Monday, July 19, 2010

SEC Preview: Scenarios for Auburn's 2010 Season

Every year, I calculate my minimum expectations for Auburn football, along with the various scenarios I can imagine playing out.

My minimum expectations this year are simply for Auburn to win as many games (8) as we did last year, get to a decent bowl, and show signs of improvement.

That being said, the fact is that the stars have lined up for this year to be Auburn's best chance to make some noise in the SEC. The schedule is more favorable than it will be in 2011, and we have a senior-laden O-line that will be completing its eligiblity before we can get to 2011.

So this is the year we need to make a splash!

Worst-case scenario:
Cam Newton struggles in the offense and can't throw the ball. QB controversy erupts. Fannin puts the rock on the ground a bunch, and Dyer isn't ready (or gets hurt, a la Caddy). Mullins has MSU cranking. South Carolina and Arkansas are as good as advertised. LSU pulls out yet another last-second improbable win over us. The AU-UGA game continues to be oddly imbalanced towards the east. I'm giving us one upset win even in this scenario, which would be likely.

Record: 5-7


Medium-case scenario:
Newton gets it going, but our defense is still suspect (and on the field too much). We split with the Carolina teams. We drop either the Kentucky game on the road or Arkansas at home. We split LSU/Georgia.

Record: 8-4
Losses to probably SC, Ark, LSU, bama


Best-case scenario:
Newton grasps the offense, can throw the ball fine, and just rocks. Fannin/Dyer/McCalebb roll (avoiding turnovers and injuries). The defense is improved. South Carolina is not as good as advertised. LSU is on downward curve. We lose somewhere in there, but are a remarkable 10-1 when we go to Tuscaloosa; I can envision no scenario as of yet where we win there.

Record: 10-2
Once again just missing the SEC title game by a hair, as we did in 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2006 (sheesh!).

Which of these scenarios will come true? Most of it depends on how Cam Newton plays, and how the defense shapes up after being nearly worn down last year.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup of Beer: Semifinals and FINAL WINNER!!

So we come at last to the "Final Four" of our World Cup of Beer: The Semifinals!

Australia (Foster's) vs.
England (Newcastle)


USA (Killian's) vs.
Netherlands (Heineken)

What a tough competition we had among these final four. The cream of the crop had indeed risen to the top, to mix metaphors slightly, and (with the possible exception of Foster's) we had some great beers going head-to-head.


Let's get right to it: Game 1!

Australia (Foster's) put up a tough fight, but in the end, England's Newcastle, with its smooth, rich flavor (flavour?), was simply too much for the Aussies to handle. Foster's, as it turns out, is also Australian for "Lost to the Geordies!" (I think that's what they're called. Neil?)

NEWCASTLE TO THE FINALS!!!!!!


Game 2:

The Netherlands' Heineken was the other lighter-colored, weaker-flavored lager/pilsner type to make it this far. It and Foster's were clearly the class of that category this year. But it simply proved no contest against the mighty United States entry, straight outta Golden, Colorado-- Killian's Irish Red.

Killian's triumphed with its smooth, rich flavor that lacked the rough hops kick that the others suffered from. Heineken would be our third-place beer, yes-- but the second Semifinalist was Killian's!

And so, in the end, we had two medium-dark beers facing off in a competition that had, for some reason, seemed to favor the darker beers. (Even Brazil's dreaded Xingu Black Beer made the Quarters!)


THE WORLD CUP OF BEER FINAL MATCH:

England (Newcastle Brown Ale) vs United States (Killian's Irish Red)


Newcastle was good. Newcastle was very gooooooood.

But Killian's was simply better.

Simple as that.


The WORLD CUP OF BEER CHAMPION FOR 2010 IS:

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA -- KILLIAN'S IRISH RED!




Thanks to Ami for the photography (and for the little sashes for the bottles)!

World Cup of Beer: Quarterfinals!

Following group play, we move into the Quarterfinals brackets for the World Cup of Beer, with single-elimination play beginning.


Just as with the soccer World Cup, the winner of each group faces a second-place competitor from a different group-- thus making it impossible for two contestants from the same group to face one another prior to the Finals.


We find the competitors lined up thusly:


A1: Australia (Foster's)
C2: Belgium (Stella Artois)

B1: England (Newcastle)
D2: Germany (Beck's)

C1: USA (Killian's)
A2: Brazil (Xingu)

D1: Netherlands (Heineken)
B2: Jamaica (Red Stripe)


The Competition Results:

Match 1: Australia (Foster's) was an extremely weak group winner, facing the easiest competition of any group winner. And they were lucky again in the Quarterfinals, this time meeting one of the weaker second-place beers in Belgium's Stella Artois. Foster's prevailed, sending Australia on into the Semifinals.

Match 2: The always-exciting matchup of England and Germany gave us Newcastle Brown Ale against Beck's, the surprise qualifier from German national competition. Beck's, which had shocked many by making it even this far (securing second place in their group by ousting Italy's beloved Peroni!), gave favored Newcastle a surprisingly tough game; in some ways, Beck's was one of the major surprises of this entire competition. Ultimately, however, Newcastle pulled out the victory and England made the Semis.

Match 3: Brazil (Xingu Black Beer) was another entry that did better than expected. By far the darkest and heaviest of the beers in this tournament, they took down the weaker challengers in group play and gave it all they could muster here. Unfortunately for them, their heavier, much harsher hoppy taste could not prevail over the smoothness of the United States entry, Killian's Irish Red (itself a relatively dark beer). Killian's won with ease and moved on as the third entry in the Semis.

Match 4: Jamaica's Red Stripe was an old, sentimental favorite but never a strong competitor. As with Stella Artois, it got into the Quarters mostly by being the least bad of a set of weak lager/pilsners. Heineken of the Netherlands proved to be one of the absolute best of the lighter-colored beers, with a smooth flavor and not too much of the strong hoppiness that had derailed so many others. The Dutch moved with ease into the Semifinals while the Reggae Beers sailed home.

And so the Semifinals will see all four of the Group winners facing off, while all of the 2nd place beers go home:

Australia (Foster's) vs.
England (Newcastle)

USA (Killian's) vs.
Netherlands (Heineken)

World Cup of Beer: Group D Draw and Results!

Group D in the World Cup of Beers-- the final group of the tournament-- drew as follows:

Italy (Peroni)

Germany (Beck's)

Netherlands (Heineken)

Czech Rep. (Pilsner Urquell)


Group D Results:

Once again, sampling these beers side-by-side in blind taste test, with the beers slightly less than "ice cold" and in small plasic cups instead of cold glass bottles had an impact on the outcome.

There is no doubt that, when I am sitting in an Italian restaurant eating good Italian food, there's nothing in the world better than an ice-cold bottle of Peroni. I love it. And yet, in this competition, with the circumstances so different surrounding the drinking of it.... we get totally different results. As with the way the Italian national side usually struggles in the early games of any World Cup, Peroni struggled to a draw with Beck's in the opening game, and then lost handily to Heineken (a result I found shocking once the beers were revealed to me). Only in the final game, against hapless Pilsner Urquell, did the Italian beer manage a clear victory-- just enough to pull them completely level with the German beer, Beck's. More on that in a moment.

