Saturday, May 31, 2014

WM 2014--Group C Preview

Introduction—“A Group of Life”
WM 2014 
(Columbia, Cote d’Ivoire, Greece, Japan)


Gentlemen, we have our first “Group of Life”! The bizarre draw that preceded this tournament left us with us with an unprecedented THREE groups of life and ONE “Group of Überdeath”. All four teams here are very much in contention to go as deep as the Quarterfinals. What fun!

Trying to make sense out of this group proves harder than writing a dissertation on EU Agricultural Policy four Pißwassers deep. If the FIFA Rankings are to be believed (and they’re not) the debutante Coffee Growers are the favorites to claim top spot. That’s simply ludicrous, as uplifting a story as it may be.

Former Argentine National Coach Jose Pekerman has done a fantastic job turning the entire program around. He’s pulled the country out of obscurity with an innovative approach to team building. He’s benched his highest paid players, only inserting them as late subs in crucial games. He’s experimented with no fewer than six distinctly different formations all throughout qualifying. He’s tired Guarin at striker, moved Falcao way back in the midfield, and given Armero a shot on the wing.

All of Pekerman’s enterprising moves have been undertaken whilst he keeps a core group of about 35 players together. Most national managers employ three times as many call-ups over the course of a two-year qualifying campaign. Pekerman may send the message to his players that sacred cows are intolerable, but he simultaneously instills in them the belief that they are part of a valued close-knit group. While their roles are a subject of speculation, their presence certainly isn’t.

The “Coffee Growers” constitute the “Feel Good Story of the Summer” for a whole confluence of reasons, two of which even casual Stateside fans will find immediately familiar. First, Columbia hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1998, back when Carlos Valderama was playing for now defunct MLS teams named (no joke) “The Miami Fusion” and “Tampa Bay Mutiny”. Everybody remember Carlos? You’ll recognize him immediately if I put his picture up.
Valderama was among the first crop of foreign stars recruited to play in MLS during its nascent fledgling days. Back in those days there were no “Soccer Only” Stadiums. Matches were played on American Football Astroturf, with the yardlines and hash marks clearly visible. The clock stopped when the ball went out into touch. ; ( : (

There are plenty of football fans who still consider MLS a joke, but you should have seen it in its early days ; ( Hideously ugly uniforms. Teams with ridiculous names. Empty stadiums. Own goals galore. We were all certain that Vince McMahon’s XFL had a better chance of surviving. Just when we were absolutely certain that MLS would go the way of the NASL, Valderama and other higher caliber players showed up. They made their contributions to the foundering league with a significantly higher style of play that made the fixtures (almost) watchable. Fans also began to show up, curious to see how more experienced international veterans would perform Fifteen some odd years later, the games are still fairly choppy, but eminently watchable thanks to loyal fan bases that wave flags, chant songs, and beat drums Valderama deserves a lot of credit for getting the league o a professional footing.

Secondly, as pertains to Columbia, U.S. fans will always have a heart for the national tragedy upon which interest in their national team was built. American football enthusiasts wanted their team to garner more domestic attention, but definitely not at the cost of another man’s life. During the 1994 World Cup in the USA, the country took a brief respite from “O.J.-Mania to watch their team advance past the group stage for the first time since the inaugural World Cup in 1930. The Yanks barely went through after eking out a narrow victory against Columbia. (Back in those days only 24 nations competed in six groups. Third place teams advanced).

The hosts wouldn’t have even gotten that far were it not for an own goal by defender Andres Escobar. That mistake cost Escobar his life. He was assassinated by the Columbian drug cartel two weeks later. They evidently placed enormous sums of money on a Columbian victory. Gambling losses outside the Syndicate are evidently just a mite more serious ; ( ; (

So we have a human-interest story. After sixteen years of torpor the Columbians are finally back under a magician of a manager. Their Kader features genuine international stars like Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martinez, Adrian Ramos, Christian Zapata, and Pablo Armero. They blazed through COMNEBOL Qualifying, finished a mere two points behind regional powerhouse Argentina. Doe they deserve to be #6 in the world? YOU’RE CRAZY!!

