May 30, 2010
Fussing over World Cup warm-ups
By Gareth Wheeler, QMI Agency
Panic in Belgrade. Lamenting in Lisbon. Complaining in Cameroon. Absurdity in Argentina.
Call it World Cup hysteria. And we’re still some 10 days away from tournament kickoff.
The buildup to any tournament is a whirlwind of ups and downs and outlandish headlines. During crazy times like these, it’s prudent to decipher what matters and what’s irrelevant.
Results in warmup matches for example, do not matter.
Serbia’s 1-0 loss to New Zealand over the weekend has some reassessing their World Cup brackets. And I’m not talking people jumping on the New Zealand bandwagon. Many have labeled Serbia a tournament dark horse, coming off a thorough qualifying campaign.
If you believed in Serbia before, don’t let Saturday’s slip up deter you. The side is built from the back and built to win. The most important thing Serbia can take from the match is playing at altitude in Klagenfurt, Austria, 445 metres above sea level.
World Cup games played across northern South Africa will be played at altitude. Johannesburg is over 1,730 metres above sea level.
So teams training and playing in the Alps or various other locales at elevation makes a whole lot of sense. Growing accustomed to the conditions is important. Losing to New Zealand is not.
There’s no denying form is all-important heading into this crucial stage. But results aren’t the best litmus test.
Mexico, for example, lost high-profile games to England and The Netherlands last week, yet looked cohesive throughout. Mexico’s ball movement and energy have been fantastic heading into the tournament.
The way Mexico dismantled Gambia 5-1 on Sunday shows the benefit to having a competitive pre-tournament schedule, win, lose or draw.
Mexico has one more friendly this week, facing defending world champion Italy. Finishing its camp facing yet another high-level competitor bodes well for Mexico to be firing on all cylinders heading into its opener against host South Africa.
While Mexico builds, Portugal stalls. Portugal has done little to convince its pre-tournament doubters the team can contend. An embarrassing 0-0 draw with the Cape Verde Islands did nothing to quell the criticism toward a side that struggled in World Cup qualifying.
The Cape Verde match was supposed to instill confidence in the side, not take it away.
Still, the poor result means nothing at all.
More important for Portugal than the lacklustre result is defender Pepe, who has been cleared to start training with the team. The Real Madrid player has not played after undergoing surgery in December to repair his damaged knee.
While Pepe’s return is a glimmer of hope for Portugal’s backline, it still doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to make any kind of impact in the tournament.
Distractions of another kind have shaken up Cameroon’s camp.
Captain Samuel Eto’o threatened to quit the team after Cameroon World Cup soccer hero Roger Milla called out the Inter Milan striker for not producing for his country as he has done for his club.
Eto’o suggested playing in South Africa may not be in his best interest and that is downright insulting to the team and the country’s supporters. For the captain of the side to show such a lack of leadership raises serious red flags how the team will perform in the coming weeks.