Here’s how most of my FIFA 2010 games start:
Me: I’m really not that good. I don’t play very much. Pick any team you want.
(Opponent sitting next to me on the couch flips through teams)
Me: No. You can’t pick Spain. Spain is banned.
Spain is the most recent Euro Champions. They have several of the most dominant players at their position in the world. Their midfield is likely the greatest to ever show up at a World Cup (this is patently untrue, but for preview’s sake I’m going with it), so much so that they’re leaving Arsenal’s captain on the bench to start, and Arsenal are one of the most midfield reliant and savvy teams in the world. Francesc Fabregas, the Joy of Cesc himself, the maestro of the Library at Highbury (I mock because I hate ARSEnal), can’t even squeeze his way into the team. Instead, Spain is left with just Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and David Silva. You may not know these names right now, but you’ll know them by the time the group stage is over. With Mata, Busquets and Navas, along with Fabregas, waiting in the wings, the second string midfield would be among the most highly rated in this iteration of the World Cup.
In the back, the riches continue. Iker Casillas is a fantastic keeper, and were he not the clear cut number one, the choice between Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina would be a difficult one, but one most managers would relish. Casillas has been the Spanish keeper for almost a decade, is only 29 (a year younger than me!) and shows no signs of slowing down. If you’re looking for their weakness, this is not it.
In defense, Spain brings — sigh, again — some of the world’s best. Albiol, Pique, Marchena, Puyol, Ramos, Capdevila, Arbeloa. Just pick any four, throw them back there and rely on them to contain, stop and distribute. With Ramos and Capdevila bombing up the sides and pitching in the attack, Spain can essentially have 8 offensive players at any given moment because Alonso, Busquets, et al are fabulous at filling in the center as the central defenders fan out to hold the space voided by the rampaging fullbacks (more! when Spain inevitably enters the knockouts!). This is a versatile backline comfortable in both defensive standoffs and come-and-get-it attacking situations. They can either stay back or get back.
The lone potential (and this is a huge, like, weeeeeellllllll maaaaaaybe, like you heard before prom) for downfall, is the strikeforce. It’s loaded with talent like Fernando Torres and David Villa, who have 130 matches and 60 goals between them — that is very good if you didn’t know. Pedro Rodriguez and Fernando Llorente are coming into their own and are also great situational subs who can move around and play anywhere in the final third. Spain will probably only use one at a time, preferring an extra attacking midfielder as that’s their true strength, but even here they’re forced to leave off someone who would easily be a top player on another country’s squad.
The rest of Group H, and predictions in FMK style, after the jump …Switzerland: Hey, look! A guy who plays in MLS! Wait … that’s not good? And he’s 35? Well, of course he is. He plays in MLS and is a European. Not much to say about the Schweizer Nati (again, seriously), except that they’re playing and we can’t exchange them for another team. Expect mechanical passing and player movement that, no matter the intent, falls to pieces against the onslaught of the Spanish midfield. If you pay attention to the EPL, you’ll know the names Valon Behrami and Philippe Senderos. And you’ll laugh that those are the names you know. There are some up and comers, but they’ll have to come up right quick if they want to get past the other teams in this group.
Honduras: Honduras love the man I hate most, given that a goal by Jonathan Bornstein, bane of my existence (did I mention that I was a left-back and honestly think if I’d played earlier, I’d be a huge success in US soccer? But who doesn’t.), scored a goal against Costa Rica in the fifth minute of injury time — this is very, very late, okay — that gave the Hondurans an automatic qualifying spot ahead of Los Ticos, who then lost to Uruguay in the North/South playoff. Anyway, Honduras isn’t favored to do at all well, though their defensive acuity could roll them out a couple 0-0 draws against teams not originating on the Iberian peninsula. Figueroa, Palacios and Suazo are an okay core, but, to be honest, any team with that many people who play professionally in Honduras is not going to do well.
Chile: Oh, Chile. You are going to fail. People are going to see the flames of your failure for miles. Astronauts on the ISS will see it. Alien life forms we’ve never encountered will see it and be reluctant to enter into conversation with our people, your annihilation will and humiliation will be so complete. Your manager is abso–batshit. And I know this because there are 31 teams going with a 4-man defense and you’re hitting the continent rolling on your 3-3-1-3. I mean, video games don’t even throw that out as an option. Godspeed you Batshit Emperor.
Anyway, FMK time:
Fuck: Anyone who so obviously says “forget staying back, I’m bringing everything I have straight at you, and I will neither stop nor apologize, until all the cars are on fire and my pants are atop city hall” is worth one night. Chile says that and so much more. They’re not even coming out in the conventional 3-5-2, which is the unoriginal man’s version of creativity. No. This is just some damn the torpedoes and let’s get it done. And they do it well.
Marry: Spain. Tapas and Monastrell overlooking Es Canar in Spain’s beach house in Ibiza sounds wonderful. Spain will play you beautiful music, take you around the world, recite poetry. Every time you think Spain can’t impress you any further, it will. Every time you think the surprise will be ostentatious, it will be sincere. Oh, Spain! A weekend in Lanzarote?! You shouldn’t have! It’s because you remembered my first communion was 25 years ago today and that my aunt spilled wine on my shirt, which ruined the whole thing? Spain! You shouldn’t have.
Kill: Switzerland. It’s time to scale the mountains and do what no king, emperor or general has been able to do for centuries. Get the fucking chocolate and the clocks (not to mention the Nazi gold) and pillage that countryside. This is something we’d suggest doing with Chile, as Spain would probably regret it and send Switzerland a large bouquet of red carnations and edelweiss (not just because it’s a good look but because they’re the countries’ national flowers) and a case of sherry. Chile would burn that place to the ground and ravage you as the flames licked perilously close to your bodies, pausing only soak in the scene and laugh about the odds of it all being so easy and so enjoyable.
Spain wins the group. Chile takes second (how could you not root for them?). Switzerland and Honduras go home in that order.
Well, that’s all of them. I’ll be back Thursday with a recap of Groups E-H and then we’ll take this business by ear. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed writing.