The Japs also have a star-studded team under the auspices of Italian manager Alberto Zaccheroni. They’re wildly underrated after a tepid performance in last Summer’s Confederations Cup. Fernando Santos’s “To Piratiko” features plenty of dangerous weapons that could light up just about any match. At long last, the accursed Cote d’Ivoire ISN’T IN THE GROUP OF DEATH ANYMORE. Les Elephants have had the profound misfortune to be in the hardest group in both 2006 and 2010. No telling what they can accomplish given half a chance. Let’s not forget how explosive they were at times during last year’s African Cup of Nations.


Let’s get to work untangling this mess.  

Columbia—“The Coffee Growers”

Shirt badge/Association crestOne reason I appear to be dragging my feet on these odds (apart from the very real hindrance of “having shit to do”) is that I continue to scour my sources for news on Monaco striker Radamel Falcao. The former Athletico man blew out his knee shortly after the New Year. He presently attempts a comeback. In betting parlance, his return would be listed as “questionable”. There’s hardly been an injury this closely followed since Rooney’s in 2006. Pekerman still has him listed on a squad now three players from final cutdown. We’ll just have to wait and see.

“El Tigre” means so very much to this team. He’s incredibly explosive off the ball, smashing scoring records in virtually every league or cup competition that he participates in. One still shouldn’t describe him as an “indispensable cog” given that the Coffee Growers have a plethora of other options to fill the attacking third. FC Porto Center Forward Jackson Martinez is a very serviceable big-target man with impeccable heading ability. Herta BSC point man Adrian Ramos possesses similar skills. Teofilio Gutierrez may not be quite as tall, but he adds speed to the equation. Falcao’s Monaco teammate James Rodriguez is the extremely mobile and highly technical midfield playmaker. The ball perpetually appears to be glued to his left foot. He typically accumulates as many assists as goals in any given season.  

With James Rodriguez projected to serve as a sort of “pseudo-striker”, it falls to Freddy Guarin stay back and aid the defense. Guarin generally likes to roam, so it will be interesting to see if he can stick to this assignment. The Columbian back four counts as among the best in the tournament. They should have no problem closing ranks when necessary.

 Projecting the Columbian Lineup (4-4-2)   

         Radamel Falcao     Teofilo Gutierrez
James Rodriguez                     Juan Cuardrado
          Jackson Martinez Freddy Guarin    
Pablo Armero                         Luis Perea
       Christian Zapato  Santiago Arias
                       David Ospina

 The Talisman— Radamel Falcao  

The 2013-2014 season began inauspiciously enough over at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in the Arganzuela district of Madrid. Plenty of heads sunk as Athletico M. was forced to sell their top player and only hope for a successful campaign. As it turned out, Athletico turned their supposed “rebuilding year” into one of the most improbably outstanding runs in the history of La Liga. It was nevertheless perfectly understandable that those heads were hanging low. Here’s why:

 “A Syndicate Classic—Columbia”  

From WMQ 2009—“Das Fröliche Syndikat”:
WMQ 2013 (1) 

Columbia vs. Ecuador


What the FARC? Who are these “Coffee Growers”? No seriously that’s their team’s nickname: “The Coffee Growers”. What the rail-snorting fuck sort of name is that for a football team? Couldn’t they at least have gone with “The Coffee Drinkers”?

Alright. We get it Columbia. You grow coffee too. Sometimes one can defeat the purpose, i.e. piss on one’s own feet. Are we supposed to forget about that other plant you grow simply because you titled your team “The Coffee Growers”? In point of fact, it only serves to remind us.

This team is yet to qualify under my watch, though I did write extensively on the women’s eleven back in 2011. They typically finish in sixth place, but everything’s upside down this time. With peaking strikers like Jackson Martinez of FC Porto and Radamel Falcao of Monaco, they’ve won practically every match they were supposed to….save for one against Ecuador. That’s why we have a pick.

Er…Antonio Mockus 2015!!!

