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Thursday, June 10, 2010
No faith in England

Only Idiots Attempt To Predict A World Cup … the final countdown


Wednesday, 10 a.m., the Meatpacking District, New York City. Reading the English newspapers at the Soho House.

Just 48 hours to go until a Mexican or South African boot sets the Jabulani in motion and finally unleashes an explosion of global anticipation so pent up and powerful that Twitter is broken today. I am very worried about how this might be affecting Herculez Gomez.

On Tuesday, before Twitter's demise, an enterprising young twit started a #hateenglandweek torrent. Some of the publishable comments included: "We use BATHROOMS not water closets!", "Robin Hood occasionally robbed the poor" and "We already kicked their a---- in WWII." Hmmm. But in truth, most of the comments betrayed a certain fondness for a strange, little country where unattractive people with bad teeth talk too much and eat inedible pies.

But the bigger point is this: You have to know your enemy. And what Americans have to understand is that England loathes itself enough for both of us. We really don't need any help in this department because we think we're crap. According to online pollster YouGov, only 4 percent of us think we'll win the World Cup versus 46 percent of Americans, who, according to Nielsen, think the U.S. will win the Cup. You Americans believe in yourselves, you love yourselves and you love … love.

We English, on the other hand, have absolutely no faith in our abilities and are way more comfortable with being dismissed and loathed and looked down upon. And the only thing that makes us really uncomfortable? Warmth. We don't know how to deal with warmth. Meanness, spitefulness and dismissiveness along with the cold, the rain, the color gray and Marmite are something most of us are entirely used to by age 11.

Read the English newspapers, and you might understand. The pressure has gotten to Don Fabio, and our manager is starting to lose it. Our defense is porous. Our midfield has no chemistry. Our only decent player is Wayne Rooney. And he's a liability because of his temper.

Meanwhile, there are lots of shots of Bob Bradley's supreme resolve -- a clenched jaw, a steely gaze, a man who knows his team and what he's doing. His players are positive they can cause England problems. Bradley is bringing in Navy SEALs and war hero helicopter commanders for motivational speeches. How can England compete with that? All we have is this guy.

I know it's great for the World Cup in the USA, but I hate that the U.S. is playing England on Saturday. It just makes me uncomfortable. I want to want the best for both teams, and beyond Saturday, I know I will. I see a very close game. I cannot tell you who will win, but I can make the following predictions:

Whatever the result of U.S. versus England, there will be a massive overreaction.

In England, a loss would be considered one of the greatest sporting embarrassments in the nation's history. Which is saying something. England has lost to almost everyone at almost everything, including Lithuania at tennis, the Netherlands at cricket and Scotland at football. A draw would not be much better. A win for England wouldn't cause much of a reaction in England -- unless the display is less than vintage (being an opener at the World Cup, this is more than likely), in which case it will be greeted with disproportionate levels of doom and gloom.

In the U.S., a win or draw would provoke a "now we've arrived" narrative even though the U.S. won an arguably more impressive opening game in 2002 against a widely fancied Portugal and tied a more impressive game against the eventual winner, Italy, in 2006. A loss to England for the U.S. would cause people to start panicking, especially if Slovenia beats Algeria. But whatever happens, as you have written, Rog, it is the subsequent results for both teams against Algeria and Slovenia that will determine the outcome of the group and, I believe, how the U.S. will be perceived around the world.

Somehow the cameras will find the best-looking women in the crowd.

I don't know how they do it, but somehow the photographers (when they're not provoking Don Fabio) and the television cameramen always manage to find lots of women who look like this. And this. And, amazingly, this. It creates the impression that all women at the World Cup look like this when, in fact, many of them look like Stan Van Gundy.

Poland will not win the World Cup.

Take your cash out of the bank and sell Poland short because, holy crackers, it looked poor against Spain in that warm-up match Wednesday. It was like a PlayStation game, Brazil against Barnsley. … What? Poland isn't going to the World Cup? But what's that flag on my wall chart with the red and white stripes and the shield and … oh, blue, that's Serbia. And Lukas Podolski, for whom does he play? Germany? Balls. Well, good, because the Poles aren't good enough. And they started to make me doubt your Spain Will Not Win the World Cup prediction from OIATPTWC Part 1, Rog.


Wednesday, 9:57 p.m., picking through a plate of smoked mozzarella fonduta at the Olive Garden in Times Square, New York City.

