Monday, May 22, 2006

Players to Watch: Who are these guys?

The more I think about it, the more the idea of this post becomes silly to me. A soccer neophyte (me) writing a guide for World cup soccer games. But here I am and here you are. I will do my best to at least give you the heads up on those who anyone who considers themselves a soccer fan should recognize. That way, should you find yourself watching the World Cup you can impress others with your limited knowledge of the top players.


Brazil (Club Team - Barcelona)
Yes, he only goes by one name (it's oh-so Brazilian), and yes he's the ugliest man in soccer; but he's also considered the best player in the world. Typically playing an attacking midfield position, he's the one who will be making the incredible pass hoping to set up Ronaldo (see, one name) or any other numerous one-named Brazilian players. He's very hard to dispossess(take the ball from) as the ball just seems to stick to his feet. Oh, and he can score, too. Man, can he score.

Thierry Henry

France (Club Team - Arsenal)
He's French, so the last name's pronounced On-Ree. He's become the quintessential striker. A center forward who can score from anywhere and create chances all by himself. Some might question whether he plays his best at the international level, but you probably want to watch for yourself.

Michael Ballack

Germany (Club Team - Chelsea)
A hard working mid-fielder who's a monster in the air and got a pretty heavy foot. If he's scoring, though, the ball's probably just come off his head. He considered by many to be Germany's only world-class player (at least the only one who doesn't play in goal), but he was good enough to get them to the final game of World Cup 2002 before he was forced to miss it due to an accumulation of yellow cards. A player to be feared, even if he does look like Matt Damon.

David Beckham

England (Club Team - Real Madrid)
Surely, you know this guy, right? Here's how the BBC describes England's captain:"Clothes horse, gay icon, pop-star husband... oh, and a multi-million pound galactico with a golden right-foot who likes nothing better than delivering on the biggest stage." Truly, he's quite deadly on set pieces anywhere inside 40 yards(maybe more). But I feel I should take this opportunity to say to those who assumed that because he's the soccer player whose name you know he's the best. He's good, but he ain't that. His talent shows up most when taking free kicks and passing balls into the box to be headed by teammates. Not particularly fast or quick, just hard working and effective.

Francesco Totti

Italy (Club Team - Roma)
Totti is another of those offensive mid-fielders who, if things are going well, is the one who makes his team go. Quote:"Totti’s best position is in the hole just behind the two strikers, where his vision, passing and trickery are most effective. His shooting is excellent and his body strength also allows him to mix it with the toughest of defenders. Forthcoming opponents of Italy conceding free kicks around the penalty area do so at their peril." Enough said. He's good and his name is fun to say.


Brazil (Club Team - Real Madrid)
You might be saying, "But you already had one Brazilian." Yeah, well, I could probably put about 7 of them on this list. That should give you a good indication of why Brazil is ranked #1 in the world and expected to repeat as World Cup champions. As far as Ronaldo, considered one of the greatest strikers of all time, he's still not what he was before a flurry of knee injuries that many thought would end his career. Even so, he is still a big man who can move well and make multiple defenders look foolish on the same play. Despite the fact that he's only 30 and missed at least 2 seasons to injury, he's been FIFA World Player of the Year 3 times. He's real good; a player by which other greats of the game are measured.

Zinedine Zidane

France (Club Team - Real Madrid)
At 34, he's on the down-side of his career. It was thought that the last World Cup would be his international finale, but he reversed field and has decided to make one more go at it. A midfielder known for spot-on passes and dazzling goals, I guess it could be said he was Ronaldinho before Ronaldinho was Ronaldinho. It's generally accepted that at some point during every game he'll do something that makes you say, "Wow."


Spain (Club Team - Real Madrid)
At 28, Raul is already Spain's all-time leading scorer. The striker, who also serves as team captain, is already considered a legend. Yeah, that's right, a Spanish football legend before he's thirty. If he can't out-skill you (which he probably can), he'll out work you. He's one of the biggest stars of the game. That's why he only needs one name, too.

