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World Cup Notes: More France-Hate, Nike-v-Adidas & The Name Game

World Cup 2010 Logo

One Great Season

So you remember that World Cup Pub Crawl we put together last week? Well, at least one of those bars was proud to offer a free pint to everyone in the bar for every goal Uruguay would have scored against France on Friday. But the teams battled to a 0-0 draw, so no freebies were poured at Connolly's On Fifth in Charlotte.

The France-hate -- or at least this most recent case of it -- stems from Les Bleus' qualifying game against Ireland last fall. Thierry Henry committed a painfully obvious handball in the box that went uncalled and led to a France goal, allowing the French to escape with the victory over Ireland, and a spot in the World Cup.

Connolly's is an Irish pub, and a manager there named Jimmy told OGS in a telephone interview Monday morning that "even if France goes all the way to the final, we'll offer a free pint for every goal against them in every game."

The Parlour, an Irish pub in New York, also offered a round for all in attendance, but Uruguay's failure to find the net yielded no free vodka shots. The bartender who picked up the phone at about 10 a.m. Monday chose to give only one-word answers, but for those wondering whether freebies are possible for Thursday's France-Mexico game, "yes," the same offer will apply, she said.

NIKE DELIVERS AGAIN: Perhaps more than any advertiser in the world, Nike is known for its big-budget, high-energy, creative and colorful campaigns that in recent years have taken on the feel of movie trailers. I fell in love with the "Fate: Leave Nothing" ad featuring footballs stars LaDainian Tomlinson and Troy Polamalu two years ago. And this year, the David-Koechner narrated "Nike Air" spot was genius throughout its 210-second entirety.

But the Swoosh may have outdone itself with its World Cup effort, a three-minute marathon released en masse Friday called "Write The Future." Football stars Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo appear in Wieden+Kennedy's latest masterpiece, directed by "Babel" director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

The spot shattered Nike's record of viral video views set this year with the surprisingly weak "Earl and Tiger" ad that earned 6.3 million views in its first week. "Write The Future" registered 7.8 online looks in its first week. At the beginning of this writing, it boasted 15 million views, but by now it's probably at 16 million.

Nike VP Trevor Edwards told the ad "is among the best we've ever done."

ADIDAS EARNS ITS STRIPES: At first glance, it may look like Adidas borrowed some gloss from Nike's Beaverton, Ore., corridors, but the German outfitter went a step further on the fun front in its own latest spot.

Sports fans, pop-culture addicts and geeks alike likely rewound their TiVOs several times Saturday afternoon upon the launch of Adidas' Star Wars Cantina ad. Snoop Dogg, David Beckham and slightly less A-list Jay Baruchel make cameos in this very slick two minutes of visual goodness. Daft Punk and Noel Gallagher also appear.

Back in February, a Huffington Post reader shared an impromptu clip of Snoop, Darth Vader and a couple dozen Stormtroopers parading through the streets of New York's SoHo district.

LET US HAVE SOMETHING: A few of us were gathered at Steve Susi's OGS World Cup Auxiliary Headquarters on Manhattan's Upper West Side when the Adidas spot debuted and we couldn't stop howling. Then this conversation unfolded:

Steve: "It's not three minutes, but second for second, that was way better than the new Nike ad."

Cath: "Something like that will always turn you men into giddy little boys."

Darian: "We don't have 'Sex & The City.' Let us have something."

INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL 101: Specially marked diving areas? Marigold cards, instead of yellow? And a goalkeeper's hands bursting into flames? If you're new to soccer, this very helpful diagram from The Onion will get you caught up.

THE NAME GAME: Want to know what your name would be if you were a Brazilian football star? No need to wonder; find out right here. PS-Mine would be Wiseto Santos.


World Cup 2010: Group E Match Previews

World Cup 2010 Logo

One Great Season

Group E opens play Monday morning, with Holland and Denmark pairing up in Johannesburg (7:30 am ET, ESPN) and Japan and Cameroon tangling in Mangaung/Bloemfontein (10 a.m. ET, ESPN).

The first match is a statement game for each side. Are the Dutch truly ready for a run at the ultimate prize? Or will Denmark's team prove to be stronger than Holland's individuals?

Below are some keys to the game for both sides:

+ Robben is out, fortunately this side is still loaded for bear
+ Must get stars to play with a team mentality
+ The goals came easy in friendlies; that scoring touch must remain sharp or frustration/doubt could set in
+ With its attack-at-every-opportunity approach, the Dutch can't get caught on the counter

+ Keep it tight at the back
+ Win the battle in midfield, maintain possession, limit Dutch touches on the ball
+ Scoring chances must be converted
+ Use team cohesiveness to nullify and frustrate the Oranje

Look at the Danish National Team's sponsor. How the aforementioned factors play out will determine whether the Danes present a stiff challenge to the Dutch, or put forth a flaccid effort.


+ NOTEBOOK: Alexi Lalas, Oprah-Secada & Vuvuzela Accidents
+ TIMELINE: Diego Maradona's Long, Strange Trip
+ NOTEBOOK: Disappearing Divas, Slow White Broncos & The Jabulani
+ PREDICTIONS: OGS World Cup Experts Make Their Picks
+ MEMORY LANE: Longtime Soccer Fan Found Soccer Thanks To Africans
+ KIT HAPPENS: The Best, Worst World Cup Uniforms

Cameroon v. Japan

A draw will likely do neither of these teams any good. Each should go all out for the three points to show the group they're a serious threat to get to the knockout stage.

+ Must put dreadful results from recent friendlies behind them
+ Use technical ability to stretch and penetrate
+ Find someone to step up and score goals
+ Maintain discipline at the back and quit conceding own goals

+ Use strength and speed to their advantage
+ Eto'o doesn't necessarily have to score, and may be more valuable as a decoy, but he must be a factor
+ If attention is focused on Eto'o, Webo is the potential dangerman
+ Maintain shape all over the field, play smart

Click here for Mike's bio and an archive of his previous stories.


World Cup Notes: Alexi Lalas, Oprah-Secada & Vuvuzela Accidents

World Cup 2010 Logo

One Great Season

Alexi Lalas has proven to be a punishing announcer. If you don't play well he will spite you.

Don't go run any quick errands during halftime; you just might miss another entertaining gem. Though I don't agree with all his comments, he's absolutely brutal in his assessment of pretty much every team and every player on it. Here's a Lalas dagger about the play of Greece during their lackluster 2-0 loss to South Korea:

"Great performance by South Korea. I said that Greece was beautiful sometimes in the dullness of their play. Well, they weren't dull. (They were) entertaining in their complete ineptitude. They were horrible all over the field."

And his commentary on the first half of the Nigeria-Argentina game:

"Nigeria got called for a bad throw-in. Enough said. I mean, mark people on a corner kick. This is the World Cup."

Job Well Done: I'll be interested to see what the television ratings were for the USA-England match. In the buildup, it was likely the most promoted match in USMNT history. During the match, I received texts from a buddy in Indianapolis, another in Atlanta and a phone call from my dad in Miami. What's the big deal, you ask? Well, none of them give a monkey's arse about soccer, but all were interested in -- and watching -- the match. Perhaps this match attracted far more than just the ever-growing group of football diehards in this country. If so, very cool, and kudos to ESPN and ABC. -- Mike Dick

Winfrey-Secada Follow-Up: A buddy who was with me for the opening match of World Cup USA 1994 is promising to scan and send me photos of Oprah Winfrey and Jon Secada "in the hole." If I receive, I will ask the venerable potentate of OGS to post them. -- Mike Dick

TV Timeout? ITV apologized to soccer fans who missed England's early goal against the USA Saturday. Just a few minutes into the highly anticipated match, the British broadcaster inexplicably switched to a commercial and when it returned, England was celebrating its only goal, by Steven Gerrard.

ITV1 presenter Adrian Chiles offered an apology during halftime, telling viewers "I believe there was some interruption in your coverage." If the ITV1 phones were lighting up the way the Twitterverse was after Saturday's gaffe, one can only hope ITV1 at least splurged for a few Chelsea Buns for those overworked operators. -- Steve Susi/John P. Wise

More Links

+ Switching the TV from a Yankees game is a rare event at Pete's Taven, New York's oldest continually operated pub. But the England-USA match was a worthy occasion for its patrons Saturday. (

+ A Sky News reporter suffered an embarrassing vuvuzela accident during a live World Cup report. (Youtube)

+ How many recycled plastic bottles go into the manufacture of every one of Nike's 2010 World Cup jerseys? (


World Cup 2010: Diego Maradona Timeline

World Cup 2010 Logo

Impetuous Argentina Coach
Sure To Do, Say
Something Colorful

One Great Season

As history has taught us, there are no guarantees at the World Cup. However, I'm compelled to reject the lessons of the past and assert that this year there will be one absolute ironclad lock: that Diego Maradona will do or say something controversial, criminal or just downright weird.

