Monday, June 2, 2014

WM 2014--Group D Preview

Introduction—“Seizing the Day”
WM 2014 
(England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica)


Everything was proceeding according to plan. Prandelli’s Pets would fiercely contest La Celeste for top sport in the group. Los Ticos would serve as the group’s doormat. The English, as is customary, would politely wipe their feet on the doormat before, as is also customary, tripping over their own feet, wildly grappling for the doorframe, and eventually falling flat on their face.

That at least was the plan.

We’ve recently discovered that Premiership player of the year (and all around Uruguayan douchebag) Luis Suarez underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week. It’s been a grueling season over at Anfield and the Liverpool man has played through a great deal of pain. The procedure is described as “minimally invasive” with recovery times ranging between two and four weeks.

Ehhh…..that’s cutting it pretty close. Suarez remains on the 23-man-roster and one does well to note that athletes can often buck traditional recovery times. In any event, such news constitutes one HUGE wrench that just clogged up the gears of this group’s workings. That’s the sound you just heard. The entire oddsmaking-community hopes to make sense of the clamor and find some way of keeping this group on the board.

La Celeste’s chances of making the Knockout Stage without Suarez are greatly reduced. Diego Forlan cannot hope to replace him, not at this stage in his career. He’s playing in Japan for fuck’s sake. Palermo’s Abel Hernandez may be a very competent forward, but the Italians know him all to well. That’s the primary reason why Tabarez opted not to start him in last summer’s Confederations Cup Third Place Playoff. Even if Suarez defies the odds and makes it back for the second group stage match against England (luckily the first pits La Celeste against hapless Costa Rica), we can assume he won’t be 100 percent. Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson should know just how to deal with their mercurial teammate, particularly if he's running at half speed.

The above sentence directly answers a question I’ve not yet posed. Who will “seize the day”? Who sits poised to take advantage of this momentous new development? Full disclosure: Your friendly bookie is an unabashed Limey enthusiastic. He’s biased. Here’s some material to confirm: 

From EM 2012—Group D Preview

EM 2012
The Three Lions will have to do without Wayne Rooney for the first two games as he serves a backdated suspension. They also have to deal with Roy Hodgson as coach and Steven Gerrard as captain. Seriously. Roy Hodgson. ROY HODGSON? A sixty-four-year old habitual failure? What the limeying fuck is wrong with the FA? Just to be clear, we are talking about the same Roy Hodgson who did an atrocious job at Udinese, Inter, Blackburn, Fulham, Copenhagen, and Merseyside? The same Roy Hodgson who couldn’t handle Finland or the U.A.E? I know he has experience….but what about SUCCESS? He did a halfway decent job with WBA, but this is insane. If you were going to hire a sixty-year-old manager, why not Harry? Bad, bad move. This would be akin to the DFB hiring Rehhagel or Omar Hitzfeld. He won’t get this group together. The curse of St. George shall endure.

Whew. Let’s calm down a bit here, Vicey. As a devout Premiership fan, I care entirely too much about seeing England succeed. I love the league so much I actually nixed plans to move to England for university because I knew I would spend entirely too much time going to football games and get nothing done. I worship the English. Four of my five favorite authors are English (Douglas Adams, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Alain de Botton). I cannibalize “The Economist”. I drink tea in the afternoons. I get up at 6 a.m. on Wednesday mornings to watch Prime Minister’s questions. I read “The Guardian” even before I read the Grey Lady. I missed the Super Bowl because there was a new episode of “Downtown Abby” on for fuck’s sake. All of this doesn’t mean I even consider rooting for England when they play Germany. When they played the States in 2010, my allegiances were similarly straightforward. I have to wince as this snake-bitten country fucks up year after year after year after year…..

They invented the game! They have the best league in the world. Even the Championship is occasionally more entertaining than the Bundesliga. Why can they never get it together? I read Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s masterpiece “Why England Lose: And other Curious Football Phenomena” and I’m still flummoxed. After Terry and Capello went down together, I had a terrible hunch we were headed for another fiasco. There was hope as the FA flirted with Harry Redknapp. Then they selected Hodgson. I haven’t been so infuriated at a choice since Ratzinger was elected pope. Horrible choice. Way to foul the ball, assholes.