Juan Roman Riquelme

Argentina (Club Team - Villarreal)
Another midfielder who can pass like nobody's business (Does anyone else see a pattern forming here?). "Riquelme has always stood out due to his intelligence, outstanding ability to keep hold of the ball and fearsome shot." I really don't know what else to add. It's Argentina, who can tic-tac you do death with their passing, and he's considered the best of the bunch.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Netherlands (Club Team - Manchester United)
Ruud, whose claim to fame is being the main man for ManU during their dominance of the early Oughts, will be playing in his first World Cup after Holland somehow failed to qualify in 2002. If he's not going well, the Dutch could be screwed, but he's still an elite striker on a team with a complement of world class players(i.e. Arjen Robben). I also hear the ladies really dig him, but I don't see it. Oh, I guess he's not the BMOC for ManU anymore, and that's because of...

Wayne Rooney

England (Club Team - Manchester United)
...this guy. This should tell you what you need to know: "Now 20, he is widely considered the finest natural talent in English football since Paul Gascoigne but where Gazza was 22 when he made his international debut, Rooney was already England’s most important player at 18...He appears to do things at a different speed to everyone." You should know that because of a recent foot injury, Rooney's presence in Germany is suspect. If you see him in this World Cup it will probably require England to advance past the first round, which shouldn't be a problem. He's young, he's brash, and a bit of a hothead. But he can score, and in bunches, even on the biggest of stages.

Pavel Nedved

Czech Republic (Club Team - Juventus)
A goal-scoring, playmaker of a midfielder (see what I mean) whose return after a momentary retirement from international play makes the Czech team even more formidable than they already are. Along side other elite players like Jan Koller, Karel Poborsky, Milan Baros, Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky; expect the tireless Nedved to make his first (and last) World Cup appearance one he can be proud of. His first game will be against the U.S.A., so he's definitely someone to watch out for.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal (Club Team - Manchester United)
A winger (midfielder) who creates havoc with his speed and skill; taking on defenders and making runs that force defenses react. There's a bit of flashiness and trickery in Ronaldo's game that fuels his youthful confidence.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Sweden (Club Team - Juventus)
The key word when talking about the Swedish striker is confident. As the picture might seem to indicate he has no problem letting his opponents know how good he thinks he is. Unfortunately for them, he also seems to have the goals to back it up. The young (age 24) Ibrahimovic brings both power and skill to the pitch (soccer word for field) and surely will be looking to prove himself on the world biggest stage.

Didier Drogba

Ivory Coast (Club Team - Chelsea)
This forward is a physical specimen. He's a premier scorer for one of the elite clubs in the world. Ivory Coast is a team to be taken seriously, in large part because of the presence of Drogba.

Michael Essien

Ghana (Club Team - Chelsea)
Essien is the biggest, and possibly only, star of team USA’s last first round opponent. A young midfielder who's just surpassed Drogba as the most expensive African footballer, he forces the action and scores goals. He is also the player U.S.A. must ensure doesn't beat them.

I'm sure some soccer expert will show up and tell you who I've left off and who I should have put on this list. Their probably right, but like you know.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

World Cup Prep. : Your soccer primer

As you may or may not know, this June I will leave this great land for foreign soil. The particular place of escape will be the country of Germany. It just so happens that simultaneously with my visit the World Cup of soccer will be occurring and I plan to attend a minimum of 3 games in said tournament. Some of you who do know me may have a hard time getting your brain around all this. You probably didn't know I was that big of a soccer fan (I'm not sure I am) or you have no idea what the big deal is. Some may want to give this soccer thing a try but really don't have any clue as to where to start. Well, I am by no means an expert, but there's a pretty good chance I'm going to beating you down with this stuff for the next couple of months --including, hopefully, blogging while in Germany and experiencing all the World Cup can offer-- so I'll do my best to give some insight.

First, some basics about the tournament. It happens every four years and consists of 32 teams representing their country. I should probably mention that this current World Cup has actually been going on since September of 2003. That's why you will hear soccer types refer to this as the World Cup finals. Back then, there were 194 teams. This should give some perspective to those who think qualifying should be a given for the U.S. or any other team. All the various qualifying segments got us down to the teams that have since been divided into 8 groups of 4. Two teams from each group will move on after the round-robin phase to play in a 16 team, single-elimination tournament for the very underwhelming trophy pictured above. So, each team is guaranteed at least 3 games. I, myself, will be at each of USA's first round games and hopefully return to my native land to watch their run to the cup. Ok, most likely I'll be watching Brazil's run to the cup, but what are we if we can't hope and dream? I can’t wait.

Look for future episodes on topics like, "players to watch", "teams to look out for", and "Meet the US National team." I bet you can’t wait, either.