Once again, one beer waltzed easily through all three matches of the Group competition, making it four-for-four on a beer receiving the full 9 of 9 possible points. This time it was Heineken, which makes the overall favorites for reaching the semifinals quite obvious: four groups with one beer in each sweeping to nine points. And yet, I have a feeling that something unexpected could still happen. We shall see, later today in fact.

Back to the group results: Germany's Beck's managed a draw with Peroni and then dispatched the Czech beer with ease, and looked to be cruising toward advancement. But Heineken took the Germans down in the final game, giving us a dead-heat between Peroni and Beck's. We would have to look at "goal differential."

In the case of a World Cup of Beers, "goal differential" consisted of a drink-off between the two drawn teams in second. Still completely blind as to the identities of the beers (and with the Peroni tasting oddly flat, I have to admit-- I did not recognize its usually peppery taste at all, as I normally would have), I sampled both again and declared one the extremely marginal winner-- which turned out to be Beck's.

And so, the Germans managed to forge their way into the next round, while the Italians have been shown the door. Not what I expected by any means.

Meanwhile, the Czechs were bounced and their beer joined China's TsingTao as the only two to be defeated in every match and go home with zero points.

So here are the final Group results, before we move on to the Quarterfinals today!

GROUP D RESULTS: (Top two advance to the Quarterfinals)

Netherlands (Heineken) 3 3 3 __ 9

Germany (Beck's) 0 3 1 __ 4


Italy (Peroni) 1 0 1 __ 2

Czech Rep. (Pilsner Urquell) 1 0 0 __ 1



Quarterfinal results coming later today!

Friday, July 09, 2010

World Cup of Beer: Group C Draw and Results!

Group C in the World Cup of Beers drew as follows:

USA (Killian's Irish Red)

Belgium (Stella Artois)

Ireland (Harp)

Spain (Estrella Galicia)


Group C Results:

Bear in mind-- this competition is a *blind* taste test. The idea is to remove any possible way of my knowing in advance what I'm drinking, and what's competing with what in each group. To that end, Ami prepares the cups of beer for me to sample in such a way that I have no idea which four of the sixteen beers in the competition I'm tasting in each round. All I have to go by, aside from taste, is the color and the smell.

Group C was a real mystery to me at first. I could tell from the smell and taste that it included two of what I'm coming to think of as the "generic thin, light-yellow pilsner/lager beers." They all taste pretty similar, more or less-- a fact that I'm suspecting is contributing to the darker ales and beers doing better in this year's competition; they tend to stand out strongly against the bland competition.

Thus Killian's, with its darker, richer flavor (but lack of bitterness) easily swept this group. Killian's was one of three finalists for my "Official Beer of World Cup 2006," an admittedly far less comprehensive competition. It destroyed the competition in Group C, and now looks to be a strong contender for the championship.

Harp and Estrella Galicia simply faced the wrong competition in this (blindly drawn) Group. They came across as watered-down, thin American-ish beers. They even drew with one another in direct competition, neither proving notably superior to the other.

The second-place finisher was a true puzzle when I smelled and tasted it. Immediately I was sure I'd tasted it before, but for several minutes I couldn't place it. Then I decided, "It must be Peroni!" But yet it didn't taste quite as good as Peroni. But it had that distinctive smell and flavor....

And of course it ended up being Belgium's Stella Artois, which I am sure I've had in the past, but not recently enough to recall that particular flavor and smell. Stella Artois lost to Killian's but defeated Estrella Galicia head-to-head and then managed a draw with Harp.

This was a strong group and the two beers that failed to advance might well have done better against other competition. Could this have been the Beer Group of Death?? Of course, Group D looks to have some powerful competition in store, too-- we now know it will include Heineken and Peroni, anther finalist for the 2006 title!


GROUP C RESULTS: (Top two advance to the Quarterfinals)

USA (Killian's) 3 3 3 __ 9

Belgium (Stella Artois) 0 3 1 __ 4


Ireland (Harp) 1 0 1 __ 2

Spain (Estrella Galicia) 1 0 0 __ 1




Group C coming soon!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

World Cup Quarterfinals Predictions!

So here we are with our final eight teams. Two extremely formidable duos and two... somewhat less than stellar matchups.

Argentina-Germany, obviously, could (and has been) a Final pairing. A shame one of these has to exit so soon. (But then, Portugal had to leave after the second round, due to facing Spain so soon.)

The Netherlands, as seemingly always, run up against Brazil. I can scarcely think of a Dutch World Cup run that did not end in defeat to Brazil, though I'm sure it's happened more than I'm remembering. Definitely in 1994, and at least one other time since then. (Scotland, oddly, suffers the same fate in their occasional appearances-- though usually it's the Group phase in which Brazil dispatches the Tartan Army.)

So-- two Semifinal- or Final- quality matchups... and then... we have...

Spain vs Paraguay. Okay. After misfiring in their opening match against the ever-stoutly-defending Swiss, Spain managed to get it together and win their group, and then score a great goal (in what was destined to be a 1-0 win for somebody) to defeat Portugal. But... Paraguay?

I've seen Paraguay over the years. They are one of those teams that knows how to grind out a point from a match. They always seem to play excellent defense and, like the Swiss, seem to get through on low-scoring draws. They were due for a decent run deeper into the tournament, and this year --with its South American success stories-- is the perfect year for it.

But does anyone think Paraguay is going to be able to contain Spain for 90 minutes? Really?

And then there's the most bizarre matchup of all: Uruguay vs Ghana.

This is the spot the USA should have held, but for some odd managerial decisions and a couple of fantastic goals by Ghana.

Instead, we're going to see yet another South American side that plays tough defense, but also manages to score here and there-- a sort of Paraguay with more firepower-- against a smooth and athletic side in Ghana that has been able to play surprisingly good defense and score when it really counted.

A nice matchup, sure-- but Quarterfinal-quality? Hmmm.

So: Predictions.

Argentina 2-1 Germany
(Though I have a weird feeling this one could end 1-1 and go to PKs, at which point no one in their right mind would bet against the Mannschaft.)

Uruguay 1-0 Ghana
(Too much tough defense from Uruguay.)

Spain 2-0 Paraguay
(I respect the Paraguayan defense, but David Villa and co. will penetrate it multiple times before all is said and done.)

Brazil 2-1 Netherlands
(I'd love to see the Dutch make the Final game, or even win it all... but not with Brazil in the way... Again.)

So look for Argentina to face Spain in one semifinal, and Brazil to face Uruguay in the other. Three out of four semifinal foes from South America-- not bad!

Monday, June 28, 2010

World Cup of Beer: Group B Draw and Results!

Group B in the World Cup of Beers drew as follows:

  • Mexico (Pacifico Clara)

  • Jamaica (Red Stripe)

  • Japan (Asahi Super Dry)

  • England (Newcastle Brown Ale)

Group B Results:

Northern England celebrates! The England qualifier, Newcastle Brown Ale, swept through group play like..., well, like Brazil through actual World Cup soccer group play, winning all nine possible points on three victories to win Group B easily.




Pacifico Clara, the shock Mexican qualifier, collapsed at crunch time. Unable to compete on the big stage, it exited quietly with only a single point, earned in a tough drawn match against Japan's Asahi.



The Japanese qualifier, Asahi, managed to grind out two draws but, with only two points earned, exited quietly.