I know what will improve my mood. Let’s run down the classes of fans I’m looking forward to hanging out with.

English Fans 

How many ways can express my love for the English? They eat horrible food. They drink terrible beer. Most of them are hideously ugly. I haven’t met one with decent teeth yet. Their cockney accents are equivalent to Swiss German in terms of the amount of blood oozing from my ears. I love them anyway. I’ll “fancy” a “tumble” with a buck-toothed English girl any day of the week. I can’t explain it exactly. Maybe it’s football. Maybe it’s the House of Commons. Maybe it’s heavy drinking. Maybe it’s a self-deprecating sense of humor. Maybe it’s the fact that they too come from a country where it rains all of the time. Maybe it’s Shakespeare. Maybe it’s Emma Thompson. Maybe it’s Joss Stone. Maybe it’s Adele getting me interested in chubby chicks again. I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK IT IS! I just like them and I love hanging out with them. I even liked the “Fine Young Cannibals”. I’m hopeless. Someone please kill me now.

I’ll audaciously augur that the Three Lions will make the Round of Sixteen, if only because they need to be eliminated via another heart-breaking shoot-out loss. Roy Hodgson has flown in a Sports Psychologist (at great expense) to mentally instill the Zen-like calm needed to execute under pressure. It’ll make for a great story when this “two-bit carnie hypnotist” proves every bit as effective as the quack depicted in “The Natural”. Life delivers irony like that. It just does.

As for the book briefly referenced in the above segment, I highly recommend it to all football apologists. It supplies some really solid material. Of course you can always skip the tome and just admit that the real reason England always loses pertains to the fact that Great Britain’s best players are very often Welsh. ;( ;(
Oh Gareth Bale, Gareth Bale. Where art thou, Gareth Bale? We can’t we behold your marvelous skills in this tournament. WHY?!?!

England—“The Three Lions”

Shirt badge/Association crestI was rough on them, but only because I adore them. One always reserves the harshest criticism for ones friends. I hit “Mother England” hard merely because I love her so. Hmmm….nah we’re gonna let that last sentence stand. No time to rework anyway ; )

Last time we convened I found myself infuriated that Harry Redknapp wasn’t called in to replace Fabio Capello after the John Terry fiasco. I referred to him as “the coach who shall not be named”. Hodgson not only led the Lions to an overall above average Euro, he’s selected a damn fine squad for this one as well.

We begin with what to do with Wayne Rooney. I can scarcely believe I’m writing this, but one of the most talented players ever appears to be past his prime. Horrible thing to say about a 28-yearold, but his form has been dipping precipitously over the past two years. Nevertheless, one cannot simply leave Rooney at home. He’s too potent a weapon and that would demoralize everyone.

What to do? Slide him back to anchoring striker and place a streaking striker in front of him. Hodgson faced a plethora of options, but ultimately choose wisely. Daniel Sturridge tore it up at Anfield this season. Place him up top. He’s on a roll. Rooney’s central contribution will be staying out of his way.

In terms of other strikers to complement this pair in the Kader, Hodgson again faced a surfeit of talent and had to be very fastidious in his decision-making. Danny Wellbeck didn’t have the greatest two years, but it was the right move to retain him. He performed admirably for the national side in Euro 2012. Additionally, he’s every bit as talented when used on the wing. Such versatility is needed on a squad that lacks the injured Theo Walcott.

As tantalizing as it might have been to take the towering Andy Carroll, Hodgson ruled him out after a couple of years that featured a downgrade transfer, a host of injuries, and some ugly off-the-field problems. Jermaine Defoe has also been dropped in a close decision that came down to his recent fitness issues. Instead, the Lions have elected to select, Ricky Lambert. Lambert has toiled for lower tier English teams for mot of his career, only playing two years in the Premiership with Saints after they secured promotion. What a two years it’s been, however. He’s netted 29 goals for a Southampton club no one expected to stay up for long. More importantly with respect to English tournament prospects, he’s been perfect from the spot! 34 for 34!! He’s just what St. George needs in terms of a super sub and penalty shootout ace.

