On Thursday, the 2014 World Cup kicks off when the host country, Brazil, takes on Croatia, and … I’m conflicted. Originally, I wanted to do the standard World Cup preview, looking at favorites and all that. But as I’ve been reading more and more about what’s happening in Brazil in the lead up to the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, it’s hard to ignore how much Brazilians are getting screwed while corrupt officials pocket obscene amounts of money. So while I think I still want to talk about the games, here are the other storylines that surround this World Cup because there are many (and they’re mostly bad).
To start with the obvious, FIFA, the organization that controls the World Cup, is incredibly corrupt and it … well, it’s just the worst. The profits made from this World Cup will mostly make their way back to dishonest and unethical politicians and executives, even though $3.6 billion in taxpayer money was used to build the stadiums, which is twice the amount spent for the last two World Cups in South Africa and Germany. Brazilians, on the other hand, will hardly see any improvements to their daily lives, which they were promised when the World Cup was first awarded to their country. As you might expect, this has led to strikes and the majority of Brazilians are really unhappy (to put it nicely) about getting swindled. If these pictures are any indication, the country is really not ready to start hosting in just a day, either.
Of course, there’s a lot going on here. So much, in fact, that there’s already been a book written about it. It’s clear that this is a classic example of sports being used as an “opiate of the masses,” and it certainly isn’t the first time (or the last) that that strategy will be attempted. Click on those links if you are interested in that side of things (and I hope you are), because they’ll lead you to the stories that I was only briefly able to mention.
And so there’s no real way to smoothly transition to analyzing a sporting event once we all know what’s really going on and what’s at stake for people in Brazil. While we all know that sports don’t really matter at all in the grand scheme of things and that it might be better to boycott the World Cup entirely, the majority of us (including myself) will still watch. As usual, I’m not sure what to do with that decision in my own life, much less anyone else’s life. I usually just end up writing about it. So now that I’ve made this transition as clunky and as awkward as possible, let’s move on to the preview of the actual tournament.
Even with all the negativity swirling around their country, Brazil are still clearly the favorite to win the whole thing. And it’s not just me saying that, either. Nerd King Nate Silver says that they are as well and so do the betting lines. The local squad is coming off a Confederations Cup victory in 2013 where they embarrassed Spain and are playing at home where they haven’t been beaten in almost 12 years. Brazil’s two fullbacks, Marcelo and Dani Alves, will terrorize opposing defenses and allow Hulk and Neymar to cut inside thanks to their constant overlapping runs. Everyone, however, will try their hardest not to pass the ball to Fred, who is somehow still their best option at striker. Fred sucks.
It’s never fun to be the bearer of bad news, but someone has to do it. Sorry, Netherlands, but you’re going to be the tournament’s most disappointing team. It’s not really your fault, though. You and your brilliant orange jerseys were drawn into a group (that might actually be the group of death) with Spain and a really solid Chile team. There is some good news: With Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, you’ll score plenty of goals. But when it comes to that young, inexperienced back line that all play in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie where I’m not sure they’ve figured out what defense is yet … yeeeeeesh. Enjoy the vacation, because you won’t make it out of the group stage. Don’t shoot the messenger.
At my most patriotic, which occurs in my dreams as I ride a bald eagle over Mount Rushmore while guzzling Yuengling (America’s oldest brewery!), I know that the U.S. is coming out of its group and will push Belgium to the brink in the knockout round. But when I wake up from those wonderful dreams, I scream in terror when I’m reminded of the opponents the U.S. must face in Brazil: Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. It’d be one thing if the U.S. had just Germany in its group, which is essentially an automatic loss if Germany fields its first team. Or if the U.S. just had to face Portugal, led by posthuman Cristiano Ronaldo (seriously that guy is an android). But the U.S. has to face both of those squads and Ghana, who loves to play the Michael Myers role to the stars-and-stripes terrified teenager running through the woods. With the American’s questionable back line, this could be a nightmare. And yet … and yet damnit if these guys didn’t give the whole country hope with that Nigeria game. Drape me in the American flag because we are making it out of the group (in second place)!
