he is out of the tournament. Germany's strikers had poor seasons for their club teams this year and there is controversy hanging over their camp because the in-form non-auslander striker in the Bundesliga - Kevin Kuranyi - has been left at home. Finally, the Germans have no idea who is going to be between the sticks after years and years of top-notch keepers from Maier to Schumacher to Illgner to Kahn to Lehmann. (And yes, I did that off the top of my head. German keepers are like Italian central defenders, Brazilian playmakers, and English penalty goats: you never forget them.) Germany do have a good crop of young players coming up and two in-form players who should be the backbone of a good team - Bastian Schweinsteiger and Phillip Lahm - but they are not vintage and it's within the realm of possibility that the Nats could beat them if we sort out our oil spill of a back four.
5. A lot of the time, success and failure at the World Cup is decided by having the guts to make a bold decision. For instance, imagine that Spain are 0-0 with Portugal in a Round of 16 game with ten minutes remaining in extra time. Vicente del Bosque's captain is his goalkeeper, Iker Casillas. However, Casillas's back-up is Pepe Reina, a noted expert at stopping penalties. The smart move would be to bring Reina on, assuming that Spain has not used all three subs. (And yes, I know that Casillas got Spain past Italy in penalties two years ago. Reina is still a better penalty stopper.) Does del Bosque pull off his captain? If England are looking narrow and congested in the midfield, will Fabio Capello have the guts to bench either Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard? How wedded will Marcelo Lippi be to his 2006 players in light of the fact that Italy's young players are, in many cases, better models? We've already seen one instance of the bold, but right decision not being made: France could have fired Raymond Domenech and hired Laurent Blanc instead of simply making Blanc the coach in waiting. Domenech has the confidence of absolutely no one, whereas Blanc has proved his worth at Bordeaux and is a hugely respected figure because of his role on France's '98 World Cup-winning side. France essentially sacrificed the tournament by leaving a fool in charge.