Brendan Rogers evidently aggress with Hodgson’s somewhat surprising selection. BREAKING NEWS: Lambert just signed with Liverpool today! Don’t despair, Reds fans. You may have missed out on the title during the emotional “Hillsborough Anniversary Season”, but you’ll contend next year.

The Lions sport perhaps the best collection of strikers ever. How’s it looking further down the pitch? Hodgson broke some hearts by leaving Gareth Barry and Ashley Cole at home. He’s clearly not looking to his midfield or fullbacks for offensive inspiration. Instead, the un-exciting but reliable James Milner will reprise his role tending toward the right wing. Lampard and Gerrard with guard their respective flanks and it falls to newcomer Jack Wilshere to spark up field balls. Long-time Syndicate members know my tepid feelings on Milner. Lampard and Gerrard (both now in their mid-30s) endured late-season collapses for their respective clubs, but presumably will be fresh and fit come kickoff. Moreover, their leadership should be considered invaluable. Emirates man Wilshere barely edges out Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain and Jordan Henderson for the final midfield spot. It’s likely we’ll see both players used as early substitutes, however.

Regarding the back four, Leighton Baines takes over Ashley Cole’s sport at left back. The Merseyside native and Everton player another one selected by Hodgson primary for his penalty shooting skills. Another Everton defender, Phil Jagielka, replaces the tanking Joleon Lescott at centerback. The converted midfielder definitely constitutes an upgrade. He’s an excellent tackler and truly superb at winning those 50-50s. Gary Cahill inherits John Terry’s old spot. Had he not been injured prior to Euro 2012, the Three Lions might not have lost that shootout. The only holdover from the previous defensive corps appears to be right back Glen Johnson. There are whispers that Hodgson might give Chris Smalling or Phil Jones his spot, but one just can’t see our conservative manager going for the complete overhaul. Joe Hart returns as England’s sold #1 keeper. Don’t expect any Bob Green moments in this tournament ; )

We all know that St. George will never, ever, EVER win the World Cup EVER again. This team’s still going deep. So speaketh your friendly bookie ; )

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

                         Daniel Sturridge
                         Wayne Rooney
       Frank Lampard          James Milner
          Jack Wilshere         Steven Gerrard
Leighton Baines P. Jagielka Gary Cahill Glen Johnson
                             Joe Hart

 The Talisman— Daniel Sturridge  

He flicks, he tricks, he scores…a lot. While the rest of us were heralding promising young forwards like Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and England’s “next big thing”, Sturridge quietly racked up more and more goals each season for Chelsea, Bolton, and Man City. He’s got a steady home at Anfield now, just in time for his prime.

 “A Syndicate Classic”--England  

From EM 2012: Semifinals:
EM 2012 
 England (4 games played, 5 goals, 7 points, 50 Hot Girls)

Must we really revisit the dailies once more, Vicey? I’m afraid so, Limeys. This is for your own good. I cannot entertain the possibility that a fan of St. George hasn’t taken comprehensive stock of 44 years of abysmal failure. You may think you’re finished with the past, but it a’int finished with you mates. You will humble yourselves…..NOW.

England, 1966Hurrah, hurrah. A short 36 years after the World Cup was first conceived, the country that invented the sport could claim its first crown. Obviously, there would be more to come.

Italy, 1968—Way back when, the Euro qualifying process weeded out all but four teams, who would play four matches to determine all four places. The Three Lions made it all the way to the final four along with Italy, Yugoslavia, and the Soviets. They were assigned the weakest out of the four. C’mon now. The Limeys wouldn’t lose to Tito’s crew, would they? Not until the 87th minute. It’s okay. You were only two years removed from a World Championship. No doubt you’ll contest again in two years.