Second place in Group B went to Jamaica's Red Stripe, who took down Mexico's beer and eked out a draw with Japan's to earn four points, thus moving on in the competition to the knockout phase.



GROUP B RESULTS:

England (Newcastle) 3 3 3 __ 9

Jamaica (Red Stripe) 3 0 1 __ 4


Japan (Asahi) 0 1 1 __ 2

Mexico (Pacifico Clara) 0 1 0 __ 1



Group C coming soon!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Could the USA be in an easier bracket?

Just a quick note to point out, before the Second Round gets underway....

Can you believe the teams in the USA's bracket??

We have Ghana and then the Uruguay-South Korea winner.

Now-- not to disparage to any of the teams above. But-- think about this:

No Germany.

No Argentina.

No Netherlands.

No England (again).

No Spain.

No Portugal.

No Brazil!

In fact, the USA might well be the highest-ranked side in our quarter of the brackets. I realize that Uruguay has looked very good of late-- but this was a team that barely qualified! Meanwhile, the USA won CONCACAF (for whatever that might be worth).

So-- am I saying the USA should win this bracket and make the Semifinals? Am I saying the USA will win it?

NO.

But I am saying: We have as easy of a path to the Semis as it is possible to imagine.

The door is wide open. It only remains for Team USA to seize the day and run through it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World Cup: Looking Back After the First Two Go-Rounds

Two-thirds of the way through Round One already!

Once again I must revise my Power Rankings. The new listing:

1. Brazil
They're not quite as overpowering as we're used to, but they simply exhude "victory."

2. Argentina
Getting by on natural ability.

3. Netherlands
But I'm waiting for the collapse.

4. Chile
Possibly overrated by me here, but they scored on the Swiss when no one else had in forever.

5. Portugal
But how much can we really take from 7 goals against a weak team?

Teams that have become a puzzle:
Germany (awesome in their first game; fizzled out in their second)
Italy (they have the ability, but...)
Spain (are they really that different from past Spanish teams?)
France (we knew this was their year to do poorly-- they only do well on European soil-- but my goodness!)
The African teams (uniformly failing to impress)

Teams that have very much impressed, but aren't quite in the top five:
Paraguay
Switzerland
Denmark
Slovenia
Ghana

Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup Power Rankings: Revised Already?!


Well, when I predicted yesterday at the end of the first go-round of Round 1 that things might change in a hurry-- and particularly with regard to South Korea-- I didn't really know the half of it, did I?


It's all smiles with the Albiceleste today!


So just a quick little update to bring my rankings (slightly more) in line with reality:

1. Germany

2. Netherlands

3. Argentina

The Albiceleste (my other favorite international side besides Italy) make their debut in the Power Five and looking powerful against a well-regarded South Korean sie-- and now with the Golden Boot leader... who is NOT Lionel Messi!


4. Brazil

Wouldn't it be great to see the two South American powerhouses meet in the semis? Honestly, at this moment I don't know which one looks more impressive. We need to see another game from Brazil to learn more-- and against someone other than the "Stealth" North Korean side.


5. Switzerland

Keep hanging in there!

Aaaannnnd we say goodbye (at least for now) to:


South Korea

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Power Rankings: My Top Five

As of noon today, the first go-round of round-robin play in the books. So here are the top five teams as I see them thus far.


I will attempt to take the quality of opposition into account, of course-- but it's difficult to say much about some of the teams we've seen so far. For example, are the Australians really that bad, or is Germany that good?


So, with that in mind, here are my TOP FIVE POWER RANKINGS at the one-third stage of Round One:


1. Germany
The ol' Mannschaft looks as tough as ever. When have they ever not looked deadly in the first round? We will know more after they play Serbia (in a sort of 1914 World War re-match).

2. Netherlands
Yeah, I know they're likely due for a flameout in the second or third round... but, for now, just like in Euro 2008, they look like a Clockwork Orange Machine.

3. Brazil
It's not so much that Brazil looked great-- but they did what they had to do to win.

4. South Korea
Yeah, this probably won't last... but they looked remarkably tough and resilient. And still they run and run. I would love to see them face their northern counterparts in a game. If only.

5. Switzerland
Say what you will, but knock off the pre-tourney favorites and refuse to concede a goal for the second World Cup in a row, and you get a top spot in my rankings. At least for now.



It totally figures that the team the US will most likely face if we make it out of group play in second place would be the Germans. *sigh*


Also impressing so far:


Chile

North Korea

Japan

Paraguay



Disappointing so far:


Italy

Argentina

Serbia

Ivory Coast

Portugal


On to the second go-round!

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup of Beers: Group A Draw and Results

WORLD CUP OF BEERS: Group round-robin play begins with the first draw and the first blind taste test.


GROUP A DRAW:

  • Australia (Foster's Lager)

  • Scotland (Belhaven Ale)

  • Brazil (Xingu)

  • China (Tsingtao)


Group A results:


Australia (Foster's) defeats all three of the others to earn first place with 9 points. This beer was smooth enough to defeat rival light pilsners / lagers such as Tsingtao as well as richer beers such as Xingu.


Brazil (Xingu Black Beer) defeats China and Scotland to grab second place and move on as well. It was quite stout but smooth enough to hold its own, and with no negative aftertaste.


Scotland (Belhaven) fell just short against Brazil (Xingu) to miss second place and a ticket out of the group. It had a lot of body but the hoppy aftertaste was too much.


And China (Tsingtao) failed to score a single point. Not good.


Final results for Group A (top two beers move on; bottom two are eliminated):


1. AUSTRALIA (Foster's) 9 points

2. BRAZIL (Xingu) 6 points


3. SCOTLAND (Belhaven) 3 points

4. CHINA (Tsingtao) 0 points

Books: Current Status of Projects

A very quick update on where some of my current writing/editing projects stand at the moment:



* Hand of the Machine (Volume 1): Hawk: Writing first draft of manuscript. This is a sort of heroic action / space opera story that will be told in three volumes. A White Rocket book.



* Sentinels (Volume 7): Stellarax: Developing third draft of outline. This book wraps up the current trilogy, "The Rivals," that began with The Shiva Advent and continued in Worldmind. A White Rocket book.



* Assembled! 3: Awaiting contributions from various writers. Many chapters already in hand and edited. This will be the last of three volumes exploring Marvel's Avengers comics, characters, and creators, and benefitting the HERO Initiative charity. A White Rocket book.



* Sentinels (Volume 8): Order Above All: Developing first draft of outline. First volume in the next trilogy, "Earthwar." Another White Rocket book.



* Baranak: Storming the Gates (The Above, Volume 2): In development. (Sequel to Lucian: Dark God's Homecoming, the first volume of my "Above" series, in the style of Roger Zelazny and Jack Vance.) Likely an Airship 27 publication.



* Gideon Cain: In production with Airship 27 Productions; expected very soon. This is an American version of the "Puritan swordsman on a quest" character, in the style of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane. One of the co-creators was Kurt Busiek (Astro City; Marvels; Avengers) and another was Keith R. A. DeCandido (Star Trek novels, etc). I initiated the project, co-created it, and wrote one of the stories in the volume.



* Mars McCoy, Vol. 1: In production with Airship 27. Details coming soon. (I contributed to the character's/world's creation and co-edited this volume.)



