Friday, May 7, 2010
Messi, Maradona, lollipops ...
By Leander Schaerlaeckens
The World Cup is 34 days away. So here are 34 things I'm excited about:
2. Seeing what 16 hours on one plane flight will do to the human body.
3. Franck Ribéry's revenge. What he did, or was accused of doing anyway, was reprehensible. Nevertheless, he's one of the most exciting players out there. He'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder after missing the Champions League final because of a suspension.
4. ESPN's story on Joe Gaetjens, which will air May 30.
5. Diego Maradona coaching Argentina. Need I say more?
6. Seeing if the U.S. can build on its Confederations Cup campaign of 2009.
7. Not seeing or hearing about David Beckham every single day. The most overrated player ever to grace (or disgrace, see 1998) the World Cup won't be there to overshadow it. Huzzah.
8. With limited access to their much better halves, we shouldn't be hearing about the British wives and girlfriends every day. A good thing, since only the British care about them.
9. The tournament is wide open and without clear favorites. Sure, Spain is superb, but their World Cup record is one of relentless underperformance, and Brazil isn't as stacked as in other years. That leaves the door open to an awful lot of other countries.
10. Seeing if an early U.S. exit makes Landon Donovan's hairline recede a little further. Or if it makes what's left of coach Bob Bradley's a little grayer still.
11. Seeing if an African country can finally seriously contend for the title. Wouldn't that be nice?
12. A possible miracle comeback of Charlie Davies. Odds are against him, but it sure would be one amazing feel-good story, wouldn't it?
13. Seeing the impact of the biblical rash of injuries afflicting World Cup participants. Could the balance of power be shifted?
14. Young Netherlands winger Eljero Elia.
15. Seeing if any significant new tactical movements emerge and if the 4-5-1 will for once and for all displace the 4-4-2 as the dominant tactic in international soccer.
16. Portugal's last run at a major trophy. Yes, they have Cristiano Ronaldo, but the rest of the team is either old or decidedly less talented than recent predecessors.
17. Watching Brazil play in person for the first time.
18. Observing the North Korean team. That country is such an enigma, a glimpse at what their people are like is oddly tantalizing.
19. Seeing if Lionel Messi can replicate his transcendent form for Argentina at long last.
20. Brazil-Ivory Coast and Brazil-Portugal. The Group of Death is loaded with intriguing matchups that will see us through the inevitable duds the first round will serve up.
21. Trying traditional South African fare, such as biltong, boerewors and amasi. I'll report on my findings on our World Cup blog.
22. Penalty series. Granted, they're an unfair method of determining a winner but games have to be decided one way or another. And the tension of them is addictive.
23. Seeing the best Spain team ever try to win its first World Cup after breaking its big tournament spell at Euro 2008.
24. Seeing if U.S. attacker Clint Dempsey can keep up his Fulham form throughout the tournament. Such will be pivotal to American chances.
25. Seeing Germany knocked out of the competition. (Yes, history teaches us that Germany is the hardest team to knock out the tournament, advancing to at least the final eight of every World Cup since 1954, but a Dutchman can hope ... )
26. The lollipop my wife will give me after I've bravely gutted out a session of immunization shots for every disease known to man.
27. Seeing how France turns up. A team wracked by stupefying coaching decisions and scandal nevertheless has some of the world's best and most exciting players.
28. Watching Netherlands players Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder write a new chapter in their feud and whether it will inevitably tank their team's campaign.
29. Being right about the Netherlands not getting past the quarterfinals. I know, not very patriotic, or indeed optimistic, but I should at least get to enjoy being right when they're knocked out.
30. Seeing who will land in Major League Soccer once the tournament is over. Thierry Henry perhaps?
31. Seeing Mexico's fantastic crop of budding young stars operate.
32. A new star. Every tournament, a new star emerges from out of nowhere.
33. Measuring the damage those vuvuzelas will have done to my hearing after I get back from the tournament. (Something that isn't at all out of the question, according to medical studies.) I'm just glad FIFA has ruled that they're an integral part of the South African soccer experience and thus shouldn't be banned. (In case it wasn't clear, all of the above was sarcasm.)
34. Being just 33 days away from the World Cup. And then 32. And then ...
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.