The World Cup is Flat: Part I

The following is an email exchange between me and my buddy Chip, two people who know very little about soccer, where we guess the entire outcome of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

JL: Seeing as you know next to nothing about soccer, who better to predict the outcome of the 2014 World Cup. Let’s start with Group A: Brazil, Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon. Who you got and why? And remember, this is the group stage so you can only pick two teams.

Chip: “Next to nothing” is generous.  These picks will have no actual knowledge of the game or countries to back them up , so I really like my chances.  Also, this will be a test of my geography knowledge or lack thereof.  

Even I know that Brazil has to advance (right?) and give me Croatia.  From what I know, since that dust up in the early 90s, they have created a free function democracy, recently joined the EU and by most accounts (Google Images) have a beautiful coastline.  That has to mean their club can get past Mexico (pretty sure they are on the decline) and Cameroon (its in Africa, but couldn’t pick it out on a map)…

JL: Their infrastructure might not be ready in time but this Brazilian team is a mortal lock to reach the knockout stage. I’ll take Croatia as well even though, unlike you, I can identify Cameroon on a map.

On to Group B: Spain, Chile, Netherlands and Australia. From now on make sure to indicate 1st and 2nd place as this does determine placement in the next round.

Chip: Sorry, didn’t know how these group stage or friendlies or double dutch rounds work.  Sticking with chalk theory, give me Spain (1).  I believe Netherlands made it the finals four years ago, but I am going to go with Chile.  Why? No real good reason other than Australia can’t be that good at soccer and I also assume picking against the Netherlands is an upset?

JL: Some other time please do explain to us exactly what a double dutch round entails. For now, chalk is safe with Spain and Chile, but since Chile may be without one of their best players I’ll hedging slightly towards the veteran savvy of Oranje.

Let me start thy bidding on Group C: Columbia, Ivory Coast, Greece, and Japan. Ivory Coast (1) and Columbia are the favorites and will advance. I wish I had a pithy comment to add about either Greece or Japan’s chances in Brazil but I don’t.

Chip: Give me Columbia at #1 and the Ivory Coast #2.

JL: Group D: Uruguay, England, Italy and Costa Rica is where things starts to get interesting for me. Uruguay are the favorites but their best player Luis Suarez is returning from a knee injury, plus he’s got a history of being a major asshole. I’ll go with the first minor upset of the tournament and pick Italy (1) and England to advance.

Chip: Have to go with the Motherland #1.  Rooney is still good, no? I mean if Wade Boggs can rock hair plugs, why not Rooney. Give me Italy #2. I love chicken parm.

JL: I didn’t realize you bore such close allegiance to your fore bearers. I’m also not so sure that we aren’t making a catastrophic mistake by not picking Uruguay to advance. According to the metrics of some publications like the New York Times, liberal rag, Uruguay has a legit chance of winning the World Cup and most believe that only one of the two, Italy or England, will advance.

Moving right along to Group E: France, Ecuador, Switzerland, and Honduras. This is the most uninspiring group in the entire tournament. France (1) will breeze through into the next stage and give me Honduras as well if for no other reason than they played the USMNT tight during World Cup qualification. I think.

Bigger question for me is how does FIFA determine these opening round groups at the World Cup? Feels pretty random until you compare Group E to Group G: Germany, Portugal, United States and Ghana. Is this another example of FIFA corruption?

Chip: As I think we already covered, I am not “most experts.” Picking the French in anything but a cooing contest seems like a mistake to me, but I will go against my better judgement and take them 1 and give me Ecuador 2.

As far as FIFA’s grouping system, pretty sure Randy Moss knows: (insert Straight cash homey YouTube).

JL: FIFA has no shame Listening to John Oliver eviscerate FIFA on his HBO show the other night was pure joy. The fact that they continue to award World Cup’s to countries that lack the infrastructure to support an event of such magnitude demonstrates the level of mismanagement and ineptitude. There was zero justification for Qatar to be awarded the 2022 World Cup unless there were bribes exchanged.

The truly tragic aspect of this corruption is that it is leading to horrific workplace conditions as countries like Qatar, and Brazil, race to build the stadiums and transportation systems necessary to host an event of such a large scale. Watch the E:60 piece on migrant workers in Qatar. The gov’t is literally withholding visa’s of migrant workers so that they cannot leave the country until construction is complete. FIFA had to know sketchy shit like this was going to happen yet clearly doesn’t care. Why? Because they’re getting paid in one way or another.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia, Nigeria, and Iran. Lionel Messi probably wins this group by himself. This is Bosnia’s first World Cup as an independent nation and they will be able to celebrate all the way to the knockout stage.