I thought our motto at Off The Ball was "Sepius nefas, nunquam in nuto" -- "Often wrong, never in doubt" -- Davies. The only thing I am surer of than Spain crashing out is that a certain New Zealand player is set to bang in a goal or two. Indeed, I say this thanks to the talented handicappers at Bodog who reached out to inform me that they are offering odds of 1,000-1 on The Smeltz becoming the first New Zealand player (of any position) to win the coveted Golden Shoe. I am not ashamed to admit it. You and I spent a frenzied couple of minutes fishing down the back of the couch in your office at Embassy Row, and I am proud to report we salvaged a Fran Vazquez prospect card, a half-eaten Curly-Wurly and $3.64 in loose change that has, shall we say, been invested wisely. If our prediction comes to pass, we intend to share the wealth. The first 1,000 readers to tweet us will receive a special OTB World Cup 2006 beer helmet.

Now, on with the predictions, emboldened by the fact that when Jackie Chan was just asked who will win the World Cup, he did not miss a beat before proffering, "Barcelona and Milan." Congratulations, Little Jack, you are worse than Pelé.

Chelsea will repeat as Premier League champion next season.

You heard it here first. The "Chelsea injury curse" will be a blessing for your mob, Davies, although it pains me to type it. The loutish Blues will win next season's Premiership at a canter. Granted, duffed-up Michael Ballack has been kicked when he is down and sent packing. But the injuries to Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Jose Bosingwa and probably Didier Drogba mean you will have $125 million worth of star performers resting up and rebuilding their strength this summer while their opponents-to-be run themselves ragged in the noble yet exhausting pursuit of World Cup glory. Come August, mark my words: Carlo Ancelotti's men will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to be up and at 'em.

Algeria's shirt will be one of the best-selling at this tournament.

You and I both know that, as magical as the World Cup can be, the game can hit the occasional lull. When that occurs, I seek solace in footy shirt design. The team jerseys are made of polyester, but they might as well be spun from gold, and the jockeying for brand exposure among Nike, adidas and Puma can amount to a tournament within the tournament. There is always one shirt that sells the best. One that looks so fresh it takes your breath away as the players belt out the national anthems for the first time in the opening round. This World Cup, I believe, it will be Algeria's.

It might not be the most scintillating jersey in the tournament: Cameroon's snug, green V-neck with a lion subtly detailing one shoulder suggests that Paul Le Guen's team will soon do for green what Brazil has for canary yellow.

It is also not the boldest. The Australians, typically a pugnacious, plucky bunch, are to football what Snooki is to "Jersey Shore," so Nike's decision to make them take the field in their PJs is a brave one. It would look better on you than me, Davies, but I love the fearless statement it allows the Socceroos to make: that they believe they can simply roll out of bed and crush all comers.

Finally, it won't be the most eagerly anticipated. That would be my beloved Chollima of North Korea who have somewhat belatedly prized $4.9 million out of middling Italian manufacturer Legea and are racing to have the design ready for kickoff. Haven't heard of Legea? Its home page claims the company clothes the referees in the Welsh Premier League as well as Brackley Town FC, which plies its trade in the British Gas Business Football League. Watch out, Nike and adidas. This one promises to be a stunner.

Algeria's jersey will sell well for an entirely unrelated reason. There are 34 million Algerians cheering the Desert Foxes on to glory, augmented by the more than 2 million who live in France. One or two of them are bound to have splashed the cash. But it is the 5 million or so frenzied citizens of Scotland who will tip the balance. As much as they love the Tartan Army, they can always be counted on to bellow for whoever is poised to tackle their despised archrival, England. A glut of Algerian clothing will surely be flying off the shelves in the run-up to the titanic Algeria-England clash on June 18. This story, a masterpiece of succinct, investigative journalism on Rangers Algerian defender Madjid Bougherra (in which the headline "Gers' Bougy: Scots mad for it" is longer than the article) captures the well of vicarious emotion invested into the Tartan-Fennec axis. And, because the Sun printed it … it must be true.

There will be at least one epic set-piece blunder Saturday.

Both the U.S. and England have suffered lapses in defensive concentration. Neither team knows its most effective formations. The English also will lack the force field that is Gareth Barry, their first-choice holding midfielder. Goals are bound to ping in from the odd corner or artfully delivered free kick.

The defender who worries me most is Tottenham's Ledley King. Don't get me wrong, like the rest of the world, I have read Timothy Ferris' best-selling masterpiece, "The 4-Hour Workweek" and marveled at the idealistic vision described therein. Ledley is one of the only human beings I know who has tried to live by those ideals, thanks to a leg injury that has necessitated a one-day-a-week training regimen. My concern stems from his recent announcement that he has been seeking inspiration in an altogether different book, Paul McGrath's "Back From the Brink," which tells the story of how the brilliant onetime Republic of Ireland defender struggled with injury, alcoholism, tranquilizer abuse and general personal chaos. Now, I love McGrath as much as the next '90s football fan, but when I heard this, I was compelled to search Amazon for both "Who Moved My Cheese?" and a used copy of "The Secret" and dispatch them, albeit via Super Saver shipping, straight to Rustenberg. Godspeed, and may they arrive before Ledley departs.