* Mars McCoy, Vol 2: In development with Airship 27. (I co-edited this volume as well, and have a 45,000-word novella in this one that I am very excited about.)

More details as I am able to reveal them. Expect the Cain book very soon. Back to writing HAWK now!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Group C: A Few Thoughts

A few thoughts at the end of the first go-round of Group C play:

* I think Algeria might have managed to hold onto a 0-0 draw with Slovenia if not for the knuckleheaded move of having one of their strikers suddenly decide he was Jerry Rice and try to catch the ball like a touchdown pass in front of the goal.

* I don't think I've ever enjoyed a draw as much as I did the 1-1 result with England. What a great victory for the USA. But we should have seen it coming. The USA always plays tougher against the good teams in our group. 1994? Defeated tourney favorites Colombia! 2002? Defeated tourney favorites Portugal! 2006? Drew with eventual champions Italy in another 1-1 war. Know your history and these things aren't quite so shocking.

* The USA is very fortunate to be playing our Eastern European opponent in the second game rather than the third of the group stage-- because we always lose to an Eastern European team in the third game. 1994? Loss to Romania. 1998? Loss to Yugoslavia. 2002, when we made it all the way to the Quarterfinals? Didn't matter-- we still got bulldozed by Poland (Poland!) in the third game of the group stage, even as we moved on to the next round (and they didn't). It's remarkable. The downside to this argument: In 2006 we actually drew an African nation as our third opponent-- and lost to them, too. And now we have another African country as our third opponent: Algeria. Can we break this awful string? I think we'll have to, if we want to advance.

* Who will win and who will advance from this group? While it's not as encouraging now, seeing Slovenia ahead of us, just remember-- we play them next, and then we finish up with the weakest side, Algeria. We've already played the best (by far) team in the group and we took a point from them. Things look very good. We just have to remain focused and get it done.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup: Full Predictions!!

Better (a day) late than never: My overall predictions for the World Cup.

Forget my previous group predictions.... this is going to be full-bore, stream-of-consciousness, too-late-at-night, wide-open guessing!

Group A:
1. Mexico
2. France

Notes: This is a tough one to predict, given today's outcomes. It looks like NOBODY wants to win this group. So I'm going with the two most likely in a normal year. I don't think South Africa advances-- they were extremely lucky to get the draw with Mexico-- but it's a real tossup among the other three. I just don't see Uruguay having enough offense to hang with France and Mexico.

Group B:
1. Argentina
2. South Korea
Notes: Argentina gets nine points in spite of its coach. South Korea out-works Nigeria. Greece surprises and gets third ahead of Nigeria.

Group C:
1. England
2. USA
Notes: Assuming the injury situation for the US works out as well as possible, this is the obvious result.

Group D:
1. Germany
2. Serbia

Notes: Germany without Ballack is still Germany. They are a machine. I know Serbia is a trendy pick. I don't care. Sets up an interesting matchup with England, though.

Group E:
1. Netherlands
2. Denmark
Notes: The Dutch should rock and roll. Cameroon has the potential to nab the second spot, but for some reason (history?) I tend to favor the methodical European sides over the athletic but often disorganized African teams. But I'll cheer for the Indomitable Lions.

Group F:
1. Italy
2. Paraguay
Notes: Italy lucks into the easiest group in the field. If they fail to advance-- heck, if they fail to win this group-- it is a scandal.



Group G:
1. Brazil
2. Portugal
Notes: Ivory Coast is a chic pick, but with Drogba injured (even if he plays), I just don't see them getting ahead of either of the two Portuguese-speaking teams in this group.

Group H:
1. Spain
2. Switzerland
Notes: I may be giving the Swiss too much credit and respect, but I remember how solid their defense was in 2006. Can even Spain score on them? Should be interesting.

Round of 16:

Mexico over South Korea
England over Serbia
Notes: Congrats on finally getting to the Quarters when not playing at home, Mexico! Now get ready for Rooney and Co.

Netherlands over Paraguay
Brazil over Switzerland
Notes: Once again, as seemingly always, the Dutch must face Brazil. Ouch.

Argentina over France
Germany over USA
Notes: Yet another Argentina-Germany matchup coming. Do the Argentines ever play anyone in Europe other than Germany and England??

Italy over Denmark
Spain over Portugal
Notes: My Azzurri have no business getting to the Quarters, and they'll pay the price with the matchup they're getting-- Espana!

Quarterfinals

England over Mexico
Brazil over Netherlands
Germany over Argentina
Spain over Italy
Notes: Do you really want to tell me that if Argentina couldn't beat Germany in 2006, with a competent coach, they can beat them this year, with HIM as coach? Right. The Italy game will not be pretty; I suppose the Roja finally exact some revenge for the 1994 quarterfinal loss to the Azzurri.

Semifinals

Brazil over England
Spain over Germany

Finals

Brazil over Spain

Pretty pedestrian, I suppose. But the World Cup rarely provides major upsets. It's pretty much a done deal in the later stages.

GO USA! GO ITALIA!!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

COUNTDOWN: Group H-- Spain and the Mighty Mites!

GROUP H: SPAIN, CHILE, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS

The final group of World Cup 2010, Group H, includes a fascinating array of teams.

This is supposed to be "Spain's group to walk away with"-- the group they dominate before heading along their inexorable path to their alleged finals clash with Brazil.

But I like the other three teams in this group, too.

We all know about Spain, so I'm going to spare the (virtual) ink and just say "They're really, really good." Yes, yes-- they've lost only one match in like four years (to the USA! Wooo!). Yeah yeah, their midfield and forwards are telepathically linked together and benefit from the preternatural passing of Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas.

But just remember-- they are Spain.

They are the Buffalo Bills of soccer.

They are (if you will recall my earlier column) the Auburn Tigers of soccer.

In other words, SOMETHING ALWAYS GOES WRONG.

Surely they'll get out of the group, at least-- right?

Before you lump these other three teams into the junk pile, let's take a look at just who they are:

Chile has a lot of potential. They play fiery offense and can put points on the board. Against a Spain that still might be suffering lingering effects of fragile team psyche, an early goal by Chile could cause a meltdown. Is such a thing likely? Probably not. I'm just sayin'...

Switzerland.... Oh, man. I've been waiting a while to point this little juicy tidbit out. Bear with me here, as we flash back:

In the 2006 World Cup, Switzerland failed to score a goal. That's right-- they did not score a single goal in the entire tournament.

And yet-- get this!-- they missed making the Quarterfinals by losing in penalty kicks in the second round.

Only in soccer could a team come within a whisker of making the Final Eight without ever scoring a single time.

How was this possible?

Old school SEC fans gather 'round, and let me spell it out for you:

DEFENSE.

Not only did they not score-- they did not give up a single goal during the entire tournament.

That's right-- not a single time did an opponent put a ball past the Swiss keeper.

Swiss cheese? More like (cuckoo) Clock-work Defense, or just plain stabbin' 'em with their Swiss Army knives. (groan...)



Every Switzerland game finished 0-0. In group play, with no extra time, that was that-- and so the holey-cheese guys accumulated three points--enough to get them into the second round. (A goal differential of zero didn't hurt, either.)

But in the second round, draws cannot stand-- so they went to PKs and the Swiss lost.

