World Cup top 5

Every World Cup, punters make their predictions about which team will win, who will finish top scorer, which teams will be the ‘dark horses’ (has there ever been a more backhanded compliment?) and which young players are the ‘ones to watch.’ In lieu of this, I decided to make some more obvious predictions about the goings-on in South Africa this summer:

1. An unfancied (probably African) team will perform admirably and then get knocked out in unfortunate fashion.

From Gary Lineker ‘earning’ two penalties against Cameroon in 1990, through Ilhan Mansiz’s golden goal to knock out Senegal in 2002, up to Dida’s fortuitous save from John Mensah four years ago, the story always seems to be the same for African sides in the World Cup.

Hoffenheim striker Chinedu Obasi

Commentators too lazy to watch the Africa Cup of Nations (well it is only every two years) will marvel at and patronise the ‘natural athleticism’ of players they have never seen before – players who have been household names in France or Germany for years but unknown quantities in England because Arsenal are yet to express an interest.

My prediction: Nigeria will qualify for the second round, with Chinedu Obasi starring as they give Argentina a run for their money, before a Thierry Henry handball denies them against France.

2. A young Eastern European player will have one good game, be hailed as a star, join Tottenham and see his career take a dive.

The World Cup is renowned as a shop window for Premier League clubs, with Premier League clubs rarely afraid to take a punt on someone on the basis of one or two good games. West Ham famously forgot about Gary Breen’s years of mediocrity when they signed him after his performance against Germany in 2002, while Daniel Amokachi’s form for Everton did not quite match the high standards he set for himself in 1994.

Gary Breen: Master of mediocrity

Of course, of all the managers in England’s top flight, no one likes taking a punt on an unknown quantity more than Harry Redknapp. While perhaps not as frivolous as when he was at West Ham or even at Portsmouth, ‘Arry still isn’t afraid to pay over the odds, shelling out £14million on hit-and-miss striker Roman Pavlyuchenko and £3million on past-his-best right-back Pascal Chimbonda to name but two.

My prediction: Redknapp will plump for Slovenia’s Mišo Brečko after he puts in a couple of good crosses against England and nutmegs Landon Donovan in the game against the USA. After all, you can never have too many right-backs.

3. Holland will look unbeatable in the early rounds before being found out by a wily older manager in the knockout stages

Two years ago, at Euro 2008, Marco van Basten’s Dutch side were unplayable in the group stages, destroying France and Italy without breaking sweat. But then they came undone in the semi-final, outwitted by Guus Hiddink’s Russia.

Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder

Fans of the Oranje will hope new coach Bert van Marwijk has instilled a greater sense of belief and solidity in his troops, and it is certainly true that a number of them – including Internazionale midfielder Wesley Sneijder and Arsenal’s Robin van Persie – have developed as players since that defeat to Russia in Basel two years ago.

My prediction: Holland will win all three group games, before Spain edge past them in the quarter-finals. Pundits will say how much they miss the presence of Ruud van Nistelrooy.

4. A foreign player will become ‘public enemy number one’ in England, probably for something innocuous.

The mild-mannered Diego Simeone, destroyer of hopes and dreams in 1998

Ever since Antonio Rattin threw a wobbly in 1966, England fans have found a foreigner to despise in the aftermath of any World Cup. However, rather than sensibly using Rattin as a benchmark and deciding – actually – some of the more recent offences pale in comparison, many decide the cheek of irking a nation with a minor foul or a wink is worse than murder.

Now don’t get me wrong, Maradona’s handball in 1986 was despicable, and Ronaldo’s wink in 2006 was deplorable, but we don’t half hold a grudge. Such an attitude unfairly draws attention away from the often abysmal performances of our own players, turning us into victims when we should really be blaming ourselves for not doing the job asked of us.

My prediction: The lovable scamp Tim Cahill will nudge Ledley King as a corner is coming over before scoring the goal to knock England out in the second round. Bricks through windows and mildly-racist newspaper headlines will follow.

5. An average player will score a brilliant goal, and proceed to live off it for the rest of his career

This is the one World Cup certainty which I have no problem with. Everyone loves to see a cracking goal, and even an average one is enough if it is the difference between your country making it through their group and them falling at the first hurdle.

Salif Diao has struggled to live up to his early promise

And it is ever so often a journeyman pro or a player who has come out of nowhere who steals the plaudits. Go to any pub in Stoke and you will probably find Salif Diao talking about his goal against Denmark in 2002, while Eder no doubt still roams the beaches of Brazil telling anyone who will listen about the high-point of his uneventful career.

My prediction: New Zealand’s Simon Elliott will score a 35-yard screamer against Paraguay, putting his 12 games for Fulham in the shade.

So, all that is left for me to say is I hope you enjoy the World Cup. It will truly be a tournament like no other. Or maybe a tournament like every other, but with a number of differences so subtle you barely notice them.

And in keeping with my final prediction, I leave you with the 50 best goals ever scored on world football’s grandest stage.

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  1. […] World Cup top 5 […]


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