Sure, it doesn't take a keen sense of prescience to suggest that a man with a track record of X-rated tirades, riot inciting, copious drug use and assaults of the verbal, physical, armed and vehicular varieties may be inclined to act impetuously. It's only a matter of time. But make no mistake: I love Maradona. That's why I'll be here throughout the tournament, cataloging every last foible, tantrum, meltdown and effusive, over-the-top celebration that makes the head coach of Argentina the most fascinating figure at the World Cup.

IMAGES: The Hot Girls Of College Football

To get the ball rolling, I've taken the liberty of constructing a timeline of every notable Maradona moment since he became head coach. This, I guarantee, is just the beginning ...

Diego Maradona

6/10/2010Bookmaker William Hill posts official betting odds for several insane yet eminently plausible Maradona scenarios: he's sent off during a match (6-1), he gets in a fistfight with one of his players (20-1).

5/28/2010Messi says he's close to Maradona, but you can tell he's still a little freaked out by him.

5/27/2010Maradona inspires mixed feelings throughout Buenos Aires by promising to run naked through the streets if Argentina win the Cup.

5/27/2010Immune to the lessons of England’s 2006 WAG debacle, Maradona permits his players get their sex on during the finals.

5/23/2010Maradona demands £1,400 worth of bathroom renovations for his private quarters in South Africa, including two luxury bidet toilets featuring heated seats, a warm air blow-dryer and front and rear grundle wetters.

WORLD CUP PUB CRAWL: Where To Drink & Watch In 35 Cities

5/19/2010Shortly after announcing his final 23-man roster, Maradona drives over a cameraman's lower leg, then proceeds to shout at the injured guy: "What an asshole you are. How can you put your leg there where it can get run over, man?"

5/18/2010Following Maradona's criticism of Grondona for canceling a lucrative friendly against Saudi Arabia, Grondona's son Humberto threatens to "crush" and "get rid of" Diego.

5/12/2010Maradona omits international veterans and Champions League winners Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso from his 30-man provisional roster, opting instead for unproven youngsters and unproven 30-year-olds.

IMAGES: The Hot Girls Of The Kentucky Derby

5/11/2010Maradona is forced to answer claims that he had a hand in dislodging predecessor Alfio Basile from the head coaching position. Basile's son, Alfito, later Twitters: "At the World Cup, Argentina will be coached by a conspirator."

4/9/2010Never one to hyperbolize, Maradona suggests that Lionel Messi, while in the midst of a torrid scoring spell for Barcelona, is simply "having a kick-about with Jesus."

3/30/2010Maradona is rushed to the hospital for emergency plastic surgery after his Chinese Shar-Pei goes Cujo on his upper lip.

11/15/2009Maradona is suspended for two months for telling reporters, among other things, to "suck it and keep sucking it."

10/16/2009Flushed from the qualifying victory over Uruguay, Maradona tells reporters to "suck it and keep sucking it."

10/10/2009Maradona's enigmatic belly flop in celebration of Martin Palermo's qualification-saving last-minute winner against Peru.

10/6/2009Unhappy with the perceived meddling of Bilardo, Maradona threatens to walk.

9/23/2009Maradona accuses technical director and 1986 World Cup winning coach Carlos Bilardo of trying to bring down Argentine Footabll Association president Julio Grondona, adding to the team's internal problems.

9/18/2009Indebted to the Italian government for £28,000 in unpaid back taxes from his time at Napoli, Maradona gets a visit from police at fat camp with orders to seize any valuables "within plain sight." They swipe his £36,000 diamond earrings. Palermo forward Fabrizio Miccoli later reveals himself to be the buyer.

9/15/2009Maradona checks into a northern Italian weight-loss clinic to combat growing stress and rotundity during a dodgy qualifying campaign.

3/27/2009Maradona reopens the feud with hated old rival Pele following the Brazilian's remarks that the Argentine coach is not to be admired because of his past drug use. In a somewhat disproportionate riposte, Maradona intimates that Pele lost his virginity to a man.

3/11/2009Argentina's mercurial playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme quits the national team following public criticism from Maradona.

2/19/2009Maradona becomes a grandfather as Argentina striker Sergio Aguero successfully assures he always has a spot as long as his father-in-law is in charge.

11/19/2008Scotland assistant manager Terry Butcher, who was England's captain at the time of the Hand of God match, publicly announced he'd never forgive the Argentine for his dishonest goal. When asked about it following a 1-0 friendly Albiceleste win over the Scots, Maradona gets a laugh out of the press corps by replying "who is Butcher?"

11/18/2008Maradona says this: "I will not go into controversy. Neither with (FIFA president Sepp) Blatter nor with (UEFA president Michel) Platini, nor with anyone else. We have to tone things down."

11/3/2008To much national fanfare and many skeptical pundits, Maradona is announced head coach of Argentina.

Click here for Jeremy's bio and an archive of his previous stories.


World Cup Notes: Disappearing Divas, Slow White Broncos & The Jabulani

World Cup 2010 Logo By MIKE DICK
One Great Season

Senility has obviously begun to set in, or I would have thought to write about this before now. But thinking about the start of the World Cup reminded me of the opening match of USA 1994.

I was lucky enough to be in Chicago at "old" Soldier Field that day, to see defending cup holders Germany open the competition against Bolivia. It was a day to remember for sure, and not really because of the match itself. We were up high behind one of the goals, coincidentally right where the stage was put up for the opening ceremony extravaganza. This location gave us a wonderful vantage point to witness some unintentional comedy of the highest order.

Obviously some of the finest minds in entertainment were involved in the decision-making process, as we were treated to a veritable who's who of American entertainment. First, there was Chicago's own Oprah Winfrey. The daytime diva served as a master of ceremonies of sorts as I recall. Trouble was, there was some sort of trap door thing in the stage that was left open. So as Oprah rumbled onto the stage to get the party started, WHOOSH! She promptly disappeared, falling right into the hole. To her credit, she emerged relatively unruffled, and continued on with the show.

Not long after, the sold out crowd was treated to the song stylings of another American icon, Jon Secada? Richard Marx was apparently busy. In spite of the Oprah mishap, the trap door remained open. So Jon bound onto the stage to serenade the soccer fans and worldwide audience with a selection of his pop classics. (If you remember any, please email OGS.)

Jon was working the crowd, belting out his tunes, moving about the stage. But he, too, paid no attention to that damned hole, and that's when it got ugly. Whereas Oprah went clean through, Jon only caught it with one leg. So he fell in with one leg while the rest of his body crumpled onto the stage. He was hurt, but sat there near the hole and continued singing. I was sure he broke his leg, but I found an interview with him from a few years back where he said he had only separated his shoulder. Apparently, he completed his stage time, went to the hospital, and they popped it back in. That's how World Cup legends are born.

The final episode in this tragicomic trifecta of entertainment involved one Diana Ross. She was spared the indignity of a trip into the hole. Rather, she created her own dubious moment. Di was cavorting about the pitch singing "I'm Coming Out," I believe, when a couple members of her dance troupe appeared with two halves of an inflatable goal. With impeccably timed choreography, they came together to form a goal when a ball was rolled in front of Ms. Ross ... and she was to slot home a make-believe penalty into the open net from close range. Sadly, as she continued to sing, she scuffed it wide. Think Frank Lampard in the FA Cup against Pompey, except instead of a foot wide, try 15 feet. Brilliant stuff!

The match itself was fairly forgettable. Klinsmann scored, Etcheverry was sent off and Deutschland won. That was the start of traveling back and forth between Chicago and Detroit for all the matches played at those venues in the 1994 Cup. I had a friend and former co-worker who lived in Grand Rapids, Mich., and we crashed there a few times on our zig-zagging between the cities and matches.

When we arrived, we were informed that we had been oblivious to the beginning of one of the great legal and social sagas in U.S. history. While we had been watching the footy, we'd totally missed out on the slow white Bronco "chase" with A.C. Cowlings wheeling down the freeway alongside Orenthal James Simpson. In hindsight, the perfect day of bizarro entertainment might have been to see the cock-ups of the World Cup opening ceremony, then skip the opening match for a spot in front of the TV for the O.J. drama. But we let the football get in the way ... as it should be.