Mexico, 1970—The Lions nearly hold on for a shootout, but are eliminated by Gerd Müller’s Golden Goal in the 108th minute. Müller was playing for this curious country called “West Germany” back then. It seemed of little consequence. The English had won the World Cup just four years prior. Surely they would be back 

Italy, 1980—Don Revie ran this team into the ground. The team couldn’t make it to the Euros in either 1972 or 1976. Here they couldn’t even make it out of the group, drawing against the Belgians and losing against the Italians. A thrilling win over the Spanish proved too little, too late.

Spain, 1982—Shockingly, the Lions failed to qualify for both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups. No matter. They were back and picked as favorites to emerge past the Second Group Stage. That is, until they failed to score one single goal against either West Germany or Spain. The “Second Group Stage” system was widely lauded as the fairest way of sifting out the teams that just couldn’t perform. Pity. 

Mexico, 1986—After ceding first place in the group to the Moroccans, the Three Lions recovered to trounce Paraguay in the Round of 16. Then came the quarterfinals and Maradona’s “Hand of God”. Let’s move on. So he cheated. Your second major title couldn’t be that far off. You can’t be cheated forever.

Germany, 1988—Doesn’t get much uglier than this. The Irish beat them. The Dutch had their way with them. The Soviets had them bend over. Ugh. Welcome back to Europe, Limeys. Now back to your diseased little Isle.

Italy, 1990—All the way to the semi-finals to face the West Germans. Yes indeed. Fate had finally been kind to you. You blazed your way through the Round of 16 and the Quarterfinals. Linenker even scored a dramatic equalizer in the 80th minute to send you into overtime against the Krauts. You withstood the West German onslaught for a full half hour to earn the shootout. Then, of course, Pearce and Waddle missed in a flukish fashion there was nothing more to do but lament the heartbreak of random elimination. No cause for concern.


Sweden, 1992—They scored no goals against either France or Denmark. Fortunately for them, neither of those countries scored a goal either and the Lions were still in contention after successive 0-0 draws. Fortunately for them, David Platt scored in the 4th minute against Sweden. Unfortunately for you, the Swedes scored two more in the second half. It’s death at the bottom of the group. Rest in peace.

England, 1996—Thirty years after the coveted capture of the World Championship, football came home once more. So did a reunified Germany. Stefan Kuntz’s equalizer stood and we were headed to penalties. In the first 5-5-penalty shootout I’ve ever witnessed, Andreas Möller finally out-dueled Gareth Southgate in the Sixth Round. 


France, 1998—The tears of the failed 1994 American qualifying campaign had long since fallen. This Lions squad had just barely failed to best the Romanians in the group phase and was still favored to take revenge against the Argentines. Early goals from Alan Shearer and Michael Owen had the Lions sure of the quarterfinals ten minutes in. Sadly, Javier Zanetti equalized in first half injury time well after the whistle should have been blown. Gabriel Batistuta also dove for a penalty in one of the most poorly officiated matches of all time. It all came down to penalties, where a spectacular denial of Herman Crespo gave you hope….until Ince and Batty missed as well. It’s okay. Shootouts are just a random crapshoot. The odds have to give in eventually.


Belgium, 2000—They beat the Germans! They also lost to the Portuguese and the Romanians. Looks as if the Group Stage is the graveyard once more.

Japan, 2002—Don’t be concerned about the Swedes barely eking out the top spot in the group. All that means is you have to face the Danes in the Round of 16. Oops. It also means you have to square off against the Brazilians in the quarterfinals. Cheerio!

Portugal, 2004—Back to the quarterfinals. Rui Costa scored a definite game-winner in the 110th, only for Frank Lampard to tie it all back up again in the 115th. Rui Costa and Beckham then traded misses during the shootout. In the SECOND 5-5-penalty shootout I’ve ever witnessed, the English surely had to put 1996 to rest. Right? WRONG! Keeper Ricardo scored, and then saved Darius Vassell.