Just think, though-- they could have won the PKs easily enough, and that would have put them through to the Quarters still without having scored.

Amazing.

So, anyway-- the Swiss have the potential to surprise. They play good defense (like Paraguay, as I mentioned in a previous post). And they're tough.

And then there's Honduras. The also-ran entry from mighty CONCACAF, after the USA and Mexico, Honduras is a remarkably resilient team, with the potential to surprise. If any of the other three teams takes Hondo for granted, they may find themselves regretting it.

SO--there you go: My case for how Spain could lose to any one of their group opponents.

Will they, though? Probably not.

But still.... we're still talking about Spain.

Yeah, they won Euro 2008-- so they've finally won something.

But they have to show me they can hoist the big golden ice cream cone before I'll really believe they can pull it off.

Show me what ya got, Espana.

COUNTDOWN: Group G-- The Group of Death!

GROUP D: BRAZIL, PORTUGAL, COTE D'IVOIRE, NORTH KOREA

Every World Cup has its "Group of Death," and this time around it is Group G. Of course it is-- with Group G, you have three very formidable soccer sides in Brazil, Portugal, and the Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)... and then you have North Korea, which is a sort of charter member of the world's "group of death," if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, with the injury in training camp to Didier Drogba, what could have been a three-way war has become rather two-sided, with Brazil and Portugal probably now clearly superior to the other two.

(And speaking of Drogba--and hey, I'm a Chelsea fan!-- how long do you suppose it took them to figure out he was actually injured? I mean, was it like, "Oh, look-- Drogba's lying on the ground and rolling around. So what else is new? Wanna grab a pint after practice?")

So this group is fairly easy to predict. Unless North Korea pulls out some kind of secret weapon (not that I'd put that beyond them! Where are the World Police manequins when you need them??), and unless Ivory Coast turns out to be more than a one- or two-man team, we should see a clear separation between the top and the bottom of the group.

Predictions:
Brazil 9
Portugal 6
Ivory Coast 3
North Korea 0

A Revised Take on the Blue (Away) USA Jersey


It could be interpreted that I was cracking on the current USA team jersey-- the blue one with the white "sash" diagonal stripe-- in a recent post.


Well, what with various folks talking that particular shirt design up, I completely changed my mind and decided to embrace my inner diplomat/beauty pageant winner/Latin American club player (ie-- person who would wear a "sash").


So today I bought one of the blue jerseys. I'll wear it to the USA-England match on Saturday at the Old Post Office Plaza outdoor venue in St Louis.


I still sort of prefer the white "home" jersey, but it looks close enough to my 1998 USA jersey that it seems pointless to spend that kind of money on it.


The blue one, on the other hand... well, it doesn't really look much like anything else I own. So there is at least that...!

Group F: FORZA ITALIA!! and some other guys

GROUP F: ITALY, PARAGUAY, SLOVAKIA, NEW ZEALAND

Group F features my other favorite squad in international play: the Azzurri of Italia.

And rarely in World Cup history can I recall the Azzurri coming into the tourney with less hype and fewer predictions of glory.

I mean, these are the defending champions! Surely they have a shot, right?



Ehh, probably not. They're an aging side with a very noticeable dropoff in output from almost every angle.

But compared to the other three teams in their group, Italy represents the cream of the crop and should easily advance to the second round.

The funny thing about that: In most previous World Cups, Italy struggled to get out of their group (the infamous loss to Ireland in '94 and draws to Mexico in '94 and to the USA in 2006 come instantly to mind) but then tended to play well in the knockout stages (making it all the way to PKs against Brazil in 1994 and winning it all in 2006).

This time we may see the opposite-- Italy dominating group play but then crashing out.

The other countries in Group F are at least eyebrow-raising, if not intimidating.

Paraguay has a reputation, similar to recent Switzerland sides, of playing really tenacious defense and wringing out 0-0 results against more talented teams. (Consider that in 1998 their most feared offensive weapon was their goalkeeper! I kid you not-- he would run the length of the field to take free kicks, then scamper frantically back to his goal. Crazy!)

Slovakia has a couple of good players but this is their first World Cup appearance and you have to think they won't go far.

And then there's New Zealand. What, are you kidding? New Zealand, land of hobbits and rugby players, made it to the World Cup? That's impressive, sure. But the most likely result for the hairy-footed Shire-dwellers will be serving up nine points for their three group foes. Better call up Gandalf, Kiwis...

Predictions:
Italy 7
Paraguay 5
Slovakia 1
New Zealand 0

Monday, June 07, 2010

World Cup of Beers: Mexican Qualifying Results are in


We've had the first shock upset in the World Cup of Beers!


The defending champion has been dethroned!!!


In tonight's CONCACAF Qualifying for the Mexican spot in the World Cup of Beers, the prohibitive (pardon the pun) favorite was my 2006 "Official Beer" of my World Cup of Eating and Drinking-- Dos Equis Lager.


But its opponent, a newcomer to my beer menu called Pacifico Clara, pushed Dos Equis all the way to penalty kick drinks-- and then prevailed!


So here's to the outgoing champs, dethroned and not even getting to compete in this year's Cup. While Dos Equis was as always a great-tasting beer, good enough to push Pacifico Clara to extra time and then to PK drinks, it just didn't quite have that extra *oomph* that the newcomer had.


And so here's to the new representative for Mexico: Pacifico Clara!

World Cup of Beers: US Qualifying Results!

The Qualifying Round for the World Cup of Beers 2010, for the CONCACAF region (North and Central America and Caribbean) is complete.

The contenders were:
Fat Weasel Ale
Sam Adams Boston Lager
Schlafly's Pale Ale
Killian's Irish Red

(Yes, Killian's is a US beer, brewed by Coors in Golden, CO, and NOT an import -- despite most bars cleverly sneaking it onto the "Imports" menu so they can charge more for it.)

And after careful judging by our one-judge panel (that would be me), the winner, which will go through to represent the USA in the World Cup of Beers, is:

KILLIAN'S IRISH RED!!!!


Yes, the 3rd place finisher in the 2006 World Cup of Eating and Drinking (behind winner Dos Equis Lager and 2nd place Bass Ale) has won the USA spot in the CONCACAF region for the tournament.

The judges (yes, me) reported that Killian's was slightly "hoppy" (as were all of these, to one degree or another) but had a smoother overall flavor, with a nice warm finish.

Congrats to Killian's for making the Final Sixteen.

Next up: Qualifying for the Mexican, German, and English spots.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

COUNTDOWN: Great (??) and Not So Great (!!) US Soccer Jerseys

Today: A quick look at some of the more... dubious.... fashion choices of US Soccer over the last few years, in our AWAY jerseys.


Honestly, the last really good US jersey in my opinion was the 1998 US jersey for qualifying (but then discarded by US Soccer for the actual World Cup!). I bought that one (retail!!) and it's still the only US jersey I own. I will buy a new one when they produce a new one worth buying (though I admit the current home jersey, white with the faint gray "sash," is probably the least offensive since 1998).




First up is the 1994 away jersey from the World Cup. US Soccer told Nike to "Wrap the boys in the flag," and Nike complied. It has a sort of denim look, but was not denim. The "home" jersey that year was an even-more-hideous white shirt with lots of thin red vertical stripes. Eeeek.


