Three games today, including two good ones.
England-Paraguay: England is my pick to win the tournament, so I’m eager to see them playing a credible team right from the start. Paraguay has a history of advancing, but they’ll have to get results against England and/or Sweden to get to the second round, which will be hard. England – and spare me the anglophobe comments – is flat out fantastic this year. Especially in mid-field – where futbol matches are won – the concentration of talent is frightening. Steven Gerard, Joe Cole, David Beckham and Frank Lampard are, all four of them, just show-stoppers. And their reputed striking difficulties are overblown – Owen is fit, and injured wunderkind Rooney’s replacement Peter Crouch (all 6 feet and 7 inches of him – and as good with his feet as with his head) has been terrorizing defenses all year. (My pet theory is that Rooney will get fit by the second round and then have trouble earning a place back from Crouch.) I say England 2 – Paraguay 0.
Argentina-Ivory Coast: Play starts in the “group of death” tonight with Argentina taking on the best of the first-time participants. The BBC had an excellent report on World Cup fever in the war-torn Ivory Coast (click here and slide to 33:16) and, frankly, it’s hard not to root for them. The Ivorians have at least three top-level players – Chelsea’s intimidating striker Didier Drogba and Arsenal’s on-form defensive duplet Eboué-Touré – whereas Argentina is still relying on Riquelme after all these years, and on the over-hyped teenager Messi. I say Argentina 1 – Ivory Coast 1. (Still, with Holland and Serbia-Montenegro – a talented team without a country – also in the group, the fight to qualify will be a cuchillo.)
There’s also Sweden-Trinidad & Tobago, but that one’s barely worth watching. The Trinidadians – who are only in the world cup cuz they’re in the absurdly over-represented Concacaf qualifying group – will be aiming merely to prevent humiliation. I say they’ll fail, and call it Sweden 3 – T&T 0.) Sweden, incidentally, could get pretty far in this tournament with a little luck. They have two of my favorite players (Lundberg and Zlatan – the class!) and Larsson to boot. It’ll be important for them to try to actually win Group B (which also has England and Paraguay) because the second-place team in the group looks sure to end up playing Germany in the second round: not a pretty prospect.