Germany, 2006—In what was easily THE worst officiated game of all time, the Portuguese somehow held on against you for a shootout. Frank Lampard, Jamie Carragher, and Steven Gerrard couldn’t ALL miss, could they?


South Africa, 2010—Lampard has the equalizer. Surely! The ball crossed the line! Wait a minute…are you telling me that ALL FIVE officials missed it somehow? That can’t be possible.

The Ukraine, 2012—After briefly taking the shootout lead, both Ashleys fail and the Wops move on.


Goodbye yet again, Mother England. You’re 0-6 after 120. You might think it can’t possibly happen again, but I went 0-11 against the spread at the beginning of this tournament.

Italy—“The Azzuri”

Shirt badge/Association crestGentlemen, you’re about to witness Syndicate History. You’re friendly half-Wop bookie will defer his annual tradition of engaging in a über-vitriolic self-hatred ritual known as “fuck the floppin' Wops” until a later installment. Rest assured I’ll have plenty of malevolent venom for the “Dastardly Dagos” in a subsequent chapter….probably after they eliminate my country…again.

Greetings to “The Guinea Crowd” from Philly. As always, I wish you the worst of luck. As always, I’m scared shitless. Prandelli’s Pets have come full circle from that embarrassing Group Stage defeat back in 2010. The sharp, forward-thinking manager continues to jettison dead weight like Mirek Toplanek chucks clothes at a Bunga Bunga party. In 2012 it was arriverderci to Fabio Cannavaro, Vicenzo Iaquinta, Luca Toni, Gianluca Zambrotta, and Mauro Cameronesi. He had seen enough of Di Natale by the time the 2013 Confed Cup rolled around. Now he’s tossed Diamanti, Bonnucci, Maggio, Balzaretti, Giacherreni, Gilardino, and Guiseppe Rossi. Love the cajones on this guy!

Throw the bastards overboard! That the spirit….the Matteo Renzi spirit at least ; )

“Why always me” superstriker Mario Balotelli returns s the favorite to capture the tournament’s Golden Boot. He’s coming off another spectacular 18-goal campaign for Berlusconi’s A.C. Milan. As evidenced last summer, Prandelli tends to shy away from deploying a solitary striker. It just hasn’t worked for him. After the surprise drop of Fiorentina’s Giuseppe Rossi (startled and shocked I was), one can only assume that Prandelli will partner Cassano with Balotelli up front. This doesn’t exactly strike me as the wisest move, in spite of the fact that Cassano’s short-passing game is unrivaled.

Can this really be the plan? It’s the only way to read the tealeaves. The three remaining Azzuri strikers are names no one has ever heard of. Together they only have 16 international caps and one goal. What the woping fuck?  Perhaps Prandelli is just that impressed with the form of his midfield general Andrea Pirlo. The 35-year-old Juventus man is shaping up to be one of those rare players who discovers a new dimension deep into the twilight of his career. The former A.C. Milan standout usually passes immediately and shoots only on set pieces. He unleashed a real tracer bullet during last summer’s festivities. Lately, however, he’s been making a lot more enterprising runs forward. It seems he’s just been a perfectionist all along. He’ll pick out a few lovely opportunities when he finds himself in space this time. Let’s hope his job isn’t to find either Claudio Marchisio or Thiago Motta out wide. Both continue to play well below their potential. Ugh. The Italian flanks are looser than Ruby Heartstealer’s… know.

After the surprise drop of Ricardo Montolivo (once again startled and shocked I was) it looks like Thiago Motta will be the last line of defense before we get to a rather shaky back four. Abate and De Sciglio are the mistake prone fullbacks who remain unsure of their positioning. Chielleni and Barzagli stand before Buffon, who has been receiving entirely too much coverage as of late.

He’s a keeper, people!! Even the best keepers in the world are those who just don’t fuck up too often. All of his skill and adrenaline doesn’t matter a pair of fetid dingo kidneys if he’s peppered with efforts he has no chance of stopping. Use your heads, people!