Jabulani Complaints Confirmed

The chorus of complaints about the Adidas Jabulani World Cup ball has reached a crescendo. The world's top goalkeepers, including Iker Casillas of Spain, Gigi Buffon of Italy, Julio Cesar of Brazil and Timmy Howard of the USA have all turned a big, gloved "thumbs down" to the new orb. They've echoed the sentiments of US backup Marcus Hahnemann who called the ball "horse shit."

They aren't alone. England legend Gordon Banks says the ball has "ruined the art of goalkeeping," and many field players don't like it either. There certainly seems to be ample proof that the ball does some funny things in the air -- floating, dipping, swerving and knuckling. But others have said the whiners should "man up," because everyone will be playing with the same ball.

But OGS can confirm in a worldwide exclusive that there very well could be legit gremlins associated with the Jabulani and its family tree of Adidas balls. Concrete proof of this anomaly was exposed during a co-ed indoor match at Mockingbird Valley Soccer club in Louisville, Ky., on Sunday night.

That's when this author was beaten by a long range shot that swerved away from me and into the top right corner ... by a femme, no less. My initial thought was to chalk it up to the fact that I'm approaching 50 years old, do my match training on a barstool, am grossly out of shape and have a pair of bum knees and therefore the agility of a turtle lying on its back.

But after many days of careful consideration, and wracking my brain to find a way to divert the blame from myself, the lightbulb came on. Taking inspiration from the higher-level brothers of the goalkeeping fraternity, I'm blaming the goal on the $20 Jabulani replica ball we were using! I feel better now.

Click here for Mike's bio and an archive of his previous stories.


Group A Recap: Day One Brings Two Draws

World Cup 2010 Logo

Mexico, South Africa Tie;
France, Uruguay Finish 0-0

One Great Season

What an amazing scene it was in Johannesburg Friday -- a sea of green, yellow and red -- as the home fans -- and their continuous call of horns -- watched the host nation open the Cup at Soccer City Stadium with a 1-1 draw with CONCACAF member Mexico in Group A play.

South Africa will happily take the draw, as they were the heavy underdogs and very lucky to get a result like this with the way they played in the first half.

Missed opportunities by both teams prevented either side from walking away with 3 points. Mexico missed chance upon chance in the first half, most notably when, off a corner kick, unmarked forward Carlos Vela knocked the ball in. Vela was unmarked, however, because he was offsides, and the goal was disallowed.

Many observers spent the better part of Friday discussing and debating the call, but it was the correct one. Either way, Mexico squandered more chances than you can shake a stick at and should feel somewhat ashamed by their lack of ability to score on the world's biggest stage.

South Africa missed great opportunities as well toward the end of the game, including a breakaway shot by Katlego Mphela in the 89th minute that hit the post. Though tragic that he missed his heroic chance, it can easily be chalked up to the fact that RSA is a team not used to the big stage and one with just a single player who possesses world-class capabilities. In case you don't know who that is, just think "Get your hands of my Steven Pienaar."

The game was entertaining, flashy and a great way to kick-off the tournament. I was impressed by both teams at times but more often dissapointed by Mexico's showing. This is a very good and extremely fast Mexican side that seemed utterly beatable Friday. For South Africa, I think everyone has seen that they can be flashy and play with great skill.

This was a good draw for South Africa, who now goes on to play Uruguay on Wednesday, a game that will be very winnable for Bafana Bafana. It won't be easy, obviously, as Uruguay can punish you very quickly and though it's fanciful to think South Africa could get out of Group A, I still have my doubts.

Mexico goes on to play France, which is going to be the big matchup of Group A. Not big because they are the two best teams in the group, big because they are the two teams who I think will actually be the biggest dissapointments in the group.

Mexico needs to start shooting the ball and get themselves into gear or they won't get out of the group. South Africa now has hope; another draw and they are sitting pretty. Of the four teams we saw play Friday, South Africa showed the most promise and the most speed, and probably gave the most impressive overall team perfomance. This group is wide open, so if RSA wants it, it's theirs to take.

France 0, Uruguay 0

There isn't really much to say about this match except one thing -- Uruguay actually played some defense. If you read my tournament preview, you know that I very harshly questioned Uruguay's ability to defend. In this game, they pretty much abandoned their all-out attack mentality and packed it in against a French side that can attack quite well when they are on their game.

France appeared within scoring distance several times Friday, but like the classic first-round Frenchmen they are, they often found themselves running into a player with a light blue jersey. The theme repeated itself throughout the match -- Uruguay played solid defense, and France was unable to show any teeth on offense.

The only exciting moment of the match happened in stoppage time after the second half, on the last free kick for France. Thierry Henry, known for his fraudulent goal that saved France's World Cup bid, missed on his shot in the final seconds. Not only did the famous Frenchman fail to deliver a legitimate game-winner, but his errant effort kept France from gaining three points.

I'm staying with my prediction that France will not only not win the group, but Les Bleus won't even get out of it. Uruguay actually has a defense, but when they choose to play it they simply cannot attack. Both teams had better get themselves in order or they will find themselves watching Mexico and RSA move on to the knock-out stage.

Click here for Wade's bio and an archive of his previous stories.


OGS World Cup Experts Make Their Final Picks

World Cup 2010 Logo

Spain A Heavy Favorite;
Will France, Italy Choke?

One Great Season

You've read all the OGS World Cup group previews, and now it's time to get the final picks from our panel of experts. Here you go:

Jeremy Brown
Winner: Brazil
Golden Ball: Luis Fabiano, Brazil
Surprise quarterfinalist: Slovakia
Surprise group fail: Italy
One guarantee: ESPN telecasts will pan away to Brazil's fans more than any other
Favorite uniform: Serbia's home kit

Mike Dick
Winner: Argentina
Golden Ball: Carlito Tevez, Argentina
Surprise quarterfinalist: Greece
Surprise group fail: Germany
One guarantee: The refereeing will be shambolic
(Also possible: Maradona will hoover up all the food, drink and coke in South Africa with a great big vuvuzela)
Favorite uniform: Spain's home kit

Ben Jackey
Winner: Netherlands
Golden Ball: Kaka, Brazil
Surprise quarterfinalist: Serbia
Surprise group fail: Germany
One guarantee: The Sunday following the USA-England matchup is going to be painful for me win or lose
Favorite uniforms: Algeria's away kit

Mike Marshall
Winner: Spain
Golden Ball: David Villa, Spain
Surprise quarterfinalist: Chile
Surprise group fail: Italy
One guarantee: Maradona will make an inexplicable coaching decision
Favorite uniform: Netherlands' home kit

Mike Mudd
Winner: Spain
Golden Ball: Andres Iniesta, Spain
Surprise quarterfinalist: South Africa
Surprise group fail: Portugal
One guarantee: At least one coach will be fired immediately after group play for sucking in the round-robin stage
Favorite uniforms: New Zealand

Wade Murray
Winner: Spain
Golden Ball: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Surprise quarterfinalist: USA
Surprise Group Fail: Italy
One guarantee: France will disappoint
Favorite uniform: Ivory Coast

Bruce Sholl
Winner: Germany
Golden Ball: David Villa, Spain
Surprise quarterfinalist: Uruguay
Surprise group fail: Argentina
One guarantee: Excessive talk about the orange Dutch jerseys
Favorite uniform: England's away kit

Steve Susi
Winner: Brazil
Golden Ball: Wesley Sneijder, Holland
Surprise quarterfinalist: Nigeria
Surprise group fail: France
One guarantee: Clint Dempsey will be carded for fighting
Favorite uniform: Holland

Jake Yadrich
Winner: Spain
Golden Ball: Iker Casillas, Spain
Surprise quarterfinalist: Ghana
Surprise group fail: England
One guarantee: There will be at least three instances of a player or coach blaming a loss on a vuvuzelas
Favorite uniforms: Slovenia


World Cup Loaded With Interesting Personalities

World Cup 2010 Logo

American Keeper Tim Howard
Battles Tourette's Syndrome

One Great Season

Whether you're a savvy soccer fan with a legitimate rooting interest, or if you pick your World Cup winners based on uniform colors, you're bound to hear a few stories about some of the event's most interesting players over the next month. Before ESPN has a chance to tell them to you next week, keep on reading so you can sound like you're in the know at tomorrow's watch party: 

The Boateng Brothers (Kevin-Prince, Ghana; Jerome, Germany)

Half-brothers Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng grew up in Berlin as the sons of n Ghanaian immigrant, and in a historic turn of fate could actually end up facing each other in the World Cup on June 23, with one competing for the German side, the other for Ghana.