From WMQ 2009—“Syndicate with A Vengeance”

Editor’s retroactive notes:

Uribe actually ended up standing down in favor of his defense minister Juan Manuel dos Santos. Dos Santos easily demolished the very entertaining Green Party candidate Antonius Mockus in the June 2010 runoff. I personally found the result devastating, as Mockus was an accomplished Mathematician who relinquished his academic career in order to become a professional political satirist. After his eccentric musings caught the attention of the national media, he successfully waged a campaign to obtain the office of mayor of Bogotá.

The bearded chain-smoking city chief would report to work in sandals and shorts. He hired the San Francisco Mime Troop to make fun of traffic violators. He sponsored mandatory open-air festival holidays, shutting down the entire city and giving attendees free vouchers. He brought the concept of “Ladies Night” to the city, offering bars tax credits for in proportion to their drink specials. Of course he also extended potable drinking water, sewage, and electricity to the entire city. He drove down the homicide and traffic fatality rates by over half, but that’s not so amusing. In short, love him or hate him, you’d enjoy having a beer with a character like him. Sure, like any dirty hippie, he doesn’t truly understand Economics. Still, show me a politician from either the right or the left who actually does and I’ll buy you a beer.

THE LINE: Pick em’

Cote d’Ivoire—“Les Elephants”

Shirt badge/Association crestEveryone’s given up on them. Too old. Too slow. Too predictable. Projecting the Ivorian lineup is all too easy. It’s not as if Sabri Lamouchi commands a very versatile eleven. It’s obvious to anyone which players will be occupying which positions. Every last role seems carefully proscribed, not exactly a bonus in a game that relies upon improvisation. The country’s disappointing exit from the 2013 African Cup of Nations sways opinion to a certain extent. Drogba (then still suffering the lingering effects of what can only be described as a “Chinese Hangover”) often looked ice-cold. Mainstays Soloman Kalou and Emmanuel Eboue didn’t look much better. Lamouchi presided over a flaccid 4-2-3-1 that Stephen Keshi had zero difficulty exploiting in the quarterfinals. 

Who will stand up to boldly pick this team to top the group?


Les Elephants feature the hottest commodity in all of world football right….Yaya Toure. The man is ON FIRE! He can complain all he likes about the fact that Man City didn’t buy him a birthday cake. He’s too red hot to blow out the candles anyway.

Okay….that was lame, but this team isn’t. Bookies honor! The Cassandras come calling with all manner of doom and gloom. Drogba is now 36-years-old. So What? He’s shocked us all with a 14-goal season for Galatasaray. What about the Eboue injury? No problem. This kid from Toulouse (Serge Arier) can really tear up the right flank. What about the lack of presence and possession in deep midfield? Easiest thing in the world. Switch Chieck Tiote over to the right, ditch Romaric, and give defensive midfielder Serey Die a shot. He’s even got thunderous long-range prowess.

Lamouchi actually did a fine job selecting a squad, even if their plan of attack is more obvious than a bearded transvestite. One can see it coming them coming a mile away, but that doesn’t mean one can stop them. Let it all hang out….er…just like Conchita Wurst..

Gervinho and Soloman Kalou will be tasked with working the ball to Drogba laterally. All three of these players are on the upswing. As noted above, Drogba appears to have gotten his fitness in order and exhibited sound late-season form. Kalou has evidently adjusted to life in Ligue 1 quite well. He’s playing far better for Lille than he ever did at the Bridge. After a sluggish start at AS Roma, former Arsenal man Gervinho has made for lost time and is in the best form of his career.

Serey Die and Chieck Tiote will prowl the center of the pitch. Swiss-based international Die replaces the at times too conservative Romaric. He’ll be encouraged to wander forward a bit, even though the primary objective of both him and Chieck Tiote will be to get long balls forward to Yaya Toure. Once again, Toure is (in my humble opinion) the best footballer on the planet at this particular moment in time. I would have picked him over Suarez for the Premiership player of the year. He’s on the mother of all hot streaks, able to score from anywhere on the pitch. Heed my warning. DO NOT BET AGAINST THIS MAN!