Anyway, I do believe I’ve managed to talk myself out of the Azzuri yet again. Hmmm….I think I’ll drop them down a bit : ) Is it overreasoning or am I trying to play you? You make the call!

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

        Mario Balotelli Antonio Cassano
 Claudio Marchisio     Danielle De Rossi
                      Andrea Pirlo
                     Thiago Motta
M. De Sciglio G. Chielleni A. Barzagli I. Abate
                    Gianluigi Buffon

 The Talisman— Mario Balotelli  

Why always him? Because he’s simply magnificent. He’s another one of those Talismans that it’s pointless to waste words on. I hope everyone likes the picture....Just watch the tape:

 “A Syndicate Classic”—Italy  

From EM 2004—“Revenge of the Syndicate”:
EM 2004 

Forza Italia! Maestro Giovanni Trapatonni (German name Graf -- Spumonti von Flasche Leer) has assembled another homogeneous squad consisting entirely of top wops from the Top Wop League. Alessandro del Piero returns after a spectacular season for Juventus. Roma’s Francesco Totti underwent quite a bit of maturing in the two-year interval and now finds himself at the top of his game. Ever the opportunists, the deviant little Dagoes have even plied a dual Argentine-Italian citizen named Mauro Cameronesi away from the legendary blue and white stripes to play for the Azzurri. As a dual citizen myself, I empathize with Cameronesi. Germany and the United States continue to wage a rather brutal bidding war for the privilege of being the country to reject my services.

Other new faces include the promising young forward Antonio Cassano, the former U-21 Andrea Pirlo and the aptly named all purpose man Matteo Ferrari. With a full two-thirds of the pitch run by rolling Lamborghini players in the “sweet spot” of 23-29 age range, what weaknesses do we identify? The ancient Fiats in charge of the rear. Fabio Cannavaro and Christian Pannucci have has sluggish seasons and were mostly retained for legacy’s sake. Same applies to Alessandro Nesta, likely to lose his place to the upstart Gianluca Zambrotta.

As much I love to lampoon the Wops, they host the second best league in Europe and a Marianas Depth Talent Pool from which to draw from.  They’ve won three World Championships and were runners up in this tournament back in 2000. Three world championships and they never even managed to keep a functional democratic coalition government in place for over three years! The dichotomy of these people revolves around their proclivity to take leisure seriously and everything else leisurely. I’ll pick them to grease their way to the semi-finals. 

Editor’s retroactive notes:

Take a moment to reflect how obscure a Fiat reference was back in 2004. Back then the only ones referencing Fiats were the Car Talk brothers. After Daimler filed for divorce from Chrysler in 2007, the broken and dejected U.S. Car Firm went to the online dating service known as the United States Taxpayer and re-married a fat gnome named Fiat. The Italian equivalent of Peugeot made its triumphant return the U.S. Market in 2011 via the gyrating ministrations of an aging J-Lo. So nice to observe when two useless flabby dwarfs find one another and put on a ridiculously ostentatious display. I haven’t been this moved since the little people hug at the end of “Willow”. 

This individual write-up counts as the least acerbic and spiteful piece of venom I’ve ever composed on the Italians. As I recall it was late one Thursday afternoon and I was sitting at my desk in my apartment trying to bang out some content after a long day at work. The Hate Circuits simply wouldn’t light up. I stared at my dead plants for a spell. Nothing. Tried looking out the window, toward the edge of the parking lot where my cat used to play. No dice, Vice. I took a long pull off my flask. Surely the bite of cheap Whisky pummeling down my esophagus would trigger some meanness. I remained serenely calm and relaxed. I toyed with the idea of calling up my mother and instigating a fight. It seemed like an awfully uncalled-for means of generating some inspiration. In the final analysis I settled for a weak play on words so banally prosaic that only a 21-year-old could have written it and judged it acceptable Blah.