Jerome Boateng, 21, is a defender for the German national team. His mother is from Berlin, and though he's never actually laid eyes on Ghana, he feels a strong connection to the West African nation. He likes to listen to music from Ghana because it sounds happy, and he even has a few Ghanaian friends.

"But it was clear to me early on that I only wanted to play for Germany," he told Germany’s Der Spiegel in April. Why?

"Because it doesn't make any sense. Germany is my home. I like the people here, and the mentality," Boateng said. "The fact that Kevin made a different choice is his business. But he's my half-brother, and I'm happy for him."

Older half-brother Kevin-Prince Boateng also was born in Berlin and has 13 tattoos, some of which depict the continent of Africa. In official documents his name is just "Kevin," but he likes to go by the name Kevin-Prince to honor his father Prince Boateng.

Kevin-Prince's maternal grandfather is a cousin of German legend Helmut Rahn, who scored the winning goal in the 1954 World Cup. Both brothers' paternal uncle is a former Ghana international.

In contrast to his half-brother Jerome, Kevin-Prince prefers music by German rapper Bushido, whose music is about less-than-savory subjects which can't be discussed here. Most of what he knows about his father's home country comes from stories he's heard. "I'm proud to be an African," he told the paper.

He's officially one now, at least within the definition of a man who plays for an African national team; on May 12, FIFA approved his nationality switch application, just five days after Ghana head coach Milovan Rajevac named the 23-year-old to the 30-member finalist squad of the Black Stars, the nickname for Ghana's national team.

As kids, Jerome and Kevin-Prince played for the same club, Hertha BSC, in both the amateur and pro ranks, and then both left it in 2007. Jerome now plays for Bundesliga power Hamburg SV, though it's evident he wants to move to an English club next season. Kevin-Prince is a step ahead of little brother in that department, as he plies his trade for Portsmouth in England's Premier League.

Their paths are sure to cross again on June 23, when Germany takes on Ghana in Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium — which would render the Boatengs the first pair of brothers to compete against one another in the history of the World Cup.

Germany v. Ghana will be the final match of Group D, which means there very well might be some incredible pressure on both teams, depending on how their first two Group Play matches pan out. And this won’t be just two guys occupying a field at the same time, i.e., goalkeeper on one side and fullback on the other, never to interact. Quite the contrary: it's extremely likely we're going to see Kevin-Prince acting the role of attacking midfielder and Jerome defending against him at all costs.

Now there's no going back. For either of them. Once one plays for a men's national team, he may only compete under that flag for the rest of his international playing days. (Ask Giuseppe Rossi of New Jersey.)

They both know that. They both have conviction in their choices. And they both have the weight of a nation on their shoulders — two sets of shoulders which, on June 23 under the lights of Soccer City, will both read "BOATENG."

Benoît Assou-Ekotto (Cameroon)

Tottenham Hotspur's very own French-Cameroonese fullback Benoît Assou-Ekotto has come under fire of late for making an austere, dark admission about his inner soul, his true self. Something so cold, from way down deep, that it's done no less than shock virtually everyone who's heard it.

Well, nothing provocative enough to move 10 million tabloids by any means, á la John Terry. In fact, Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger would trade their respective, respectless PR predicaments in a heartbeat for this man's shocking entreat to the UK's Guardian. Ready? Okay, here goes:

"I play professional football solely for the money."

When I came to, I wasn't sure if I was more surprised at everyone else's shock and awe, or that a pro athlete came forward and finally said it without remorse or fear of reprisal.

"If I play football with my friends back in France, I can love football," he continued in the Guardian interview. "But if I come to England, where I knew nobody and I didn't speak English, why did I come here? For a job. A career is only 10, 15 years. It's only a job. Yes, it's a good, good job and I don't say that I hate football but it's not my passion."

Well I'll be. Knock me over with a feather. Be still my beating heart. Of course I'd rather feel like an extra on the set of "Field of Dreams" about the professional athletes who populate my daily angst, believing they'd rather play in the hopes of bringing a championship back to their hometown than feeling the bright lights and big dollars of Broadway or Hollywood.

But that halo went the way of the dodo one fateful day in 1975 when Andy Messersmith stepped out onto the diamond as a Dodger and also something called a "free agent." On that afternoon, the soul inside the vocation of a pro athlete took a permanent vacation. And here we are, 35 years on, when a valued footballer like Assou-Ekotto dares whisper "I’m yours for the Euros" and we're supposedly surprised. Seriously.

But these quotes alone aren't what make BA-E one of the more interesting men of the FIFA 2010 World Cup. No, it's not even his violation of locker room code and calling out fellow Premiership footballers who stream expletives out one side of their mouths when the camera's off, and then morph magically into Bobby Moore when the red light starts to blink. This 23-year-old doesn't suffer hypocrites or the two-faced lightly it seems.

Nor does he believe in office relationships. "I don't call footballers in my team," he told David Hytner. "I don't believe in friendships in football."

Brutally honest, yet the man can be a study in dichotomy. Assou-Ekotto is a native of Arras, France, the son of a Cameroonese father and French mother. Before he moved on to Tottenham Hotspur in England’s Premiership in 2006, his first professional club was RC Lens of France's Ligue 1, with whom he signed at the age of 10, and for whom he gave his all in seven of eight UEFA Cup matches before their dismissal to Udinese that year.

A French man of African heritage, he says he has absolutely zero allegiance to Les Bleus, but sources close to the team claim he had his heart set on joining the French national team for the 2010 Cup until it was apparent that Arsenal's Gael Clichy and Manchester United's Patrice Evra would be France coach Raymond Domenech's choices for starting fullbacks.

In all, he spent 12 years becoming a professional footballer in the Lens system in France. "The country does not want us to be part of this new France," he was quoted, somewhat contradictorily. "Me playing for Cameroon was a natural and normal thing. I have no feeling for the France national team; it just doesn't exist."

Yet when Harry Redknapp was named manager at White Hart Lane after Spurs' worst-ever start to a Premiership campaign in 2008, he told radio station RMC point-blankly, "I'd love a return to France."

Refreshingly honest, sure. Interesting, certainly. But also a little sad. Yeah, we all know that pro sports anymore is by and large a cash play, where team and city loyalties disappear with the stroke of a billionaire's pen. When it comes to the World Cup, however, shouldn't it be more about competing for the love of the game and the pride of representing your country? Even just a little bit?

"I play for the money. Football is not my passion," he reiterated.

"I arrive in the morning at the training ground at 10:30 and I start to be professional. I finish at 1:00 and I don't play football afterwards. When I am at work, I do my job 100 percent. But after, I am like a tourist in London. I have my Oyster card and I take the Tube. I eat."

Tim Howard (USA)

To describe the United States starting goalkeeper's journey to the world's biggest stage as "interesting" is a deliberate understatement. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound North Brunswick, N.J., native started his career on the pitch as an outstanding midfielder in high school and a star on the basketball court, averaging 15 points a game and carrying his team to the state finals his senior year.

By the age of 15, after drawing attention from America's top junior soccer brass, Howard had made the transition to goal and waited until the boys in front of him got hurt before starting for US National Youth teams. When he got the chance he never looked back.

The tale of a typical athletic phenom, right? Hardly. In fifth grade, Tim was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, the potentially all-consuming neurological disorder that causes involuntary movements and tics.

The condition is supposed to increase with anxiety, and one might guess that standing in goal before 40,000 fans and facing rocket-fire from opponents is stress-provoking. Nonetheless, Howard learned how to subdue both the Syndrome and anxiety — through willpower. In games, he says, his concentration is so intense that Tourette's doesn't affect his play.

"T.S. is part of my life. It's like breathing to me," Howard told USA Today. "I don't feel that I missed out on anything, and I still don't take medication for it."

In a day when the average inbox is choked with spam emails hawking pharmaceuticals for every ailment perceived or otherwise, Tim Howard is a living monument to "mind over matter." Incredibly, his longtime childhood mentor and coach Tim Mulqueen (currently the US Under-20 National Team goalkeepers coach) claims that this affliction has developed into one of his biggest strengths. It forces Howard to achieve a state of total and thorough focus, which only history's greatest goalies had at their disposal when all hell broke loose in the box.

In 2001, Howard became the youngest ever to win the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, and just a few years later, in 2003, English football giant Manchester United paid a $4 million transfer fee mid-season for him to replace Fabien Barthez as their starter in net. Today he plays for Everton, also in the English Premiership, and last season captained the squad in a match against Chelsea.