Arier will be invited to advance up the right flank in support of Gervinho and Toure. The same invitation will be extended to VfB Stuttgart’s Arthur Boka on the opposite flank. Bamba and Zokora will mostly hang back in order to keep the heat off sometimes shaky Boubacar Barry. In terms of “super subs”, Kolo Toure remains available off the bench. He’s yet another Elephant in the midst of a comeback. After falling out of favor with Roberto Manchini, the Bouake centerback had an abysmal African Cup of Nations. He’s revived his career at Merseyside with a significant contribution to Liverpool’s tournaround.

The plan may be too apparent for some commentator’s tastes. This bookie nevertheless believes it can be executed. Your long wait is over, my poor, long-suffering West African Enclave.

Now it’s your turn. Now it’s your time. Don’t fail me.

 Projecting the Ivorian Lineup (4-2-3-1)  

                         Didier Drogba
Soloman Kalou                          Gervinho
                         Yaya Toure
       Sery Die                        Chieck Tiote
Arthur Boka  Sol Bamba Didier Zokora S. Aurier
                      Boubacar Barry

 The Talisman—Yaya Toure  

Christ, won’t someone get this man the biggest fucking birthday cake in all the land!! Don’t him go, Man City. He’s entering his prime. He’s got much more in store for us, but here’s a little aperitif:

…..and just for the sheer unadulterated hell of it:

 “A Syndicate Classic—Cote d’Ivoire”  

From CAN 2013—“Semifinals”:
CAN 2013 
Cote d’Ivoire 

HOW THE YAMOUSSOKORING-FUCK DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING? Again? Really? How many times must a platitudinous writer be forced to hack out, “Once more time runs out for the Golden Generation of the Ivory Coast”? I’m honestly running out of words to elucidate how, yet again, this talent-laden squad of top-tier players has somehow fallen short of the prize. Nuts! Oh well. Might as well get it over with….

It’s hard to fault French head coach Sabri Lamouchi, who merely placed faith in all of his top talent, including the struggling former Chelsea striker Solomon Kalou. To show confidence in them may have been a generous move, but it was by no means an altogether unintelligent one. Neither was sticking with them through 80 minutes of tense play. Romaric, Drogba, and Yaya Toure all defied their advancing years, all coming within millimeters of fine finishes that could have altered the dynamic. Apropos aging titans, Ya Konan, Eboué, and Siaka Tiene all turned in stellar performances. Tiote’s well-rounded play proved a real treat to watch. Had Enyeama not acrobatically pawed away his laser late in the match, we would have most assuredly have seen extra time. Lamouchi pieced together the right blend of past-their-peak-titans and upstart youngsters. Sending his well-laid plans straight down the tubes, it was none other than….the unpredictable and unforeseeable “off-game” of his keeper.

What a nightmare of a fixture for Boubacar Barry! First he organized a ridiculous four-man wall for Emmanuel Emenike’s 43rd minute free kick five yards outside of the area. The veteran keeper surely left himself partially screened. There remains no other explanation for his delayed reaction after Emmenike Struck. The bend of the ball might have constituted a piece of technical mastery, but the effort was certainly medium-paced enough for Barry to get a better jump. In any event, that half-hearted Spanish bullfighter “ole, ole” parry was….well…what the hell was that? It may sound ludicrous to blame him for being unable to react to the wicked deflection off Bamba that gave the Super Eagles the winning goal in the 78th, but he was tentatively under committed anyway. It seemed doubtful he would have been able get his paws on Mba’s effort even without the deflection.

Barry’s poor positioning was the inevitable consequence of an evening during which he found himself congenitally rattled. Time and again we saw him scrambling to pick up flurries, oscillating far too long before committing to a dive, and just generally looking uncomfortable as Emmenike and Victor Moses regularly kept him guessing with their crosses. So there you have it. One can build a well-rounded team, concoct the most innovative of starting elevens, and ride a wave of destiny all one likes….if the keeper fucks up, forget it.