Next is the 2010 US away jersey for the World Cup. You're about to see a lot of this one, as the US will probably be the "away" team when we open on June 12 against England. I think it's only marginally better than the denim stars deal from '94.



Friday, June 04, 2010

Ami & Van's WORLD CUP of BEERS: The Draw is Announced!!



I've mentioned a couple of times previously that, in conjunction with the World Cup (which begins next Friday, June 11), Ami and I will be conducting a "World Cup of Beers."

(At left is the beer selected by me as the "Official Beer of World Cup 2006," after a grueling month of drinking fine beers at establishments all over metro Atlanta.)

Here's how it will work: We have purchased adequate (I hope!) supplies of beers from the countries that have been "drawn" into this year's competition. Each participating country will have one beer to represent it. There will be a pre-tournament qualifying campaign this weekend for countries that have drawn more than one beer. Those countries are marked below with an * asterisk.

Ami will disguise the beers and serve them up in code-marked cups, and I will drink them and choose the winner of each match. (It's a tough job, but...!)

We will have 16 beers / nations represented in the final tournament, which begins next weekend. They will be drawn (by Ami) into four "Groups" for round-robin competition.

The top two beers from each Group will move on to single-elimination competition, as in the real World Cup. And so on until the World Cup Champion of Beers is crowned!

The beers were selected by Ami and me based on a combination of factors-- I wanted to include a few "old favorites" along with a few that I was not familiar with at all. We also wanted as wide of a global distribution as possible, based on what was available here in the St Louis area.

Sadly, I could not find any Tiger Beer (Singapore) or Kiwi Lager (New Zealand). But otherwise I think we did very well.

Without further ado, then, here are the countries represented in the 2010 World Cup of Beers:

UEFA (Europe -- 9 spots available)
Belgium: Stella Artois
Czech Rep: Pilsner Urquell
England: Bass Ale and Newcastle *
Germany: Beck's and St Pauli Girl Lager *
Ireland: Harp Lager
Italy: Peroni
Netherlands: Heineken
Scotland: Belhaven Ale
Spain: Estrella Galicia

CONCACAF (North & Central America & Caribbean-- 3 spots available)
Jamaica: Red Stripe
Mexico: Dos Equis Lager and Pacifico Clara *
USA: Fat Weasel Ale and Killian's Red and Sam Adams Lager and Schlaffly's Pale Ale *

AFC (Asia and Pacific -- 3 spots available)
Australia: Foster's Lager
China: Tsingtao
Japan: Asahi Super Dry

CONMEBOL (South America -- only 1 beer available)
Brazil: Xingu Black Beer

So there you have it-- the 22 beers that will enter a final weekend of qualifying before being narrowed down to 16 for the big competition.

I hate not having, for example, an Argentine beer... and surely there are another dozen Mexican and English and German beers (each!) that would have been worthy. I don't feel as bad about leaving out the big, bland, watery US major beers-- I don't drink them anyway.

Tune in later this weekend for the announcement of the Final 16 Countries/Beers!

Group E: Orange & Blue, Danishes & Cameroons




GROUP E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon

Quick notes about Group E as the unbelievable wave of injuries continues to riddle the sides preparing for the tournament-- latest victims are Drogba of the Ivory Coast and Rio Ferdinand of England.

I'll talk about C'ote d'Ivoire when we get to Group G, but as far as Ferdinand goes-- go ahead and lower your expectations for England just a tad. This is a major boost for the USA's chances of at least getting a point out of the June 12 clash with England, though we all hate that it came at such a cost to a great player like Rio.

Now-- Group E.

Clockwork Orange meets Samurai Blue meets the Great Danes meets the Indomitable Lions.

Certainly some great nicknames in this group, if nothing else.

The Netherlands looked like world beaters (and future World Cup champions) during most of Euro 2008, but then tripped up when it counted and didn't even make the finals.

Even so, you have to rate them as the likely winners of this group, putting them on a collision course (as usual!) with Brazil in the Quarterfinals. Even with the loss of Edwin Van Der Saar at goalkeeper, they have the firepower and the talent to get it done and grab nine points from the group if they're on their game.

Cameroon is a popular choice among those looking for an outside team to squeak through, but I don't buy it. I'm not big on the African teams-- they have to show me something before I'll predict one of them getting to the Quarters or Semis.
Denmark can be impressive but the pundits don't seem to think as much of them as their record would indicate they should. My goodness-- they won their group in qualifying, and they've advanced to the second round in each of their last three World Cups. I'm gonna go nuts here and put them through to the second round ahead of Cameroon and Japan.

Samurai Blue has lots of speed and athleticism but they, like the African teams, have to show me something in a World Cup (and one not played on their home soil) before I start advancing them deeper into the field in these tourneys. They don't bring a lot of offensive firepower to the table and I think the Dutch in particular will light them up.


Predictions:

Netherlands 7
Denmark 5
Cameroon 2
Japan 1

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Group D-- Injury-Riddled and Inscrutable!


GROUP D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana

I know one or two key things about each of these sides. Allow me to expand upon that:

Germany has lost their Captain (and my Chelsea jersey guy) Michael Ballack, but they remain a very formidable force.

Australia did very well in 2006 but are allegedly not quite up to the same level as the team that very nearly made the Quarterfinals that year.

Ghana could have been a surprise team in the field, but the injury to (yet another Chelsea star) Michael Essien may have irreparably set them back.

And Serbia is a complete mystery to me-- but that is the one key thing I do know about them: that I don't know anything about them.

Some experts are predicting that Serbia will roar forward and swipe the second (or even first!) spot in the group. Maybe so. The Eastern European teams are so hard to predict.

So I will make today's column short and sweet:

Germany will still prevail in the group. Ghana without Essien will lose all three matches. Serbia and Australia will fight it out for the second spot, with Serbia prevailing. There you go, short and sweet.

Hey, you want deeper analysis, go elsewhere. After all, as soon as I'm done predicting all the groups, this column will be back to talking about what food and beer I'm consuming while watching the Cup, and what restaurants and bars I'm doing that at-- and you all know that's the real reason you read this column, anyway! :-)

It is, after all, officially called "Countdown to Van's World Cup of Eating and Drinking."

Okay, Group D. Predictions:

Germany 9
Serbia 6
Australia 3
Ghana 0

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Group C -- America's Group!



GROUP C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia


Alexi Lalas has called this the "easiest group" the USA has ever been drawn into in a World Cup. I think that actually says more about the difficulty of most of the groups the USA has been drawn into over the previous five World Cups than it says about the "easiness" of this group.


England is playing as well as it has since its semifinal run in 1990. With a combination of solid veterans (my Chelsea FC boys Terry, Cole and Lampard, plus Steven Gerard, Rio Ferdinand, and so on) and younger guys rounding into top form (particularly "the Boy," Wayne Rooney), the lineup is very strong, experienced and formidable.


Algeria is something of a mystery. By all rights, Egypt should have secured this African spot in the Cup. But a combination of events led to Algeria grabbing it. Capable of decent football on occasion-- such as when they face the US, given our luck!-- this is a team that should not be overlooked. But if all goes as expected, the Algerians should serve up 9 full points to their foes.


