Thursday, June 08, 2006

Group D: America Must Be So Pissed

Ah, Group D. The group American fans must love to hate.

While the U.S. was drawn into a virtual group of death, our biggest rivals to the South, Mexico, was drawn into what is conceivably the easiest group. Portugal? Iran? Angola? Who did Vicente Fox pay off? We embarrassed Portugal four years ago, Angola is arguably the longest shot in the tourney, and, of course, our best buds, Iran, are pretty much no-names on the international scene.

Now this was a group to be drawn into. To top off everything, there is no reason to believe that the U.S. should not have been the seeded team in this group ahead of Mexico, which it topped in both the Gold Cup and CONCACAF qualifying. Ah, what could have been. But isn't.

Portugal has to be the favorite with players such as Ronaldo (not that Ronaldo), Deco and Pauleta being world class. Luis Figo, of course, is the aged captain of this ship and well past his prime, but he's still looking for his first World Cup glory in what is surely his last chance. On paper at least, the Portuguese are as talented as anyone. 'On paper at least' being the operative words. After their horrible performance in Japan/Korea, nothing is certain. Not to mention that they have a reputation for disappointing on the big stage. Hey, they lost to Greece - freakin' Grece! - on home soil when they hosted EURO 2004. Twice! Portugal can be beaten.

The Portugal-Angola game should be interesting as the Portuguese were formerly colonial masters of Angola. You have to think that playing the country that formerly enslaved you serves as an incentive, right? Probably.

Take this for what it's worth, but I've been looking at Iran as a possible surprise team for a long time now, and their placement in such a manageable group has done nothing to dim my confidence in Team Melli. Oh, why do I hate America? (That's sarcasm, Coulter.)

Ali Karimi is one of the more underrated players in the world and has had a good run playing his club ball with powerful Bayern Munich. At 36, Ali Daei is well past his prime but remains the most prolific scorer in the international game (107 goals in 143 appearances). Although I should probably avoid using 'Iran' and 'firepower' in the same sentence, Iran has notable offensive firepower, which was shown recently when they scored five times against Bosnia in a friendly. If they can get the max three points against Angola and a tie against Portugal or Mexico (or both), which isn't an unreasonable expectation, Iran could sneak into the knockout stages. And Dick Cheney will be somewhere kicking a dog.

Of course, it would be just America's luck to be forced to witness Mexico and Iran advancing while our boys are eliminated in the group stage. That would be a tough pill to swallow.

Be sure to check out Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe chain-smoking on the sideline. That's always funny.

On to the second round: Portugal and Iran


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