Now we look ahead to 2014, not having a clue what this team might look like. Over the course of this competition, Turkish Superclub Galatasarray saw enough in Drogba to sign him right out of China. Can he be expected to be part of the Elephants next incarnation at the age of 36? Anything’s possible. Should he show some sparkle for Faith Terim it’s entirely possible he’ll be back. Arouna Kone? Again, entirely possible. He’s struck six times since signing at Wigan this autumn. If can manage to keep Roberto Martinez’s side afloat through the end of the year, he stands a fighting chance of keeping himself fit. Kolo Toure? Absolutely. He shows no signs of slowing down at Man City. He might be anointed the 33-year-old captain next summer. Zokora? Romaric? Ya Konan? Kalou? Hit or miss really. Zokora is most likely done, playing at half-speed for Trabzonspor. Romaric needs to secure a transfer to a better Spanish League Club. Ditto Ya Konan, who desperately needs to be picked up by Bayern München. Kalou needs to fight his way back to the Premiership….yesterday.

Press chatter appears to be nothing if not brutally candid. It may very well b time for these old hares to voluntarily step aside in order to allow the “Golden Generation 2.0” to flourish. Gervinho, Razak, Tiote, Wilfried Bony, Lacina Traore, and Max Gradel all had strong tournaments. The involvement of too many plodding veterans threatens to crowd out this budding group of superstars, precisely when they need the space to shine. Time to wipe the slate clean? Christ am I happy to be thousands of miles away from that decision. 

Editor’s retroactive notes:

As of these notes Drogba, Koune, Didier Zokora, and Kolo Toure all look to make Lamouchi’s final cut. Seeing as how the odds have finally given in (Les Elephants no longer find themselves situated in the Group of Death) Lamouchi’s chances of replicating some sort of “French Renaissance” (the likes of which Domenech accomplished with his dinosaurs saw in 2006) remains high.

Greece—“To Piratiko”

Shirt badge/Association crestFernando Santos turned out to be every bit the worthy successor to “Rehakles” that the Hellenes had hoped for. He’s hardly deviated from the German Master’s predominantly defensive approach that focuses on team cohesion and reducing mistakes. The Pirates both scored and conceded fewer goals than any other team in European World Cup Qualifying.

Just as King Otto would have wanted it, the Greeks operate as a counterattacking team that cherry picks chances. The overall strategy hasn’t shifted at all. The team has, however, undergone significant personnel alterations since the last time we got a close look at them back in 2012. Plenty of changes to update you on.

We begin up front, where Theofanis Gekas has been supplanted by Konstantin Mitroglou. This, at first, seems to be a curious move. Mitroglou has been hurt for much of the year, barely playing for his new (now Championship League Club ; ) ) Fulham. He may not have performed for a club this year, but he’s supplied almost half of the club’s qualifying goals. He’s a cool and confident finisher when given a useful ball. Giorgios Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis move out wide in support.

Avraam Papadopoulos and Ionnis Maniatis have been pitched out of a crowded midfield. Elder statesmen Kostas Katsouranis is likely to spend most of the tournament on the bench. Enter Alexandros Tziolis, a defensive-midfielder Santos unexpectedly dropped right before Euro 2012. It stands to reason that Tziolis was by now means Santos’s first choice this time, but he simply can’t risk trotting out 34-year-old Katsouranis in one of the tournament’s most offensively dangerous groups. The immortal Giorgios Karagounis continues to captain the midfield and the team. His age doesn’t appear to be an issue.

Four big changes at the back. Kyriakos has missed nearly two years after knee surgery. He may never be the same. Olympiacos centerback Kostas Manolas thus gets a promotion from the U-21 Team. He’s known to have potential, but only has six caps to his name. Hence, Sokratis moves to right centerback, a position he’ll likely stay in for the duration of the group phase. Santos appears to have settled on Jose Holebas for his starting left back position for now. This concludes an era of experimentation with Tzavelas, Ninis, and even Spryopolous. Speaking of bringing an end to position battles, the Pirate Ship has a new keeper in Orestis Karnezis. Hopefully, they’ll finally have a long-term solution to their net minding dilemma.