Costa Rica—“Los Ticos”

Shirt badge/Association crestLos Ticos return….to almost certain slaughter. ; ( One has to fel for this poor country. After an impressive qualifying round, they now return to the Grand Stage for the first time since 2006. Back then they had the misfortune to be drawn in a group with the hosts (Germany). If only the draw had been kinder to them this time. There are, after all, an unprecedented THREE “Groups of Life” in this summer’s competition. Alas, here they are; stuck playing against three Worldwide “Top 20 Teams”. Schade!

About the only thing most Syndicate members will recall about Costa Rica are Paolo Wanchope’s two brilliant goals in the 2006 tournament’s electrifying opening match. Forget about him. He’s ancient history. This version of the Central American selection qualified squarely on the shoulders of PSV Eindhoven’s Bryan Ruiz and AIK Stockholm’s Celso Borges. The striker and midfielder make for a potent one-two punch….at least in terms on CONCAF opponents that is.

On this stage even additional star power can’t save them. Olympiacos phenom Joel Campbell and Copenhagen winger Christian Bolanos are not players to be taken lightly, but they can’t really be expected to sweep past the internationals in this group. Los Ticos even have a homegrown hero in mobile midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda. Not good enough. They’ll be lucky to earn one draw from three matches.

Left back Junior Diaz plays for Pfälzer Bundesligists FSV Mainz….and I still don’t really care.

 Projecting the Costa Rican Lineup—(5-2-3)  

                        Bryan Ruiz
 Christian Bolanos          Joel Campbell
          Celso Borges    Yeltsin Tejada
  Junior Diaz                 Cristian Gamboa
          G. Gonzalez   Johnny Acosta
                      Keylor Navas

 The Talisman— Bryan Ruiz  

Ruiz was at his best during his second year playing for Fulham. He’s put together a halfway decent season on loan for PSV but lacks the same creative touch he had before his debilitating foot injury. With Fulham relegated, he’ll likely get a shot to start over somewhere new next season.

 “A Syndicate Classic”—Costa Rica  

From WM 2006—“The Curse of the Syndicate”:
WM 2006 

Costa Rica  

We’ve finally traversed the European Swamp to pop in for a quick visit to CONCACAF, the football Federation pragmatically known as “The U.S., Mexico, and…er…why not throw in two other countries?” La Sele joined us for some enlivening group stage action back in 2002. Their back in large part due to some epic performances turned in by their two international superstars Paulo Wanchope and Gilberto Martinez during the qualifying stages.

First task for “The Selection”: Glorious Fatherland. Yeah, that about sums it up. Nevertheless they stand a decent chance of claiming second place in a group weaker than Kerry’s response team. Viva Costa Rica! They may very well turn some heads/raise some eyebrows/elicit some guttural affirmations/purse some lips/do something very clichéd to otherwise placid facial expressions.

Uruguay—“La Celeste”

Shirt badge/Association crestLove the country, hate the team. My favorite periodical, “The Economist” named Uruguay 2013’s “Country of the Year”…for good reason. This bookie was extolling the virtues of recent political developments in Uruguay as far back as August. Below you’ll find some of my thoughts on Jose Mujica, written during last autumn’s qualifying campaign. If only I didn’t want to repeatedly punch Luis Suarez in the face.

Speaking of Suarez, with no news concerning his surgery coming over the wire today, I’m forced to knock down my projection. This is quite a bold move considering La Celeste feature enough talent without Suarez to roll through all the way to the Final Match unmolested. Edinson Cavani had another fantastic year, this time over at PSG. This is still a 70 million Euro man were talking about here! Cristian Rodriguez continues to work the left flank well over at Athelitico. The back is tighter than a twelve-year-old Methodist. Caceres and Diego Godin are riding high after incredible seasons with their respective clubs. Godin grabbed a goal in the Champions League final and Caceres was very much the Charlie Horse for Juventus over the course of their steamroll towards the title.

