The world unites every four years for the biggest and most important competition in the world of sports, the FIFA World Cup. As host for the only the second time (the other in 1950), Brazil should be the focus of a grand sporting celebration as the Summer Olympics come to Rio in 2016. A country in economic turmoil, the people of Brazil are not exactly celebrating—with protests over government handling of finances commonplace.
A recent poll found that 61% of the people are not happy to be hosting the World Cup or the Olympics, feeling the money could be better spent in bridging the gap between wealthy and poor. As the World Cup begins, unions are mobilizing to go on strike, most notably with the transit system. Of the 12 new stadiums constructed, the most ever for a World Cup, four are not finished and will not be entirely open. Numerous stadiums will hardly be accessible. The necessary infrastructure has not been completed, with fans having to walk several miles in some cases to get to stadiums due to roads not being built as promised.
It is amidst this backdrop the competition will begin. Strictly speaking from a football sense, this figures to be the most exciting World Cup ever. Goals are at an all-time high in world football, and the Brazilian background will do nothing but encourage creativity. With many matches taking place in primetime, American viewership is expected to be a record.
Spain is the world’s #1 and defending champions, but few are predicting a Spanish repeat. Five-time champion Brazil is the favorite, but they have not won since 2002. Their archrival over the years, Argentina, is expected to be their fiercest competitor. If the Cup were being contested outside of South America, Germany would likely be considered the team to beat. But historically, European teams do not succeed outside Europe. Spain was the first European side to win outside of Europe when they won in South Africa just four years ago. Rounding out my topsides to watch is England. The weight of a nation is on them, and they historically underperform and suffer from a lack of imagination. But the talent is always there.
This brings us to the United States. Having drawn the ‘Group of Death’ with Coach Jürgen Klinsmann allowing a personal vendetta to get in the way of America’s ‘best’ Landon Donovan being on the team, the U.S. faces a hard road indeed. With Donovan’s omission, DaMarcus Beasley alone will become the first American man to play in four World Cups. Not having Donovan on the team seems to doom them. In a group with three sides who can score goals in Germany, Portugal, and Ghana, the Americans needed Donovan’s creativity and finishing skill. Unless one of the youngsters chosen instead steps up in ways we cannot imagine, the chances of the U.S.A. making it out of the group are very long.
The U.S.A. opens with Ghana on June 16—the side who eliminated the Americans from each of the last two World Cups. In match two is Portugal on June 22 featuring the world’s best player right now in Cristiano Ronaldo. Group play concludes with Germany on June 26. If somehow they can make it out of group play, the second round opponent would actually be much easier—likely Belgium or Russia, neither as strong as anyone in the group. Ghana is the key, a win there and advancement is possible. Anything less, and the stay in Brazil will be all-too-short.