The Greeks have enough talent up front to score goals off of a minimal amount of chances. This just doesn’t seem to be the right group for them. Keep an eye on Manolas at left centerback. All three competitors will look to test his nerves.  

 Projecting the Greek Lineup (4-3-3)  

                  Konstantinous Mitroglou
Giorgos Samaras                   Dimitris Salpigidis
   Alexandros Tziolis           Kostas Katsouranis
                    Giorgos Karagounis
Jose Holebas  K. Manolas Sokratis V. Torosidis
                        Orestis Karnezis

 The Talisman—Sokratis Papastathoupolus  
Back in 2012, I wrote the following in a minor fit of frustration:

“There’s yet another Papadopoulos to tell you about: Olympiakos fullback Avraam Papadopoulos. For those keeping track, that's two Papadopouloses and one Papastathopoulos. Then there’s my Greek cousin, whom I haven’t phoned up since the 2004 tournament: Viceis Papapeteros. In order to avert confusion, all four have indicated that they may be referred to by their first names. Sokratis, Kyriakos, Avraam, and Viceis respectively.”

Whew. What a relief that Kyiakos and Avraam are gone! I should consider giving Viceis a ring…..or maybe I’ll treat myself to some tranquility.

In any event, over the past two years Sokratis Papastatholus has switched from Werder Bremen to Borussia Dortmund. He just completed a beast of year in which his status ascended from “solid defender” to “toast of the Bundesliga”. He’s rapidly becoming on of your friendly bookie’s favorites of all time!

Er…anyone ready for some defending highlights?

  “A Syndicate Classic—Greece”  

From EM 2012---Group A Preview
EM 2012 

Dammit! Who told the Greeks we were getting together? Fuck. I specifically told you not to invite them! Who hell gave out the directions to the party? I tell you, whoever fed them the address, THERE WILL BE BLOOD! Oh well. Having most assuredly earned their qualification spot with an undefeated run, one cannot even begin to argue that they don’t belong here. Might as well make the most of it.


A Public Service Announcement from your Friendly Bookie 

Greek electoral constellation got you down? You’re by no means alone. Such high hopes after Papandreou ceded to the technocratic Papademos. Now the antics of Papariga have us almost missing Papakonstantinou. The whole subject elicits plenty of profanity-laced tirades in my household, especially from my aging father (re-christened for the purposes of this riff “Papalardass”).

Speaking of the riff, let’s get off it and talk more earnestly for a second. We’re gonna try this again, Hellenes. This time we need a coalition that will at least in spirit agree to back the agreements signed by the caretaker unity government. With everyone including Merkel striking a more Keynesian tone, there’s every reason to believe that some of the harsher stipulations may be MODESTLY re-negotiated. For instance, Schäuble seems to think we can loosen the rigidity of the debt-to-GDP ratio temporarily. I fear most of the rest of the austerity measures must remain. We’ve already negotiated billions in write-downs and have little room to do anything else. Yes, it’s a painful recession of epic proportions, but don’t kid yourselves. Matters could always be worse. Tsipras’s latest brinkmanship only succeeds in placing the ball back in our court rhetorically. Exit the Eurozone and you will indeed make life much more troublesome for us. If you think it’s worth absolutely destroying yourselves to make a point, consider a self-immolation allegory. Making one’s protest point in such a striking way may garner attention of the more sought-after variety. Guess what? You’re STILL ON FIRE, MOTHERFUCKER!

Unless you’ve been printing Drachmas in secret (actually not a bad idea at all), you’re totally fucked. Think a quarterly GDP drop of 6.8% hurts? Try tripling it. One hundred thousand bankrupt companies? Multiply it by ten. Reduced social services? How about NO social services; a government that delivers you money already rendered worthless before you can make it the market. What remains of your economic infrastructure will be tied up in litigation hell for decades as MNCs seek to collect in Euros. Even the Drachmas you furtively printed will be of no help there. Zero Exports or Imports. Endless lawsuits. Complete economic isolation. A post-apocalyptic landscape where even nutritional needs are hard to come by. Fuck making yogurt, feta, or any other delicacy. Better slaughter that goat now before your neighbor gets his hands on it. DON’T DO THIS TO YOURSELVES.