Slovenia is a sort of stealth team as well. Just as Algeria snatched away Egypt's spot, the Slovenes grabbed Russia's. (This group would be a lot scarier if it was England, USA, Egypt, Russia!!) A capable side of the mold of other historic Eastern European teams such as Romania and the Czech Republic, they pose a particular threat to the USA, which never does well against teams from that region. (Examples: Czechoslovakia 1990; Romania 1994; Yugoslavia 1998; Poland 2002; Czech Republic 2006-- all defeats for the US.)


This brings us to the USA. Two factors work in our favor this time around: 1. The USA tends to do well every other World Cup-- and 2006 was a bad one, so we're due. 2. The USA always does much better in Cups held outside of Europe. In fact, the USA has never won a game in a World Cup played in Europe. Meanwhile, in Cups played outside of Europe, we've made the Round of 16 and the Quarterfinals (1994 and 2002).


The main factor limiting the USA this time around is injuries. Charlie Davies, who provides desperately needed speed and scoring threats at the forward position, was injured in a car accident a few months ago and is out. Several other important players, particularly midfielder Clint Dempsey and defender Onyewu, MUST overcome their injuries and play well if the USA is to advance. Aside from that factor, the USA side is actually in pretty good shape, with a seasoned lineup of veteran players experienced in European club play as well as in an improving MLS. And they're the only team to take down mighty Spain in quite some time, in last year's remarkable Confederations Cup run.


Playing in that tourney, by the way, also allowed the US team to gain some experience playing in South Africa as well as playing in the same stadiums they'll be seeing this time around. That's a factor that should not be overlooked.


Predicting what will happen with injured players is never easy. Assuming they are able to perform to something like their capabilities, the USA has a chance to make the second round--which would be considered a success and which is about as far as we can hope for this bunch to advance.


In 2006 I predicted the USA would NOT advance out of its group-- a statement that was not very popular with my soccer friends. But I was right. I don't want sentiment to cloud my judgment, but this time I think we just might squeak through.... IF the injured guys can play to their potential. So I'll say:


Predictions:


England 9

USA 4

Slovenia 4

Algeria 0


USA advances on goal differential over Slovenia.

Breaking Down GROUP B

GROUP B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece

This group appears to me to be the most difficult to predict of all the groups. The reason? Because Argentina and Nigeria are both powerful, physically gifted sides that nonetheless have somewhat underachieved in recent years, while Greece and South Korea are less talented teams that have overachieved in the recent past.

A quick history lesson: While Argentina and Nigeria have failed to live up to their promise in World Cups (Argentina not making the final match since 1990's loss to West Germany), South Korea rode their co-hosting gig in 2002 all the way to the semifinals-- and Greece actually won Euro 2004, a feat akin to Vanderbilt winning the SEC Championship!

And so, given what is very likely to be.... questionable managing of Argentina by Diego Maradona, and what is likely to be a par-for-the-course chaotic swirl around Nigeria, I could actually envision both those teams failing to advance to the second round, believe it or not. It's not quite as far-fetched as it sounds. Greece can play excellent defense and South Korea is the best and most successful team in eastern Asia, with lots of speed and scrappy skills.

But surely Argentina's prowess will be able to overcome even Maradona's gargantuan ego and make it through. So I'll predict:

Argentina 7
South Korea 5
Greece 4
Nigeria 1

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Breaking Down GROUP A

Group A: South Africa, Uruguay, Mexico, France.

At first glance, this might appear a formidable group. But appearances can be deceiving.

Host countries generally do well; at least, for as long as I can remember, they've advanced to the second round. Even the USA in 1994 edged past Colombia and Switzerland to make it to further play.

But this South Africa team... yeah, not so great. This could be the first host country to get stuck in Round One in a long while.

What about Uruguay? A typically very solid South American team, from all indications. Yet I just can't see them doing much. I think the second round would be a real surprise for them, and nothing beyond that.

Then come the two big boys of the group: Mexico and France.

And yet, neither of them has quite been all it was expected to be, this time around.

Mexico has always been one of those teams that looks great on paper and during play, but then somehow finds a way to lose in the second round-- if they even make it out of the first. Even the USA took them down in second round play in 2002. And this was a Mexico squad that actually struggled early on to even qualify--from CONCACAF! Not exactly encouraging me to bet the mortgage payment on them, are these guys from El Tri.

And what can be said about France? The most schizophrenic of the major teams in the world, in recent years. Think about it: 1994-- didn't even qualify for the Cup. 1998-- WON the Cup! (Albeit playing at home.) 2002-- blown out in the first round and sent home without scoring a goal, if I recall correctly. 2006-- narrow loss to Italy in the finals for the Cup!

France does well in the years the USA does poorly, and vice versa.

So, given that formula, we should expect France to collapse and the USA to advance out of its group (Group B-- more on that next time).

One other factor: This France squad only qualified for the competition by the narrowest of margins, squeaking past Scotland on the last day. Confidence level: Not high, as far as I'm concerned.

SO: Predictions for Group A:

Mexico wins the group. France sneaks in as well. Uruguay and South Africa go home. Hey, at least the trip home for South Africa isn't terribly long!

Points prediction: (Top 2 advance)
Mexico 7
France 5
Uruguay 2
South Africa 1

Monday, May 24, 2010

World Cup Teams as US College Football Programs, Part 2


Today we present the second half of my look at World Cup soccer teams as compared with American college football programs:

Brazil: USC Trojans
All the talent and a great system. When they *aren't* great, it's a mystery why not. (And recently, leaning more heavily on great DEFENSE, too.)

Germany: Nebraska Cornhuskers (until recently)
Big, slow guys just plugging away with willpower and determination and a boring tactical system.

Italy: Florida State Seminoles
Some flashy individual offensive players, a very solid defensive reputation, but some big egos, too. Haven't won as many titles as they maybe should've.

Spain: Auburn Tigers
The best team not to win the official title (in AU's case, for over 50 years).
Some great players over the years, but something... something inexplicable and heartbreaking and just unfair...SOMEthing... always happens.

England: Texas Longhorns
Rabid fan base; big names and history; practically invented the sport; but just one title in the modern era.
(Does that make Scotland Texas A&M? No, more like Baylor.)

(The "getting drunk and making a lot of noise in the stands" aspect could bring in LSU, too.)

Argentina: Miami Hurricanes
Some big titles and great players a few years back... titles won under sort of dubious
circumstances... but don't cross paths with 'em in a dark alley!

USA: West Virginia Mountaineers
Horrible just forever, but maybe finally getting pretty good. Pulled a few upsets last time. (Could also make a case for USA being the North Carolina Tarheels-- the fans back home are numerous and rabid-- but about a different sport.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

World Cup Teams as US College Football Programs, Part 1



For today's "Countdown to the World Cup" entry, I'm going to look at some of the perennial World Cup national teams (sides) and how I would compare them to the panoply of American college football-- similarities, styles, histories, etc. Bear with me here and I think you'll see what I mean:

Mexico: Texas A&M Aggies
All the pieces are there, but they can't quite get to the next
level--and lately, the local rival's started beating them down, too.

Portugal: Georgia Bulldogs
Generations of great players, colorful and fun to watch, but they
never seem to win the big one. Upset by USA in 2002 was like South
Carolina knocking off the Dawgs at the start of several seasons.

Paraguay: Virginia Tech Hokies
No-name players playing great defense and special teams, and find away
to win (or at least draw).

