From the Evansville Courier Press, Sunday, June 13, 2010
Whether you are a diehard soccer fan or a casual sports enthusiast tuning in to see what the big fuss is about, here are some key names and faces to focus on when watching each of the teams in the World Cup.
n Javier Aguirre: Mexico’s manager and one of the great coaches in world soccer today, he rescued El Tri from being eliminated in World Cup qualifying and has turned them into a genuine threat to advance deep into the tournament.
n Azzurri: The nickname of the Italians, they are historically a contender for the title. Although they have aged significantly over the past four years, their experienced nucleus could recreate past glory.
n Bafana Bafana: This is the nickname of South Africa’s team, and they are the host nation. Home-field advantages have traditionally played a huge factor in previous World Cups, and expect them to be the Butler-like sweetheart of the tournament.
n Nicklas Bendtner: The towering striker for Arsenal of the English Premier League, the 6-foot-3 target player will need to be at his best to lead Denmark.
n Desert Foxes: This is the nickname of Algeria, which has a history of upsets. Algeria defeated West Germany in the 1982 World Cup.
n Landon Donovan: The face of American soccer, Donovan is the key attacking threat for the U.S. team this summer. He is the orchestrator of the attack and has the ability to score goals as well as to create for others.
n Didier Drogba: The Ivory Coast striker is regarded as one of the world’s best, but much has been made about the potential of his broken arm sidelining him for the tournament. The hope of his nation advancing could potentially come down to Drogba’s health.
n Samuel Eto’o: A prolific goal scorer and champion, Eto’o has been part of the winning team in the European Champions League in 2009 (Barcelona) and 2010 (Inter Milan). The reigning three-time African player of the year will be the key to Cameroon’s attack.
n Diego Forlan: A goal-scoring machine at the club level (having scored 58 goals in 98 appearances for Spain’s Atletico Madrid), the Uruguayan has also scored against Brazil in the 2007 Copa America.
n Dunga: The head coach of Brazil, Dunga was the captain and defensive midfielder for Brazil’s 1994 World Cup champions. Dunga has come under fire recently because of his pragmatic approach to his tactics. The nation that is heavily regarded as favorites for their “jogo bonito” (“the beautiful game”), Dunga has his team playing tight defense and playing off the counter-attack. Much will be made of his shift of philosophy if Brazil fails to hoist the trophy.
n “Group of Death”: The nickname for Group G, which includes tournament favorite Brazil, European power Portugal, African standout Ivory Coast and North Korea.
n Thierry Henry: A world star who made world news for his controversial hand ball that led to France’s qualification in the 2010 World Cup. A star for the 1998 World Champions and 2006 finalists, he figures to move to Major League Soccer after this World Cup.
n Tim Howard: The U.S. goalkeeper is one of the best in the world, also having played well for Everton in the English Premier League. For the Americans to be successful, Howard will need to be a standout.
n Park Ji-Sung: The Manchester United midfielder leads a South Korean team that hopes to match their 2002 run into the semifinals.
n Matjaz Kek: The manager of Slovenia might not be a household name yet, but could be if Slovenia is able to advance out of the first round. His teams are always very tight and stingy defensively, and he had the ability to defeat keen tactician Guus Hiddink and Russia in a playoff to get to South Africa.
n Miroslav Klose: The German striker has scored 10 goals over the past two World Cups and won the Golden Boot as the leading scorer in the 2006 World Cup. Germany will lean on him heavily to carry them deep in the tournament.
n Lionel Messi: The reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, the diminutive attacker has been a giant at the club level for Barcelona. If he is able to maintain the same form in an Argentina jersey, he is capable of leading Argentina to a World Cup title.
Messi will team with as dangerous a strike force as you will see in the tournament, with stars Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Diego Milito (Inter Milan), Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid) and Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid) as options to line up next to Messi.
n Sulley Muntari: With Michael Essien’s injury, the Inter Milan midfielder will have to run Ghana’s midfield for them to advance into the second round.
n Cristiano Ronaldo: The 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year led Portugal to the European Championships final in 2004 and the World Cup semifinals in 2008. He will be the chief scoring threat for Portugal.