As bad an idea as the Single Currency might have been, as much as you feel your corrupt leaders sold you out, as disingenuously preachy as Germans can be (believe me I know this firsthand) about EVERYTHING that they don’t even remotely understand, we are were we are and must come to grips with reality. Please submit a workable constellation. Not so much for the high-and-mighty jerk-offs who scowl down upon you from their imaginary pedestals. Do it for yourselves. Send this Tsipras cat, who perpetually keeps his foot in his mouth and his head up his ass, packing along with your Neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” thugs.

According to my, albeit crude, calculations, you came in only 7.37 percent under a potentially workable coalition. Take this away from SYRIZA, KKE, and XA. If you feel so rotten about giving it to ND, PASOK, LAOS, pump it into ANEL, DIMAR, OP, DISY, or EK just to name a few. 7.37 % Say it with me. 7.37 %! 7.37%!!

Yes we can! 7.37%! Yes we can!  
Yes we can! 7.37%! Yes we can!
Yes we can! 7.37%! Yes we can!

WE ARE THE 7.37%!
This is what democracy looks like!
Someone bring me a black armband and a megaphone!
WE ARE THE 7.37%!

Editor’s retroactive notes:


ND—29.66% (18.85%)
SYRIZA—26.89% (16.9%)
PASOK—12.28% (13.18%)
ANEL—7.51% (10.62%)
XA—6.92% (6.97%)
DIMAR—6.52% (6.25%)

They listened. Europe was grateful. Go Greeks ; )

Japan—“The Blue Samurai” (4-2-3-1)

Shirt badge/Association crestWith every fiber of my being, I must resist the temptation to overrate my beloved Japs. I still contend that they are decidedly underrated after their poor Confederations Cup run, but the pendulum might swing too far in other direction if your friendly bookie isn’t careful.

 As I remarked last summer, the Japanese team features more German league actors than a low-budget porn flick. After ManU reeled Shinji Kagawa in, the Bundesliga continues to evolve into an audition platform for numerous talented Japanese internationals. SEVEN Bundesliga stars made Zaccheroni’s final cut. One hesitates to be Kraut-centric….but what the hell? It’s my book after all.

Shinji Okazaki recently came into is own this season for FSV Mainz 05. He kicked the crap out of the competition, kicking in 15 goals while he was at it. I don’t see him remaining in the Pfalz for long. Someone will snatch him after this tournament. Zaccheroni has also called up hitherto unknown forward Yuya Osako. Hitherto unknown to myself, I should emphasize. He came out of the J-League to play for 1860 München during the January transfer window. Zaccheroni took him on after the deal was inked. In four short months he’s scored nine goals, six four 1860 and three for his country. Are we getting a glimpse at the future?

In terms of the midfield, Zaccherroni surprisingly took Makoto Hasebe back. Did not see that one coming. Hasebe has struggled with injury and completely tanked in form after switching from VfL Wolfsburg to Disaster-club FC Nürnberg. It remains unclear whether or not he’ll get his captain’s armband back. I, for one, wouldn’t give it to him. Another stunning move concerns the Hiroshi Kiyotake, also of disaster-club FC Nürnberg. We all knew that the midfield would need steady leadership after Nakamura retired, then un-retired, then was forcibly retired, but why not Hosogai or Minamino?

Schalke fullback Atsuto Uchida anchors the defense. Hirokai Sakai of Hannover 96 and Gotoku Saki of Stuttgart are not projected to start, but one expects to see such excellent young prospects subbed in late in some of the matches. Whew. That takes care of the Krauts. We touched them all! I promise I’ve got all of that out of my system…for today anyway.