Uruguay: Army Black Knights
Some great champions, but so far in the past that hardly anyone
remembers anymore.

South Korea: BYU Cougars
They run around and around and around and finally you're exhausted
just *watching* them...

Netherlands: Florida Gators
Came out of nowhere a while back, with some flashy players in a flashy
system. But not a whole lot of hardware to show for it, over the
years.

France: Colorado Buffaloes (or Georgia Tech Yellowjackets)
Sucked sucked sucked sucked CHAMPIONS aaaand back to sucking...

Saudi Arabia: SMU Mustangs
They get their teeth kicked in by everybody, but then they get to ride
back home in really expensive cars.

Costa Rica, Ecuador, Tunisia, Angola, etc: Division 1-AA
Can rise up and shock a 1-A team every now and then, but aren't
getting into the BCS.


So there's the bottom half of the list. Next time: The top half, including the top soccer teams on Earth-- and the USA!

Friday, May 14, 2010

COUNTDOWN to the World Cup is now ON!! 28 Days...


Just 28 days until the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off! The Countdown starts here, now!

Join me in the days to come for my various articles, notes and lists (hopefully both informative and entertaining) about the World Cup, the countries and teams involved, and the cultural hoo-hah surrounding it.

Today's quick note: Watching the games on television in the US.

Because South Africa is a few hours ahead of the US, the first of each day's 1st Round matches will begin at 6 a.m. CST. Yikes!

For those without a DVR or a VCR, here's some important info from ESPN.com:


MATCH REAIRS ON ESPN CLASSIC AND ESPN2

ESPN Classic will reair all 64 FIFA World Cup matches. Each matchday, between at 6 p.m. and 12 a.m., the network will present all the matches played earlier that day.

ESPN and ESPN2 will air the best match of the day on select nights throughout the tournament.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Countdown2Countdown: A Few Rules of Thumb

A few rules of thumb when picking your World Cup brackets:

* Spain always chokes.

* Mexico rarely gets past the 2nd round, even though they're good.

* France either does GREAT (making it to two of the last three final games, and winning one) or TERRIBLE (failed to score a goal in the entire first round in 2002).

* The USA alternates good and bad showings every World Cup.
1990: Bad.
1994: Okay. Second round.
1998: Bad.
2002: Quarterfinals!
2006: Bad.
2010??
So we're due for a good showing. (But I don't really believe it.)

* Brazil played in the final game of three of the last four World Cups. They won the two that were NOT held in Europe. This one is in South Africa.

* African teams look flashy but seem to flame out. European teams tend to do very well in Cups held in Europe but not as well in non-European host countries.

* The host country has made it to the second round of every World Cup. Will that streak end this year?

* During the build-up to a Cup, some unexpected national teams will inevitably look better than expected. But when it comes down to it, the same old usual suspects are mostly there at the end: Brazil, Germany, Italy, France, Argentina.

Countdown 2 Countdown: WC BRACKETS COMPETITION!!

The World Cup bracket prediction competition has begun!

It works like the NCAA hoops tourney.
To participate, go to:

http://games.espn.go.com/bpredictor/en/group?groupID=12719

Group: World Cup Avengers
Password: ironman

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Countdown 2 Countdown: Five Odd Things from the WC

Today's installment in our irregularly-timed "Countdown to the Countdown to the World Cup of Eating, 2010" (yes, I know it has a different title every time....):

FIVE ODD THINGS FROM RECENT WORLD CUPS

5. "Korea Team Fighting." This was (and is?) the South Korean team's slogan. Part of me loves it, and part of me thinks it sounds like the kind of bad translation from an Asian language that is usually reserved only for instruction manuals for electronics like big-screen TVs and DVD players.










4. The "German Mannschaft." In German, I am to understand that this means the equivalent of "The German National Soccer Team." But in English, it's just... disturbing.







3. The Australians and their %$#& inflatable yellow and green kangaroos.







2. Scotland's "Tartan Army" getting drunk in Paris. I would give quite a bit to hang out with my Scottish kin at a World Cup-- but Scotland has to actually qualify for another one first!



1. Ecuador's "Spider Man" celebrates a goal! I have no idea what this is all about. Truly. But--you're #1, dude!








Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Countdown to Countdown to 30 Days of World Cup Eating





JUNE 11 is Day One of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

It can't get here soon enough.

Each day of the Cup, I will be posting my thoughts -- not so much about the sports event as about the countries, the craziness, the food I'm eating while watching, the drinks I'm drinking while watching, and what Ami, Maddie, and Mira and I are doing.

If you were reading this space when I did this in 2006, you probably had a good time. (I certainly got lots of great comments from readers.) Highlights (and lowlights) included making fun of the trophy, discussing the walking pneumonia I had through most of the tourney, deciding which beer would be named Official Beer of the 2006 World Cup (the winner was DOS EQUIS), talking about the crazy English ex-pat fans I hung out with at the Irish pub in Atlanta, conducting a World Cup of Best Atlanta Venues to Eat and Watch the Games, and commenting on the psychedelic, drug-addled German mascot, among many other features. We also kept track of how much weight I was gaining each day-- though the pneumonia played havoc with that. (Fortunately??)

My partner in crime for part of the shenanigans was fellow Southerner and fellow soccer fan David Wright. I'm hoping to rope him back in for more fun this time around, if only remotely.

Thirty days prior to the beginning of the Cup (or on May 11, actually), I will begin posting my daily "Countdown to the Thirty Days of World Cup Eating." (Notice how the title keeps changing? Yeah, me too.)

But today, since I just can't wait any longer, I'm kicking things off officially-- with my "COUNTDOWN TO THE COUNTDOWN TO THIRTY DAYS OF WORLD CUP EATING."

Today's topic: Potential Eating & Drinking Venues for the 2010 Thirty Days.

Now that I'm relocated to St. Louis, all my old options are out the window. That means no La Cazuela (the 2006 champs), no Loafing Leprechaun, no Old Towne Tavern, and no hotel bar in Charlotte, NC.

This year we're probably looking at contenders that will include:

* Buffalo Wild Wings (Belleville, IL)
* The Irish pub in downtown Belleville whose name escapes me
* DiCarlo's in Red Bud (if they have a TV..! If only I'd been able to watch Italy win it all with them last time!)
* Tigin Irish Pub in St Louis
* ...
this area has a serious dearth of good sports bars, compared to Atlanta!! But we'll find more venues soon.

Good luck to all the contenders for this year's "Best Venue" competition!

See you next time with more Countdown to the Countdown.
Send in your comments!!

Ole, Ole Ole etc etc.
--Van

Friday, February 26, 2010

2010 World Cup (of Eating) coming soon!

I pretty much abandoned this blog when I joined Facebook in 2008. But it makes an ideal place to post my daily updates on the World Cup-- and what I'm eating and drinking and thinking about while watching it-- as I did in 2006.

Witty observations, odd photos, and updates on the craziness surrounding the month-long event: that's what you can expect.

The 2006 "Van's World Cup of Eating" blog appears to be lost forever, which is sad. (I worked hard on that thing-- and it was funny!) But I'll do my best to make this year's edition even better.

Stay tuned! We're just 2 1/2 months away from the start of my "Thirty Days' Countdown!"