Finally, the moment so few here have been waiting for, the first day of the World Cup, has arrived. If you're so inclined, you may want to catch a few minutes of some matches, even if only hoping for some hooligan battle to break out. Seriously, is NASCAR really more exciting than soccer? In case you do feel the urge, here's a quick guide to some of the teams playing:
Brazil ֠Perennial favorite, they boast the world's top talent, and play the game like no one else, though some teams try to mimic their quick passing, balletic style. They are lead by rock solid defender Roberto Carlos (who, btw, is much better at bending than Beckham), scoring freak Ronaldo, and the current European pro player of the year Ronaldinho, who has been featured in the Nike Joga Bonito
(play beautiful) campaign.
Mitigating factors: Pele. Fans who perform intricate dance routines in the stands and bring their own percussion section. Over the years, many of their players were born in the slums shown in the film City of God.
Czech Republic ֠ranked 2nd in the world, they are a mystery to me. I don't know a lot about their side, except that their keeper plays for one of my favorite teams, Chelsea. Their strikers score a lot of goals, especially the 6' 8" Jan Koller. I expect their games to be boring, though: lots of long balls in the air to their big men up top.
Mitigating factors: This is their first qualification for the World Cup. Other teams' defenders will look like little kids running along side Koller.
France ֠loaded with talent, like past players of the year Zinedine Zidane and Theirry Henry, and African born athletes like Patrick Vierra. Zidane and Henry are deadly scoring threats.
Mitigating factors: Freedom Fries.
England ֠The cognoscenti don't place much faith in the team's chances this year, but don't count them out. Two of the big stars, both strikers, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney, were bothered by injuries, however they've been cleared to play. I doubt they'll be at their best. Everyone knows about Beckham already. The less said about him the better.
Mitigating factors: Jamaican born Sol Campbell is nicknamed 2Pac for his resemblance to the late rapper. Possible crowd shot of Posh Spice.
Ivory Coast ֠They are this year's heartwarming team, as their country has been involved in a horrible civil war. The two sides called a truce during the Cup. Who says soccer doesn't matter? They boast one of the best European pros, Didier Drogba, who is one of the most notorious dive takers in soccer history. If you look at him funny he might fall down and roll around for five minutes.
Argentina ֠A Brazilian guy I used to play soccer with told me that all Argentineans are arrogant sods who think Brazilians are all scum. That probably has more to do with real perceptions than their bitter rivalry. The hungry Brazilian players have usually bested the skillful Argentineans and should they meet this year the result will likely be the same. This year's squad is loaded, lead by Hernan Crespo.
Mitigating factors: The team looks like a bunch of male models running around the pitch. You can sometimes spot the players adjusting their hair during a game. Their legendary star is Diego Maradona, famous for the "Hand of God" incident. Maradona showed up to protest a George Bush appearance in his home country.
Italy ֠another perennial favorite to win, however this year their prospects are not so great, as the Italian football is not what it was in the 80's and 90's. Many in Europe view the Italian squad the same way the Brazilians view Argentina, and the players do tend to carry themselves in a similar fashion. Look for a lot of hair mussing in between the rough fouls their side is known for.
Mitigating factors: One year, their team was clad in tight lyrca uniforms that made them look like the Ambiguously Gay Soccer Team.
Netherlands ֠Some of the best talented teams in every tournament, yet haven't ever won the thing. Their team usually seems to be in discord, as temperamental players clash with stern coaches. This years coach, former Dutch master Marco van Basten, left off some of their teams most athletic, most prolific, yet most temperamental players. I do not know whether it is a coincidence that all of those players are of Surinamese heritage.
Mitigating factors: Famke Janssen and Rebecca Romijn are both Dutch. Dutch football hooligans often fight the British and Germans, so there is always a good chance for a brawl.
I'd be doing someone a disservice not to mention the Japan squad (as if wearing my Japanese national team jersey to work today wasn't enough) however, their determined, energetic team can sometimes surprise people. They have one of the best midfield's in the tournament with Hideoshi Nakata, Shinji Ono, and Shunsuke Nakamura.