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Golden Boot is awarded to the top goal scorer at the World Cup. And this year — provided his hamstring lets him play for more than 15 minutes — that award is going to Sergio Aguero. While Argentina might not play much defense at the World Cup, they are going to be an unstoppable death machine going forward. And with Angel di Maria and Lionel Messi doing the playmaking, Aguero is going to score all of the goals (not literally, of course).
Witch Doctors? Witch Doctors!
Every World Cup has some kind of weird, otherworldly story pop up around it. In 2010, it was Paul the octopus picking games at an 85 percent clip. This year however, it’s Ghana’s “most influential” witch doctor, who claims to have caused Ronaldo’s injuries leading up to the tournament.
“I know what Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury is about, I’m working on him,” Nana Kwaku Bonsam, who serves at the ‘Kofioo Kofi’ shrine, said in an interview with Kumasi-based Angel FM. “I said it four months ago that I will work on Cristiano Ronaldo seriously and rule him out of the World Cup or at least prevent him from playing against Ghana and the best thing I can do is to keep him out though injury.”
While Ronaldo’s various injuries seem to be improving, Portugal’s manager still seems to be concerned over his status. Now I’m not saying that I believe in witch doctors from Ghana, but, if Ronaldo can’t play against the U.S., I won’t be saying that I don’t believe in them, either. You really can’t make this stuff up, people.
In this World Cup, the consensus dark horse pick seems to be Belgium. But, when a team is stacked with young stars like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtouis, and Adnan Januzaj (I could go on) and they are the fifth favorite according to betting lines, can they really be considered a dark horse? Nah.
A dark horse needs to be a team that people are sleeping on but have the capacity to make a deep run if things go their way. And while I’d really, really like to say that that team is Ivory Coast, the more I think about it the more that team looks like England. *Cue laughter* OK, are you done? *More laughter*
Hear me out, though. This year’s incarnation of The Three Lions aren’t like any England squad we’ve seen in quite some time. Made in the mold of this year’s Liverpool squad that tore shit up in the Premier League, this England team is going to be fast, fun, and — I think — score plenty of goals. There are some questions on the back end, but manager Roy Hodgson has a wealth of young talent to choose from in the midfield to overcome that problem for a while at least. His choices will be important, particularly because he needs to find a group capable of giving world-class striker Daniel Sturridge as many opportunities to do things like this as possible.
Now I’m not saying it will be easy for England. Getting out of a group that also includes Italy and Uruguay is a tough task to ask of almost any nation. But, for some reason, I feel good about this English team and have a feeling they’ll make an extended run in this tournament, something not too many expect them to.
OK, So Who Wins This Thing?
Good question. Would you let me slide with saying I have no idea? No? Damn.
Well, only European and South American teams have ever won the World Cup, and no European squad has ever won in the Americas. So that knocks out any contender from Europe and any team from a continent that is not South America. Really then, that leaves me with six choices: Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador. LOL Ecuador. So that leaves me with five.
I’m not picking Brazil, mostly because everyone’s picking Brazil. If you put a gun to my head and said I had to pick the winner to live, I’d probably pick the home country, but I’d still have serious questions about how the team handles the enormous pressure on them. I’d be interested in picking Uruguay or Colombia, but the best players from each team got injured. Luis Suarez got hurt in training, and even though he’ll play, I don’t expect him to be in full-on Suarez mode, which could jeopardize Uruguay’s chances of even making it out of the group. Radamel Falcao is out of the tournament entirely. and while Colombia should cruise through their group, his injury will haunt them in the later stages of the tournament. Chile sounds real nice until you look at their roster past Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez.
So, I’m left with Argentina. Argentina has serious questions about their defense, but as I mentioned earlier, defense might not be a problem if you’re scoring four goals every game. They also have the best player in the world and, in the end, that’s what I’m banking on. OK, you heard it here first, everyone. Argentina knocks off Spain 3-1 in the semifinal and Italy 2-1 in the final.
Sorry for the jinx, Argentina.
Previously from Charlie Crespo:
♦ Viral Video of the Week: World Cup Trick Shots
♦ Sorry, Feminism, Lana Del Ray is not Impressed
♦ Can We All Agree to Stop Calling 911 About Fast Food?
♦ Viral Video of the Week: The Pizza Workout Plan
♦ Viral Video of the Week: Keyboard Cat Returns