June 13, 2010
Too early to jump on German bandwagon
By GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency
JOHANNESBURG -- Four groups down, four groups to go.
Eight matches into the FIFA World Cup, have we seen this year's champion in action yet?
It's hard to make a convincing argument that we have.
Onlookers are running -- actually sprinting -- to jump on the German bandwagon. But it would be fruitful to take a wait-and-see approach before anointing Germany as the team to beat.
It's still early. Yet Germany's thorough destruction of a defensively porous 10-men Australia stands out among a bunch of mediocre performances coming from the rest of the teams in the top half of the draw.
Let's see what happens to the German youth when they get some pushback from Group D big boys Serbia and Ghana.
As for the rest of the weekend's performers, of course, the sensational Lionel Messi inspires, giving credence to the idea Argentina is a contender. And South Korea was lively, maybe once and for all silencing the critics claiming 2002's magical run on home soil was a fluke.
But other than that, the openers featuring the teams from Group A to D have been uninspiring.
The top half of the draw was always going to be by far the weakest. And the first weekend did nothing to dispel that notion.
But have no fear, the dawn of a new week brings the Big Five. Not the Lion, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo and Leopard -- the usual Big Five in South Africa.
It's five teams with requisite pedigree and makeup, more than capable of making it all the way to July 11.
On Monday, the Dutch will state their claim as a true contender. They are certainly among the Big Five. A surprisingly low percentage of the Dutchmen actually believe they have a chance to win the World Cup.
But that's more based on the past than the form of the current squad.
Offensively, the Oranje may be the tournaments best.Names like van Persie, Sneijder, Van der Vaart, and Kuyt are impressive, even with Arjen Robben out of their opening match.
It seems their biggest concern is at goaltending. Ajax's Maarten Stekelenburg does little to inspire. But still, the team is deep, talented and on-form to make a deep run.
Even if the Dutch are to make a deep run, they'll predictably need to get past either Brazil or Spain in the quarter-final, two others among the Big Five.
Brazil opens Tuesday night against North Korea. Surprisingly, the North Korean team is getting a lot of buzz here in Johannesburg for their apparent superior levels of fitness.
But it's Brazilians technical supremacy that makes them so special. Nevermind the offensive flair, this could very well be the most-stout defensive output in the tournament.
With Spain, while fitness will remain a concern for the Euro 2008 champions, depth will not be. The team is 23 players deep, with no apparent holes in the roster.
Defending Champion Italy has to be part of the Big Five. To leave them out would be foolish. Not a whole lot is expected from the Azzurri, except from Italian fans.
It cannot be said this Italian team is better than that of 2006, but criticism coming their way is far too harsh. The side knows how to win.
And Gianluigi Buffon is the best goalkeeper in the world. We witnessed first-hand over the weekend how solid goalkeeping can keep inferior teams in games.
South Africa's Itumeleng Khune and Nigeria's Vincent Enyeama almost single-handedly kept their teams competitive. Buffon can do the same.
A clearer indication of what kind of Italian side has travelled to South Africa will be known Monday night after a very tricky match against Paraguay.
Rounding out the bunch is Portugal. A poor qualifying campaign and subpar lead-in to South Africa makes the Portuguese the forgotten among contenders.
Regardless pf previous form, this collection of proven players can always be counted on to show up on the world's biggest stage. There is no reason to expect anything different this time around.
The only problem for the Big Five is they'll have to face one another sooner than later. Each and any of these teams would be almost a sure shot for the semifinal if they were playing in Groups A to D.
Thus is the fun of the World Cup. And as the saying goes, you've got to beat the best to be the best.