Not surprisingly, Tim was named 2001 MLS Humanitarian of the Year for his work with children with Tourette's. Somewhat surprisingly, on June 22, 2009, he was drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters as an ambassador, having fulfilled the position's requirements of being a "great athlete, great entertainer, and outstanding citizen."

Click here for Steve's bio and an archive of his recent stories.


Longtime Fan Found Soccer Thanks To Africans

Joe Fomunung

Former College Keeper Credits,
Misses His African Coaches

One Great Season

So here we are. The kickoff to World Cup 2010.  South Africa making history, as the continent hosts the world's greatest sporting event for the first time. But as football fans the world over look forward with anticipation, I can't help but take a look back at how Africa and Africans have influenced my experience with the beautiful game.

When I was in my early teens and just getting acquainted with the sport, many of our first coaches happened to be African graduate students at the local university. They were from several nations, but all possessed similar qualities in that they were very demonstrative and joyous in their love for the game, and in trying to transfer that love to us.

MORE: Complete FIFA World Cup Coverage From One Great Season

Babatunde Davies

From the sidelines they would bellow phrases we had never heard before, but remember to this day. For trapping: "Cool the ball." When dribbling: "Let the ball do the running!" And when someone needed to mark an opponent more closely: "Marry him! Marry him!" which sounded more like "Moddy him! Moddy him!" Needless to say, coming from a place once described to me by a TV news consultant as "demographically, the whitest place we've ever surveyed," it was pretty exotic stuff.

My African education continued in college. As a freshman from a place where soccer was barely played, I had no street cred with the team and apparently there were doubts that I had any game. Although it would change, I didn't receive the warmest of welcomes from very many of the guys on the team at first. So initially I was befriended by the Africans and roomed with them on road trips. They helped me settle in and become part of the team, and for that I will always be grateful.

Joe Fomunung

The Africans I was coached by and played with displayed the athleticism, power, grace, unpredictability and effusive personality that we see reflected in the players from the continent today. So here's to my former coaches Berhanu Amensisa of Ethiopia, Babatunde Davies and Kola Davies of Nigeria and Joe Fomunung from Cameroon; and to my former teammates Greg Okasia and Greg Salako from Nigeria, Victor Pesah from Ghana and Emmanuel N'Ko from Cameroon.

I don't know where my African friends are now, but I wish I did. I do know that my education in the game and immense love for it are owed a lot to Africa and Africans. And that surely is worth a few blasts on the vuvuzela.

Click here for Mike's bio and an archive of his previous stories.


Kit Happens: The Best, Worst World Cup Uniforms

World Cup 2010 Logo

England Tops The List;
Slovenia ... Not So Much

One Great Season

The World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world, separated by four long, grueling years. In between you have qualifying matches, league championships, inter-league rivalries and friendlies, all of which afford you many opportunities to rock your favorite T-shirt, sweatshirt or cap while you cheer on your squad.

But the World Cup is the pinnacle of every nation's aspirations. First, you're lucky if your country even gets in the mix. And if your squad happens to be that lucky, it hires someone, or a team of someones, to take the colors of the country and design a home and away uniform for the national team.

BIO: Meet Bruce Sholl

Throughout the history of the Cup, there have been many iconic uniforms, objects of pride worn with heads held high. As often as not, these same kits are subject to ridicule and scorn, leaving you wondering just how people get paid to reduce the image of their country to fodder for global laughter in such a complete fashion. Other than an athlete's name, there is nothing more identifiable than the uniforms they wear:  Johnny Unitas eluding tackles on the field for the blue and white Colts, Babe Ruth  in Yankee pinstripes and the red and black that defined Michael Jordan

Team colors complete the image we associate with our heroes and, in an act which we think bonds us with our favorite players, we, too don the jerseys and team colors of our favorite squads, win or lose. Some famous athletes you wouldn't even recognize without their jerseys on, or wish you hadn't. Sometimes, you wish people would stay home and not support your team at all.

All of this to preface my picks for the best and worst kits in the World Cup:


England: From the land of Savile Row, these unis evoke a traditional feel worthy of the team that invented the sport. The solid red away kit is a throwback to the team that won it all on home soil in 1966, and fans are hoping these will help repeat the feat.

MORE: Meet The 2010 OGS World Cup Writers

Germany: Since Adidas is based in Germany, pride is on the line to deliver the best they can dream up. The home jersey has an understated black-red-gold stripe bisecting their patch, adding a touch of color without distracting. Well placed, it's a subtle way to inject the jersey with the national colors. The away blacks with gold numbering has a formal appeal, with red accents on the shoulders and neck. Tough to beat.

New Zealand: New Zealand may be best known for its stellar rugby squad, the All-Blacks. And keeping with this well-known look is a plus for what is sure to be one of the weakest eleven on the playing field. I'm a big fan of simple, solid color palettes and these do not disappoint.

Serbia:  I'm sure I'm not alone in my enthusiastic approval of the Serbs' home kit. A deep red with an offset white cross, and accented with a blue stripe on the sleeve, this look has to be a favorite for best kit. It's a perfect example of how a perfectly designed kit can draw in new fans for your team. Serb fans have something to look forward to when their team takes the field ... finally.

Ivory Coast:  Not quite sure if I love the textured image of the elephant on the jersey, but I can let it slide. Great use of color in both the home and away kits. The plain orange looks great and the green-striped aways are worth complementing. All around, the Ivorians rock a superb, well-rounded kit. The elephant in the badge is well designed also.


Slovenia: I'm not a fashion designer or expert by any means, but what kind of image does Slovenia want to project with these uniforms? Are the zigs and zags representative of something specific? Mountains? Is Slovenia mountainous? They're distracting and simply quite odd, like most Slovenians I know.

Chile:  The worst thing I can say about this kit is that it evokes absolutely no emotion from me. Kind of like that Chilean Rioja I picked up last night at the corner bodega: bland and left an unsavory taste in my mouth.

Honduras:  The big "H" plastered on the front seems odd to me. A smaller "H" somewhere else on the jersey would have served it better, giving the badge more prominence. I can only think it's so large because the Hondurans are trying to hide a larger, deeper secret: the Rain of Fish.

Japan:  I'm usually impressed with the Japanese. I love a good Ramen, flush with Udon noodles and fish cakes. Sushi and Sashimi are a staple in my diet, as they should be in everyone's, in my opinion. Akira Kurosawa was a brilliant director, "Seven Samurai" being one of my favorite films. Also, check out Battle Royale, a brutal tale of wayward kids in a battle for survival. Oh, and this kit is shameful.

Algeria: Maybe it's the shade of green that angers me, but I just can't find a way to like this kit. I do give the Algerians credit for not being afraid to exploit a national color, but I think they chose the wrong one. Perhaps the red in their flag with some subtle green striping would have been better. Anything would have been better.

For a fantastic look at the branding side of the uniforms, brand specialist Steve Susi wrote an excellent piece on who the real winners and losers are. Keep in mind that lots of time, money and testing went in to creating each team's uniform. Whether you love or hate the current look of your squad's kit, it's once again time to put personal taste aside and support your country. Even if you happen to look like this.


World Cup Preview: Group H

World Cup 2010 Logo

Chile Poised To Join
Spain In Knockout Round

One Great Season

Looking at the draw for Group H, one thing is pretty obvious: Spain should dominate the competition and net ridiculous amounts of goals in the process. The only question surrounding Spain is which squad will show up: the one that dominated on their road to the Euro 2008 title, or the team that fell asleep during last year's Confederations Cup and lost to the United States?

"La Furia Roja" boast arguably the most talented roster in the competition. There will be no shortage of goals with David Villa and Fernando Torres patrolling the top. An insane midfield with Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta will control possession in the middle, and a solid defense led by Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Iker Casillas should easily lead FIFA's second-ranked team to the knockout stage, and possibly, to the country's first World Cup title. The biggest key could be whether Torres and Fabregas return fully healthy from recent injuries.

BIO: Meet Jake Yadrich

Chile, Honduras, and Switzerland round out the group, and although Spain is expected to cruise through the opening stage, the remaining three teams could make Group H one of the more dramatic groups of the first round. Chile and Switzerland are ranked 18th and 24th, respectively, and Honduras is sporting arguably their best squad ever. It may not be the Group of Death, but it's still up in the air which team will join Spain in the knockout round, and that should provide some tense and dramatic moments along the way.