A few words on the rest of the team: The Japs certainly have a lot of ground to make up after the official retirement Nakamura and the unofficial retirement of Endo. Zaccheroni raised plenty of eyebrows by not including Hosogai, Maeda, and Yuichi Komano. Dropping three veterans just like that means he’s interested in building something new. We are too. Even if the Samurai come in dead last in the group, this Bundesliga enthusiast will be watching all matches with great interest.

Don’t forget that they’re still dangerous. I don’t give a rat’s ass if Shinj Kagawa isn’t living up to ManU’s expectations. He’s still a stud. Beware.

 Projecting the Japanese Lineup (4-2-3-1)  

                       Shinji Okazaki
Shinji Kagawa                       Yoichiro Katakani
                       Keisuke Honda
        Makoto Hasebe      Hiroshi Kiyotake
Y. Nagatomo Y. Konno M. Yoshida A. Uchida
                       Eiji Kawashima

 The Talisman—Shinji Okazaki  

I do believe I’m developing a “man-crush”. Check this cat out:

 “A Syndicate Classic—Japan”  

From WMQ 2009—“Syndicate with A Vengeance”

WMQ 2009
Too bad they’re not hosting this year. Hatoyama, Ozawa, and all the poorly connected DPJ newbies could stand to benefit from a “Merkel Moment”. An affectionate welcome back for the beloved “Blue Samurai” (THAT is a nickname) and an admiring salute to the indisputably goofiest people on the planet! Seriously, I do love these people. Here are
Three reasons to be categorically ecstatic that Japan is in the WM (and, NO, you perverted jackasses, none of them have with precocious schoolgirls, WOWOW-TV, or tentacles!)
  1. Japanese announcers—If you thought the guys who wrote the programming code for “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” were doing their utmost to induce a seizure with the 5,637,662-hit combo, listen to these cats:

I wish, I wish….that I could have found some WM 2006 Japanese announcers! That Oliver Neuville goal against Poland was priceless. Why can I not receive the NHK feed on my basic cable package? WHY?!!!?????!?!?!?!?!

Hello hemorrhaging aneurisms for all!

2. Empress Michiko in the stands! Naturally, one may assume she’ll call in sick as usual. Nevertheless, the opportunity to witness the porcelain empress never fails to stir that deep anticipatory excitement! This may be the year I finally witness her shift her elbow, budge her arms shift or even blink! (I have a long running wager with a friend on whether or not she is, in fact, a robot.) I will recoup that $20!! This brings us to……..

3. ROBOTS!!!!!! Colbert fans unite; these automatons pose a serious threat to the beautiful game. As many of you are already aware, the RoboCup Community has tasked itself with the ambitious goal of pitting a humanoid robot team against the World Champions in 2050. Keep a Lookout for some steely-eyed Toshiba Goons in the stands! Be vigilant for they must be stopped! If a technological feat such as this really is possible, let’s hope the 2050 Champs are the Italians.

“Owa!! Me-a so-a dramatic!! Mr. Roboto graze-a my shins and now I’m cryin’ like a bambino! Ahimé! Ahimé! Madonna mia! Pain-a so-a bad-a! Give-a him da Red Card”

Goddamn floppin wops

Vicey’s Fearless Group Prediction (3 to 1 Odds for bookie)

1) Cote d’Ivoire 
2) Columbia 
3) Japan 
4) Greece 

Overall Championship Odds

 Cote d’Ivoire (4 to 1) 
 Columbia (5 to 1)
 Greece (7 to 1)
 Japan (12 to 1)

Round of 16 Odds

 Cote d’Ivoire (NO BETS)
 Columbia (Straight up)
 Japan (Straight up)
 Greece (Straight up)

Quarterfinal Odds

 Cote d’Ivoire (Straight Up)
 Columbia (Straight Up)
 Greece (2 to 1)
 Japan (3 to 1)

Semifinal Odds

 Cote d’Ivoire (2 to 1)
 Columbia (2 to 1)
 Greece (4 to 1)
 Japan (8 to 1)