Maxi Pereira looks as threatening as ever at Right Back. He can make a lot happen when he comes forward, as Europa League Champions Benfica will happily attest. Diego Perez and Arevalo Rios can still hold their own in midfield. Talent abounds beyond Suarez…but so do concerns. Perez and Rios are getting on in years. UNAL was kind enough to loan Rios to a club where he could play more this season, but it didn’t boost his flagging productivity. Right winger Christian Stuani demonstrates weakness on both crosses and aerial duels. Most distressing, captain Diego Lugano just got released by West Bromwich Albion. He’ll likely land on his feet, but he’s been using his feet mostly to commit dumb fouls ever since he signed with PSG. His glory days are over.

The Talisman is missing. The captain is in distress. The coach is pondering retirement. In our first significant upset call of the tournament, your friendly bookie predicts La Celeste finish third behind Italy and England.

 Projecting the Uruguayan Lineup (4-4-2)  

           Luis Suarez  Edinson Cavani
Cristian Rodriguez           Cristian Stuani
        Diego Perez      Arevalo Rios
Martin Caceres                Maxi Pereira
          Diego Godin   Diego Lugano
                Fernando Muslera

 The Talisman—Luis Suarez  

He’s a douche. His flagrant handball sent the poor Black Stars home early in 2010. Even if he was adequately penalized, he remained on the pitch to celebrate and made obnoxious remarks afterward. He earned a completely justified suspension for despicable racist remarks made against Patrice Evra. Again, punishment was meted out fairly. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Suarez hadn’t refused to shake Evra’s hand his first game back. What more could you ask for? The “international asshole”. He dives. He whines. He pouts. He’s also the Premiership Player of the Year. Here’s some samples:

 “A Syndicate Classic”—Uruguay  

From WMQ 2013—“Das Fröhliche Syndikat”:
WMQ 2013 (1) 
Peru vs. Uruguay


It’s not looking like I’ll be able to write this section without mentioning Jose Mujica’s controversial experiment of Full Marijuana legalization. Look, people. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I haven’t toked up in years. The prospect of doing so again doesn’t even remotely interest me.

What I do know is that Mujica is an impressive public servant. Yes, we’re going there. Above you’ll find measured admiration for Pinera and Maduro. Admiration for Mujica isn’t anywhere close to measured. It’s unabashed. The man lives in a fucking shack! He sits in his shack all day, thinking about ways to improve the lives of his citizens.

Latin Americans have a great deal to teach us…at this particular moment in history. After the yoke of colonialism was discarded, faux constitutions, corruption and ruthless dictators dominated for hundreds of years. It happens. They sheltered Nazi War Criminals. That too happens. Following that, American interference precluded the rise of a socially aware political class (Allende and Guevara). Even after that, the initial uninterrupted rise of Socialist leaders was fairly disappointing. (Chavez, Evo, Lula, Kirchners, etc) Now they’re working overtime to catch up. Someone like Mujica inspires a great deal of hope.

We’ll never see such a thoughtful leader in the American media landscape. Even if their intentions are as pure as a teetotalling Virgin Princess, constant scrutiny won’t allow them to implement any of it. A good leader flowers as rarely as good grapes. The best wine comes from obscure forgotten corners of the world. Why not the best leaders?

Latin America’s rises with a message of humility and hard work. Even “Pope Frank” continues to impress. Watch out world.    

La Celeste will win this one….but that doesn’t rescue their qualifying hopes.

THE LINE: Uruguay +2 Goals

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

1) England 
2) Italy 
3) Uruguay 
4) Costa Rica 

Overall Championship Odds

 Uruguay (Straight Up)
 Italy (2 to 1)
 England (3 to 1)
 Costa Rica (15 to 1)

Round of 16 Odds

 Italy (NO BETS)
 England (Straight Up)
 Uruguay (Straight Up)
 Costa Rica (3 to 1)

Quarterfinal Odds

 Italy (Straight Up)
 England (Straight Up)
 Uruguay (Straight Up)
 Costa Rica (5 to 1)

Semifinal Odds

 Uruguay (Straight Up)
 Italy (2 to 1)
 England (2 to 1)
 Costa Rica (7 to 1)