Chile may be coming in with the most momentum, finishing only one point behind Brazil during CONMEBOL qualifying. Coach Marcelo Bielsa's squad may have surprised some, finishing ahead of perennial power Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, but "La Roja" field a talented, young squad that have the ability to turn some heads should they advance. Get to know Matias Fernandez and Mark Gonzalez, as South America's most-improved team could provide some flash, and a few surprises in South Africa.

MORE: Meet The 2010 OGS World Cup Writers

Although Switzerland lost to Luxembourg during qualifying, the side still finished in the top spot after rattling off six wins in their final eight qualifying matches. During that stretch, the Swiss collected home and away victories against fellow World Cup participant Greece. In the 2006 World Cup, the Swiss were the only team that didn't allow a goal, but it may be hard to replicate the feat given their first match in South Africa will be against Spain. Forwards Blaise N'Kufo and Alexander Frei will get plenty of scoring opportunities, but one can't help but wonder if a less-than-challenging qualification group may have fully prepared the Swiss to compete against the world's best.

Honudras may have squeaked into the World Cup after the United States drew with Costa Rica on the last day of qualifying, but this team is far different than the country's only other World Cup squad that competed in 1982. "Los Catrachos" are ranked 38th in the world, but they may have an outside shot to advance considering the group they're in.  Although a last-day victory and a Costa Rica/USA tie ensured their spot in South Africa, the team still managed five victories in CONCACAF and finished third behind the USA and Mexico.


Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G

Personally, I am hoping that Honduras can surprise the field and move on. If you've read my bio, you know I work for the Kansas City Wizards of the MLS, and Wizards defender Roger Espinoza will be playing for the Honduran squad in South Africa. Seeing as I know the guy, I will be pulling for "Los Catrachos," but the truth of the matter is, they may not have the experience to advance.

Spain almost assuredly will advance past the group stage, so the June 21 match between Switzerland and Chile could very well determine which country will also advance. The speed and athleticism of the Chilean side should prove too much for the Swiss, and "La Roja" will continue to the group stage. No matter which two teams advance from Group H, things will only get more difficult in the knockout stage. The two teams from H will play the top two qualifiers from Group G, which consists of Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast, and North Korea.


World Cup Preview: Group G

World Cup 2010 Logo

Lacking Usual Flare,
Brazil Still Team To Beat

One Great Season

Remember when  M. Night Shyamalan wowed us all with "The Sixth Sense?" People couldn't stop talking about him and couldn't wait to see what he'd do next.  Then came "The Village" and  "The Happening." The plots took so many ridiculous detours that Shyamalan became an industry punchline. The Adult Swim cartoon "Robot Chicken" mocked him with diabolical spoofs, ending each with Shyamalan's character exclaiming, "What a twist!"

Well, it kinda feels like M. got ahold of the most compelling story lines of Group G and decided to ruin them by adding a million last-minute twists and turns.

BIO: Meet Ben Jackey

The "Group of Death" was supposed to be a battle between two traditional world soccer powers and a slowly evolving one. Some consider Brazil the favorite to take home its sixth World Cup. Portugal possesses arguably the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. Many believed the Ivory Coast was going to be the first African nation in years to make noise in the elimination round. And, of course, there's the evil empire, North Korea, as the antagonist. Oh, and if that isn't enough … check this out (can't stop staring).  That's one hell of a script. I'd totally shell out $11.50 (plus a few bucks for some pints) to see that flick.

Enter M. Night. Just days before the World Cup, Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba fractures his forearm. He's done. The Ivory Coast (a team already in turmoil) is done. But wait ... he has surgery. Now, team officials say he may play. "What a twist!"

MORE: Meet The 2010 OGS World Cup Writers

So, now,  Portugal has to be the favorite to escape the group. But wait ... a team official announces that star winger Nani (let's keep it PG, people) has been ruled out of the Cup.  He bruised his collar bone. No one's saying when or where or how. "What a twist!"

If Pele shows up in a yellow kit and plays for Brazil, I'm walking out of the theatre. Barring anymore ridiculous plot twists, the "Group of Death" will be an exciting one to watch. We will "see dead people." The question is, which of these teams are dead and don't even know it?

Brazil – This seems like the no-brainer pick of the group. The Seleçao boast an embarrassment of riches. They left Ronaldinho, Adriano and Alexandre Pato at home. Backup goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes had one of the best seasons between the posts, if not the best, of all keepers in the English Premier League. Then, there is the starting XI.

Kaka is a former FIFA World Player of the Year. Robinho is a headcase, but is one of the most talented players in the world. Few would argue that Julio César is the best keeper on the planet right now.

COMING THURSDAY: Jake Yadrich Previews Group H

Yet, there are issues, especially at defense. Maicon, Lucio, and Juan make up a fairly solid threesome. However, there are some concerns at left back. And, at times, even the aforementioned stalwarts get caught chasing and ballwatching rather than marking (see the Confed Final).

This is not the Brazil of old. You won't see as much dancing over the ball.  You won't witness the usual flare. But make no mistake, the results will be the same as in years past. Not even a "Dopey" (Dunga in Portugese) manager could ruin this squad.

Ivory Coast – Were it not for Portugal, the Elephants would be this group's lone headscratcher. So much talent, yet so many questions. Right after qualification for the World Cup, the Ivory Coast sacked manager Vahid Halilhodzic. His replacement? Wait for it. Sven–Goran Eriksson. The man who inexplicably took a job at English League Two team Notts County in England. The man who drove the Mexican National Team into the ground. And, has redefined the "F" in FA with his numerous affairs.

On the field, all reports say this is a squad that has major chemistry issues. However, injuries may be an even larger concern. During a World Cup prep match, Chelsea striker Drogba fractured his arm  against Japan. Drogba's partnership with club mate Salomon Kalou provided, on paper, a potent attack front. Drogba produced 29 goals in 32 Premiership games this season. However,  when it comes to national team duty, he has struggled to produce goals, both in the Africa Cup of Nations and in a few qualifiers.  Scoring without him will be an even greater struggle for the Elephants.

The midfield has problems holding the ball and even greater problems linking up with its talented forwards. A strong defense which includes Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue may have to push forward to create chances for Drogba and Kalou.

Let me just say, I hate Chelsea. I hate Fat Frank. I hate John "Brent Spiner" Terry and his doodling with his dingleberries. I loathe Didier Drogba. I realize I am evil for audibly laughing when I saw Drogba actually go down with a legitimate injury for once. End of paragraph.

The question now is, does Drogba's injury further fracture this brittle unit? Or, like their formerly warring countrymen, will they become a more unified group?

The ladies can tell you that Eriksson is persuasive. Maybe he can unite this talented squad. Just don’t expect cuddling afterwards.

Portugal – Of course, when it comes to the ladies, even Sven-Goran Eriksson takes a backseat (no pun intended) to "The Greasy One." Cristiano Ronaldo's game is as pretty on the field as he is off it. However, one can’t say the same for the journey that brought the Seleççao to South Africa.

They won just once in their first five matches (mostly without El Greasbo). When Ronaldo returned from a legitimate injury – not the ones he fakes with regularity in hopes of drawing a foul – he was about as helpful to his team as this Vanity Fair cover is to his macho persona. He shot blanks, zero goals. Not sure if the undies are to blame.

But those undies have to be in a bit of a bunch after learning Manchester United winger and prolific jerry curler, Nani, is out with a collarbone bruise. Portugal must now rely on Simao Sabrosa on the other flank, an obvious downgrade. However, Ronaldo does have a sufficient supporting cast of world-class footballers surrounding him. Deco and Duda should be able to link up with the front quite well. Bruno Alves and Ricardo Carvalho provide a formidable defense.

Nani's injury puts a lot more pressure on Ronaldo. Portugal was a semifinalist in Germany in 2006. Expect them to make a return trip to the knockout stages, maybe on goal differential.

North Korea – Thank God for Google. Otherwise, my North Korea preview would have ended here. All kidding aside, I’ve actually watched this team play a match in its entirety. It was a goalless draw against Iran during qualification. Admittedly, I was more focused on the surreal, robotic, choreographed atmosphere in a Pyongyang stadium than I was the football.

However, that match did tell the casual observer a lot about the North Korean style. Much like the country's enigmatic leader, the Chollima don't leave themselves open or vulnerable often. This is a team that loves to pack it in. Remember when the U.S. basically slid 11 guys within 10 yards of the 18 for 40 minutes of the Confederations Cup Final? Picture that for 90 minutes. Expect boring matches that just might drive some of North Korea's attacking-style group competitors crazy.