Chip: The Oliver piece was brilliant.  While I won’t imply that the NFL is as corrupt as FIFA or even corrupt at all, the two organizations share the same advantage which is the demand will always be there, so there is really not impedance to change.  Maybe a better comparison for FIFA is the NCAA.  Both making millions by exploiting people.

Regarding Qatar, my first thought when I learned they won was how the hell do you play a soccer match in the desert in the middle of the Summer?

Give me Argentina in the one spot.  There is no way I can pick Iran in anything and I also can’t pick Nigeria, not that Bosnia gives me a warm and fuzzy.

JL: Comparing FIFA to the NCAA is interesting because with the Ed O’Bannon case now underway the landscape of college athletics is about to change. Significantly. I’m unaware of any litigation facing FIFA but there are enough reasons (internal corruption, substandard working conditions, etc) to warrant change. But your right that consumer demand can interfere with progressive ethics and morals. With more people set to watch this World Cup than any prior, FIFA will walk away even more embolden than ever before. In order for things to change people need to stop paying massive ESPN/Fox Sports 1 subscription fees and that not about to happen anytime soon.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, USA and Ghana. The Group of Death. I, unlike head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, believe the Americans can win and expect them to move on to the next round with Germany winning the group.

Chip: Right, but if FIFA were to go away, some organization would still need to organize the most popular event in the world and there is no doubt it would be rife with corruption.  Likewise, we may sit here and complain about the NCAA and talk radio can go on ad nauseam about the pay for play issue, but at the end of the day, there has to be football played every fall Saturday in Tuscaloosa and South Bend, and some organizing body will need to be in charge of that.

I played organized sports for the better part of my first 20 years, and I have NEVER seen a coach do what Klinsmann is doing.  I didn’t feel much outrage over his decision to keep Donovan off the roster – what the hell do I know, maybe the old guy doesn’t have it anymore – but to come out and say more than once that your team has no chance of winning, that doesn’t sit well even with a non-soccer fan like myself.  That is not how we roll here.  Give me Portugal (1) and USA (2).  I am not picking Germany strictly because of Klinsmann.  #’merica.

On a related note, I really wish ESPN had sent Berman to the Amazon to call the USA soccer match and left Tirico in NC to all the US Open.

JL: Here’s the thing w/ Klinsmann’s strategy, and it has to be a strategy, what he says to the press is different from what he is saying in the locker room. Has to be. I’m sure he is telling his players that he expects to win each game. By telling that media that USMNT has no chance what he’s doing is effectively lowering expectations which makes sense because, realistically we aren’t going to advance from the group stage anyway.

The Donovan thing I find a bit more curious. He may no longer be at the top of his form but he can still give you 20-25 minutes of world class soccer. Plus the experience, there’s no accounting for been there done that. Klinsmann clearly has a bug up his ass about Landycakes which is true for most coaches and fading stars who take a season off during their prime to go on a vision quest. If the US underperforms in Brazil then I think he takes some heat for leaving Donovan off the roster. If they play well, no one will care.

Last group, Group H: Belgium, Russia, South Korea, and Algeria. Who ya got?

Chip:

1. Belgium
2. South Korea

It isn’t like this team has been together for a long time.  I have a hard time believing that all the players in the lockeroom are buying into this strategy, and I agree with you, it is a strategy…and a terrible one in my opinion.

JL: It is different, but a lot of things about Klinsmann are unique like saying he could care less how much his players fornicate during their time in Brazil. Maybe that’s why the players have yet to rebel against their coach b/c they want to be able to screw as much as possible while in the southern hemisphere.

I like Belgium (1) and Russia. Both considered possible sleeper picks to make the semis.

Here are our respective rounds of 16 in the 2014 World Cup:

JL
Brazil v Netherlands, Ivory Coast v England, France v Bosnia, Germany v Russia
Spain v Croatia, Italy v Columbia, Argentina v Honduras (bad choice pour moi) Belgium v USA
Chip
Brazil v Chile, Columbia v Italy, France v Bosnia, Portugal v South Korea
Spain v Croatia, England v Ivory Coast, Argentina v Ecuador, Belgium USA

 

Part II of this email exchange coming later today or whenever Chip stops watching coverage of the U.S. Open.