How to sound smart at the watercooler
Everyone isn't a soccer expert. Yet many of you will be caught in a conversation that veers toward the World Cup at some point in the coming summer. For those of you not inclined to scour Slovenia's World Cup roster for hidden clues that could help the U.S. gain possession in the middle third, here are a few lines that will help you sound like you know what you're talking about:1. "I predict Germany will make a run this year."
Germany always makes a run. Germany at the World Cup is the safest bet since Joe Louis in his "Bum of the Month Club" days from 1939 to 1941. On average, Germany progresses further into tournaments than any other country in the world (it has made the final eight of every tournament since 1954). And it does so with minimal fuss. What it is exactly that makes the Germans so good is hard to pin down. It is said that they want it more than others. And that they get lucky last-minute goals. Neither is statistically quantifiable. But the truth remains, Germany always does well. And it seems especially partial to doing so when its teams aren't considered among the best, not unlike this year.
While it is suspect in several positions, you can count on Germany showing well, making this a safe prediction.2. "You know, David Beckham's absence really doesn't make all that much difference."
Beckham is one of the sport's most recognizable players. That doesn't make him the best. At his peak, he was one of the world's best midfielders. He isn't that anymore. What's more, he wouldn't have fit into coach Fabio Capello's England team. Capello puts a premium on quick wingers who can take on their opponents one-on-one. He has a handful of those at his disposal. Beckham doesn't fit that description. At his best, he was a hard-working wide midfielder who sprinkled beautiful corners, long balls and free kicks over the field, but he was never the kind of winger Capello wants.
Point out that while he would most likely have made the England team, Beckham probably wouldn't have started or played all that much anyway.3. "Brazil looks un-Brazilian this year."
Known for its "joga bonito," commonly translated as "the beautiful game" but actually closer to "play beautifully," Brazil has won five World Cups mostly playing an insouciant and bon-vivant type of soccer. But since Dunga, himself a defensive midfielder as a player, has taken over as coach, he has rebuilt Brazil in his own image, preferring a cautious, defensive approach with quick switches into counterattacks, putting an end to Brazil's beloved happy-go-lucky, attack-first style.
To really silence your fellow conversationalists, state that Kaka is the best counterattack playmaker in the world, and that he will be the oil that makes the Brazilian engine run. Add that Dani Alves should be starting for any team, even if it does have Maicon.4. "The Netherlands will play wonderful soccer. But it won't get anywhere."
The same way Germany can be relied upon to overachieve, the Dutch can be trusted to eventually implode. They always do, without fail. Whether they succumb to penalties, arrogance, bad luck or simply run into a better opponent while having a bad day, things will end unhappily. Like death and taxes. The Netherlands will be loaded with offensive talent but find a way to screw it up.
For bonus points, say that the Netherlands is the best country never to have won the World Cup.5. "This could be the first time the host nation's team doesn't survive the first round."
South Africa's Bafana Bafana are almost certain to secure a very dubious honor. In 18 previous World Cups, the host nation has never failed to make it out of the first round. Even the unfancied Yanks made it out in 1994. Despite playing in one of the weakest groups -- with middle-of-the-road Mexico and Uruguay and a France team ravaged by scandal and poor coaching -- South Africa probably won't survive. While it boasted a good national team in the mid-1990s, after apartheid ended, the country's soccer structure is said to have fallen into disrepair.
Worth mentioning is that the only South African player who belongs at a World Cup is Everton winger Steven Pienaar.6. "My analysis predicts an average of two to three goals per game."
Every World Cup since 1962 has seen the average number of goals scored per game hover between 2.2 and 3.
If you really want to blow people away, mention that, as our statistical projections show, goals per game should rise for the first time since 1994, after having been on a steady decline during the last three editions. (Don't credit us, of course, but keep all the glory to yourself.)7. "Lionel Messi has it all to prove at this World Cup."
This past season, Messi was the best player in the world, much like he had been the year prior when he and his club, Barcelona, won everything there was to win. But however superlative he has been for his club, Messi has never been anywhere near so dominant for Argentina. This was long blamed on the fact that he was deployed differently for Argentina (in the center) than he was for Barcelona (on the right wing). But lately, he has been playing mostly in the middle for Barcelona, too. As such, the World Cup, where stars go to become legends, will prove a litmus test for the tiny Argentinean.
State also that it remains to be seen if Messi will be effective with Juan Veron supplying him, rather than Xavi and his endless inch-perfect passes.