I'd love to rattle off a bunch of names here, but the only two I've ever heard of are An Yong-Hak and Jong Tae-Se, aka "The Asian Wayne Rooney." North Korea will not make it out of this group, but my guess is they will steal a point from either Portugal or the Ivory Coast. This team will have a say in who escapes with their life.

Who Advances? Brazil and Portugal (on goal differential)

Why?  Two words: Didier Drogba. The Ivory Coast will not be the same with or without an injured Drogba. The turmoil amongst Ivorian players and a new coach for the Cup will be enough to keep the team from playing its best. Portugal's form improved at the end of qualifying, and Ronaldo will show up for an international competition for once.

Most Critical Match?  The first group game. Ivory Coast vs. Portugal. If that ends in a draw, Portugal's next match, against North Korea, will be huge.

What makes this group so great?  This. (Didier to Ronalds: "Beware the curse of the Vanity Fair cover. Oh, and is it cold in here?")


World Cup Preview: Group F

World Cup 2010 Logo

Italy Finds A Way;
Paraguay, Slovakia Vie
For Second Place ... Maybe?

One Great Season

Before any teams are reviewed, I think a good place to start is with two terms that, should you not be familiar with this game, will go a long way in potentially helping you to better appreciate the most popular sporting event on the planet – unlucky and good idea.

For example, if a player shoots on goal and just misses, but the effort was there, you might hear someone say "unlucky." It's not baseball where a player would be given an error for his effort. As for "good idea," should a player pick out one of his teammates making a great run, and the ball is played a bit heavy, then "good idea" would be an in-order comment.

BIO: Meet Mike Marshall

This isn't American football, where nearly all of the actions on the field are scripted. International football is a fluid game; think improvised dance meets Martial Arts. Three subs, no time outs and no chance to run over and get some oxygen after sprinting forward to attempt a goal, then shagging back to cover your own defensive position.

Lastly, I'll be mentioning rankings, but only because people seem to think they hold some sway over how a team might perform. Personally, I think they're absolute bullshit (NCAA Division I, pick a sport), but you are, of course, entitled to your own opinion. Nicknames on the other hand can be quite fun.

Rank: 5
Nickname: Azzurri (Short for Squadra Azzurra, or Blue Team)

OK, so Italy won the last World Cup and will be defending their title. Sure, they tend to put together good tournament sides, having won this contest a near-record four times, and were runners-up twice. However, given the age of the team, Coach Marcello Lippi's men may have trouble should they make into the latter rounds. So what do they have going for them, you ask?

MORE: Meet The 2010 OGS World Cup Writers

For starters, one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Gianluigi Buffon. In support of him are three immensely experienced players to ensure the legendary, Italian-Defense Bus keeps its parking space in front of the goal: Defenders Fabio Cannavarro and Gianluca Zambrotta, along with midfielder Gennaro Gattuso. Despite hammering some of my favorite players from time to time, Gattuso is to be well respected for his work ethic, an Italian Dirk Kuyt if you will (cheers, Dirk). Though you never know where the goals will originate, I'd say the player to watch up front is Antonio Di Natale. He was Serie A's leading scorer this past season, and moves well between the left wing and front of goal. On the subject of forwards, an "unlucky" goes out to Giuseppe Rossi, the young Italian-American. Many voices have been raised calling him a traitor because he chose to play for Italy over the United States. Go blow, you envious bastards. He moved back to Italy with his father before he was 17, and had always expressed a desire to play for the Azzurri. Can you believe it, some people actually prefer being members of other countries?

Players to Watch: Antonio Di Natale and Gennaro Gattuso

New Zealand
Rank: 78
Nickname: All Whites

When I think of New Zealand, the first thing that comes to mind is their national rugby team, the "All Blacks", known not only for their prowess on the pitch, but also for their pre-match employment of the Haka. If you haven't seen or heard of the Haka, Google it; it's impressive. Second to mind are the varied and gorgeous landscapes, most recently captured in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings." Unfortunately, neither Gandolf the Gray, nor Gandolf the White will be available for the Kiwis, in this, their second dance at the finals.

COMING WEDNESDAY: Ben Jackey Breaks Down Group G

Unless you follow the English leagues at some level, or more specifically, follow New Zealand's National Team, you will likely not recognize any of the players on the All Whites roster. The one exception would be Andrew Boyens of the New York Red Bulls (Go Red Bulls!). A stalwart stopper at Blackburn in the Premiership, Ryan Nelsen's experience definitely will be in demand. At the goal-scoring end of the pitch will be another name player, Chris Killen, though currently at Middlesbrough in the Championship, he was most recently with Scottish powerhouse Celtic. Despite the aforementioned lads, coach Ricki Herbert will not have the depth in his team to do anything more than give a good showing. All the best to our Kiwi brethren.

Players to Watch: Ryan Nelsen, Chris Killen, and Andrew Red Bull Boyens

Rank: 31
Nickname: La Albirroja, or White-Red

Paraguay come into the finals in good form, finishing third in the South American Zone behind Brazil and Chile. To be more specific, they were only one point behind Brazil, and ceded second place to Chile on goal difference. Well done, Paraguay. With an Argentine coach, Gerardo Martino, Paraguay will be deploying a solid midfield in the form of Cruz Azul's Christian Riveros and Libertad's Victor Caceres. In tandem with these likely to be European-bound players are a strike pair certainly worth mentioning, Nelson Valdez and Oscar Cardozo, of Borussia Dortmond and Benfica, respectively. As Paraguay defeated both Argentina and Brazil in their qualifying run-up (yes, under Maradona, Argentina have been quite the box-of-chocolates), I'm expecting them to tow that Italian bus to the side of the road and claim top of the group. You read it here.

Player to Watch: Nelson Valdez

Rank: 34
Nickname: Bojovni Jondovci, The Fighting Jondas

Anyone remember Czechoslovakia? They finished as runners-up twice. However, as of December 31, 1992, one nation became two. With the former talent pool divided, the Slovak Football Association was founded in 1993. Since then the Czechs have historically done better in both European and world championships, but that gap appears to have been closed. In qualifying for their first ever final, Slovakia left behind the Czech Republic and Poland to take in the 2010 World Cup Finals as spectators at best. To quote Stanislav Sestak, a forward plying his trade at VfL Bochum, "We have nothing to lose. The fact we are participating is already a big achievement, so now we can play freely." Along with Sestak, midfielder Marek Hamsik of Napoli certainly will prove difficult to corral by any team thinking The Fighting Jondas are interested in an early flight home. Bringing up the back line is a stout Liverpool defender, Martin Skrtel. Based on this being Slovakia's first time at the big dance, and given their underdog status, like Paraguay, I wouldn't be surprised to see them surprise the Azzurri.

And about that nickname; what in the hell is a Jonda? My attempt to speak with coach Vladimir Weiss Sunday upon hearing about Skrtel's ankle proved fruitless, so I searched the World Wide Web. Marián 2 explains on Wikipedia that the name comes from the large number of Slovak immigrants who took the surname Jonda. These Slovak supporters reportedly were a rowdy bunch, and the name took -– to both fans and team. If anyone out there has a more substantiated source/definition, please send it my way.

Players to Watch: Stanislav Sestak, Marek Hamsik, Martin Skrtel

Friendly Advice

If you find yourself at a pub, and some people are intently watching this tournament, please wait until a pause in play, say half-time or the end of the game, to ask questions like:

+ How do you think the US will do?
+ Will (insert country name here) win the whole thing?
+ How many teams play in the World Cup?
+ How long does a match last?

Get the point?



World Cup Pub Crawl: Where To Watch In 35 Cities

One Great Season

World Cup 2010 kicks off in just a few days, and if you still haven't figured out where you and your mates will be watching the footy for the next four weeks, have no fear.

