1) Cristiano Ronaldo is basically LeBron James when he was on the Cavaliers
Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world, but he’s also the most polarizing due to his love for posing shirtless after goals. Unlike Messi who is adored by the media, Ronaldo will take most of the blame if Portugal falters in the World Cup. Here is the issue: Ronaldo once again doesn’t have a supporting cast. His partners in attack are Nani, who had a disappointing year, and Helger Postiga, who generally sucks. A reminder to LeBron haters: Mo Williams was just not very good.
2) The United States is a mid-major in college basketball like Wichita State or San Diego State
A team like Wichita State will dominate their conference because of weak competition. Then the NCAA tournament comes around, and it starts having to play tougher teams like Kentucky. While it can put up a fight, its talent gap is ultimately exposed.
While the US had a very successful qualifying campaign, their region is one of the weakest in the world. There is no doubt that the US can play with Portugal and Germany, but the talent gap will be the reason why they probably don’t advance. In ESPN’s top 50 players, none of them are from the US. This squad has far more depth than previous years, but needs star players to compete consistently against the world’s best. Look for the US to be much more competitive in 2018 as their next generation looks to be promising.
3) Spain is the soccer equivalent of the San Antonio Spurs
“They are past their prime!”
“They are boring to watch!”
“They win because of a system!”
Basically everything people say about the Spurs applies to Spain — the most dominant national team of the last decade (maybe even ever, if they win again). Many are counting them out because their star players like Xavi (age 34) and Iniesta (age 30) are past their prime. Spain’s biggest advantage is cohesiveness. Their ENTIRE starting midfield of Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, and Pedro has played together for club and country for over 5 years. People forget that World Cup squads start training only weeks before the tournament — it’s a huge advantage to have players that are familiar with each other.
Another fun fact is that Spanish star striker Diego Costa pulled the ultimate “Johnny Damon” move this past year. For those who don’t remember, Johnny Damon signed with the rival Yankees after helping the Red Sox win a World Series. Costa was born and raised in Brazil, but upset that he was never selected to play with the Brazilian National team. Because Costa was playing in Spain, he was able to get Spanish citizenship and could potentially play for either team if he was good enough. Soon after, he blossomed into one of the best strikers in Europe and had offers to play with both squads: Brazil or Spain. Costa chose Spain and will forever be viewed as a traitor in Brazil. Here is the kicker: What is the Brazilian squad’s only weakness? No star striker. Expect Costa to hear jeers every time he touches the ball.
4) Wayne Rooney is approaching Tony Romo territory
No one epitomizes choking better than Tony Romo in a big game. Unfortunately for England, Wayne Rooney seems to follow suit during major tournaments. Once anointed as England’s savior, Rooney is still searching for his first World Cup goal (yes, you read that right). No other England striker has ever gone eight games without scoring a goal. At age 28, this is likely Wayne Rooney’s last chance to bring glory back to a nation that has dreadfully underperformed at past World Cups.
England’s expectations are low this World Cup, since they feature a largely inexperienced squad outside of a few players like Rooney and Steven Gerrard. Watch for Raheem Sterling (age 19) to be one of the young stars of the World Cup. Sterling will run at defenses and setup scoring opportunities for Rooney.
5) If Chip Kelly coached soccer, he would coach Argentina
Three of the best forwards in the world play for Argentina (Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Gonzalo Higuain). While most teams play 1-2 forwards, Argentina plays all 3 at the same time. Behind them is Angel DiMaria, one of the most dangerous attacking midfielders in the world. It’s no wonder Argentina is everyone’s favorite to challenge Brazil for the World Cup. If you like goals and want to see lots of them, Argentina should be your team to watch. They cruised through South America World Cup Qualifying by averaging over 2 goals a game. The only problem is that they are weak at the back and will likely concede many goals as well.
6) The “Lance Stephenson” of soccer. Meet Mario Balotelli.
Let’s be honest, the NBA Playoffs were better when Lance Stephenson was playing. But Lance cannot even hold a candle to Mario Balotelli, Italy’s star forward and general pain in the ass. Here are some of the highlights of Balotelli’s resume:
- In 2010, he was fined for throwing darts at the Manchester City youth team players “just for fun”
- In 2011, he set off fireworks in his bathroom which burned down his entire house
- In 2011, he was benched for trying a back-heel goal on an empty net (and missing) during a friendly against the Los Angeles Galaxy
- In 2011, he was suspended for four games for stomping on the head of Tottenham’s Scott Parker during a Premier league match
Combine this with the numerous fights he has gotten into with coaches and players, and even Ron Artest would be impressed with the caliber of crazy that Balotelli is. Just like Stephenson, his on-field performance varies from breath-taking to completely invisible. Italy’s squad lacks great talent in attack, so they will need the Superman Balotelli to advance in this World Cup.
7) “Go big or go home!” — motto for French National team
The French produce great wine, cheese, and woefully inconsistent World Cup performances.
Here is the French World Cup record over the past 20 years:
1994: Did not qualify
1998: Won the World Cup
2002: Knocked out during group stage
2006: Runner Up
2010: Knocked out during group stage
While they are deep with talent, losing Frank Ribery due to injury is a crushing blow. However, they have a good draw and lots of young talented players, so anything can happen.
8) The “12th man” in Seattle is a library compared to what the Maracana Stadium will be like when Brazil plays
Brazil should win the World Cup for two reasons:
2) Because they are playing at home
Per usual, Brazil features one of the strongest squads and deepest squads in the World Cup. What will push them over the edge is having home field advantage in a country where people are obsessed with the sport (until it costs them billions in tax dollars, then they get pissed and protest). Regardless, home field advantage is a big deal in soccer. A European team has NEVER won a World Cup in the Western hemisphere. Home teams score up to 40% more in International matches. Combine that with the fact that Brazil hasn’t lost at home in any competition since 2002, and it would be a major shock to see anyone else raise the trophy this World Cup.