With editors scattered across the country, the One Great Season research team has compiled a list of the top soccer bars in 35 of America's biggest cities. So enjoy the football, know when to say when and of course, please remember to tip your bartender favorite sports blogger (list includes the name of the bar in each city, a quick note about it found on a Website or review, address, phone and helpful links):

Atlanta's official US Soccer bar
273 Buckhead Avenue NE | 404.841.0066
Website | Google Map

Slainte Pub
Baltimore's 2010 World Cup headquarters
1700 Thames Street | 410.563.6600
Website | Google Map

The Banshee
10 flat-screen TVs, two floors of entertainment
934 Dorchester Avenue | 617.436.9747
Website | Google Map

Connolly's On Fifth
World Cup drink specials, including coffee for the early games
115 E. 5th Street | 704.358.9070
Website | Google Map

Bull And Bear
Serve-yourself beer taps at your own table
431 North Wells Street | 312.527.5973
Website | Google Map

Molly Malone's
Fill out a bracket and win great prizes
112 E. 4th Street (Covington, Ky.) | 859.491.6659
Website | Google Map

Parnell's Pub
Bloody Mary menu for all the early games
2167 Lee Road | 216.321.3469
Review | Google Map

Tommy Keegan's
Where soccer is home
456 S. Front Street | 614.221.9444
Review | Google Map

Trinity Hall
The soccer pub of DFW
5321 East Mockingbird Lane | 214.887.3600
Website | Google Map

The British Bulldog
Fine beers poured right, at a proper temperature
2052 Stout Street | 303.295.7974
Website | Google Map

Sean O'Callaghan's
Serving breakfast for all morning games
821 Penniman Avenue (Plymouth) | 734.459.6666
Website | Google Map

Eugene, Ore.
Taylor's Bar And Grille
Packed for every game
894 E. 13th Avenue | 541.344.6174
Review | Google Map

Hoboken, N.J.
The undisputed champion of Hoboken soccer pubs
159 First Street | 201.876.4101
Website | Google Map

The Ginger Man
Just celebrated its 25th anniversary
5607 Morningside Drive | 713.526.2770
Website | Google Map

Chatham Tap
Come early. Drink often.
719 Massachusetts Avenue | 317.917.8425
Website | Google Map

Las Vegas
Crown & Anchor
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
1350 E. Tropicana Avenue | 702.739.8676
Website | Google Map

Los Angeles
Cock-n-Bull British Pub
Serving breakfast and showing the 4:30 a.m. matches
2947 Lincoln Boulevard | 310.399.9696
Website | Google Map

The Monkey Wrench
Projector screen, 11 other TVs, drink specials, etc.
1025 Barret Avenue | 502.582.2433
Review | Google Map

Fritz & Franz Bierhaus
Miami's best beer selection
60 Merrick Way (Coral Gables) | 305.774.1883
Website | Google Map

The Highbury
Where shots bring goals
2320 South Kinnickinnic Avenue | 414.294.4400
Website | Google Map

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Brit's Pub
One of America's best soccer pubs
1110 Nicollet Mall | 612.332.3908
Website | Google Map

New Orleans
Finn McCool's
New Orleans' premier soccer pub
3701 Banks Street | 504.486.9080
Website | Google Map

New York
Nevada Smith's
Where football is religion
74 3rd Avenue (at 11th Street) | 212.982.2591
Website | Google Map

Best Of British Pub
The footie bar of Orlando
8324 International Drive | 407.264.9189
Website | Google Map

June 12: Philly's biggest World Cup block party
1500 Locust Street | 215.893.9700
Website | Google Map

Tim Finnegan's
Arizona's official US Soccer bar
9201 N. 29th Avenue | 602.997.2323
Website | Google Map

Piper's Pub
A taste of the British Isles
1828 East Carson Street | 412.381.3977
Website | Google Map

The Thirsty Lion Pub
Open for all the 4:30 a.m. matches
71 Southwest 2nd Avenue | 503.222.2155
Website | Google Map

Streets of London Pub
Irish coffee w/Jameson specials for early games
1804 J Street | 916.498.1388
Website | Google Map Review | Google Map

San Francisco
Kezar Pub
What a great place to watch games
770 Stanyan Street | 415.386.9292
Review | Google Map

San Diego
O'Brien's Pub
The hoppiest place on earth
4646 Convoy Street | 858.715.1745
Website | Google Map

The George & Dragon Pub
"Please do not plan weddings, births or vacations June 11 to July 11"
206 N. 36th Street | 206.545.6864
Website | Google Map

St. Louis
The Dubliner
World Cup watch parties, prizes and drink specials
1025 Washington Avenue | 314.421.4300
Website | Google Map

Tampa-St. Petersburg
MacDinton's Irish Pub
Showing all 64 matches live
405 South Howard Avenue | 813.215.8999
Website | Google Map

Washington, D.C.
Voted best sports pub in America for soccer
1520 North Courthouse Road (Arlington) | 703.528.8278
Website | Google Map

Thanks to the following contributors: Jeremy Brown, Sarah Courtney, Patrick Donnelly, Erin Holloway, Jack Morris, Wade Murray, Marcus Riley, Billy Robins, Patrick Rodgers, Mike Royer, Emily Stone, Steve Susi, John T. Thompson.


World Cup Preview: Group E

World Cup 2010 Logo

Dutch Look To Overcome
Past Cup Disappointments

One Great Season


The Netherlands are ranked No. 4 in the world in the FIFA rankings, and are making their ninth appearance in the World Cup finals. The Dutch are the heavyweights of the group, having cruised through the qualifying phase without dropping a point. They've also bagged a ton of goals in the lead-up friendlies.

In Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, they have two players who have been in phenomenal form for their club teams Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. Each played a key role in those teams' winning their respective leagues and cups and making it to the Champions League Final. But Robben got cute in their latest friendly, and has likely put himself out of the group phase with a tragi-comic injury.

BIO: About Mike Dick

Even so, the Dutch remain loaded. The names include van Persie, Huntelaar, van Bronckhorst, van Bommel, Kuyt, Babel, de Jong and van der Vaart. But, their Achilles heel could very well be at the back. The corps of defenders is not outstanding, and there is little doubt that veteran Edwin van der Saar, of Manchester United, would have been preferred between the sticks.

With more disappointments than successes in the big tournaments, fans of the Oranje are hoping this current squad can maintain their cohesiveness and team spirit and make a serious run at the trophy.

Player To Watch: Sneijder

Denmark is making its fourth appearance in a World Cup finals, and is 36th in the FIFA rankings. The Danes could be the danger team of this group, but injuries are worrisome. They too had an impressive qualification, topping a group that included Portugal and Sweden. Under the guidance of the wily manager and former star Morten Olsen, Denmark is always very well organized and a tough nut to crack.

MORE: Meet The 2010 OGS World Cup Writers

One of the injured is Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, who may well be the key man. He's capable of brilliant goals or jaw-dropping misses. If he is healthy and has his scoring boots on, it will spell trouble for the Danes' opponents.

Liverpool's Daniel Agger is one of the anchors of the defense. Two others, rising Palermo star Simon Kjaer and Stoke City goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, both are among the injury questions ... as is Feyenoord's Jon Dahl Tomasson.

Potential X factor Christian Poulsen of Juventus can score goals from midfield.

Player To Watch: Bendtner


Cameroon are making their sixth appearance in the World Cup finals, the most of any African nation.  They are 19th in the FIFA rankings.

The Indomitable Lions have a lot to prove in South Africa. French coach Paul Le Guen helped steer their qualification campaign in the right direction after a bad start, but the team's inconsistent play is a worry. African Footballer of the Year Samuel "it's all about me" Eto'o, of Inter Milan, had a solid season for the newly crowned Champions League winners, but hardly has the same support group around him with his national team. Who knows where his head is as the tournament approaches. He's threatened to not go to South Africa, after a war of words with Lions legend Roger Milla. That, coupled with a lackluster-at-best effort in a recent friendly, are hardly indications that Eto'o is ready to lead his nation into battle.

There is undoubted talent in the side. Striker Achille Webo of Mallorca has found the net in the friendlies, but that hasn't resulted in wins. Perhaps this squad can draw something from the home-continent advantage, and it surely needs a boost from somewhere if it is to progress to the knockout phase.

Player To Watch: Eto'o

Ranked 45th in the FIFA World Rankings, Japan is making its fourth World Cup finals appearance.

Japanese manager Takeshi Okada clearly has been hitting the sake, making the audacious statement that his side are aiming for a spot in the semi-finals. The Japanese do possess many technically sound footballers, but have lacked punch up front.

In their recent friendlies leading up to the tournament, they've actually had no problem scoring ... with an unfortunate string of own goals. Finding someone who can put it in the opposition's net obviously will be key, and Shinji Okazaki, of Shimizu S-Pulse, may well the be the man expected to deliver.

There is a wealth of talent in the midfield, with Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow, Yasuhito Endo of Gamba Osaka and Daisuke Matsui of Grenoble all solid. Former Celtic man Shunsuke Nakamura has been declared fit, and has scored some memorable free kicks in his careeer. He will be a definite threat at set pieces. Junichi Inamoto also adds experience to the side.

Player To Watch: Honda

1. Denmark
2. Netherlands
3. Cameroon
4. Japan