Monday, December 9, 2013
There are scores to settle, family feuds and no shortage of karmic reckoning. For something so random, Friday's World Cup draw delivered a blockbuster mix of intrigue, entertainment and story lines that will keep folks talking from now until the tournament kicks off June 12.
Here are a few you should know:
THE AMERICANS AND REVENGE
As soon as Ghana was drawn into Group G with Germany, you just knew the United States was going to wind up there, too. Maybe it's payback for that snow game against Costa Rica, maybe the soccer gods just have a wicked sense of humor. But throw in Portugal, and this group has more drama than any soap opera. (More difficulty, too, with an average ranking of 11.25, lowest by far of any of the eight groups.)
Ghana's Black Stars aren't Africa's best team, but they have the Americans' number, ousting them from both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. The Portuguese were stunned by the Americans in 2002. Don't think the Portuguese have forgotten. Or forgiven.
Portugal also has the Master of Hair Products and Diving, Cristiano Ronaldo. He is deservedly considered the best player in the world along with Lionel Messi, and the Americans — who struggle against attackers with half his speed — will have nowhere to hide.
KLINSMANN VS. GERMANY
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is married to an American, and has lived in Southern California for the better part of the last two decades. But he's from Germany, and has figured as much in Die Mannschaft's history as its red, yellow and black color scheme. He played on the West German team that won the 1990 World Cup, then coached the Germans to a third-place finish in the 2006 tournament played in their country.
Klinsmann stepped down after the 2006 World Cup, and Germany is still coached by his longtime friend, Joachim Loew.
"Obviously, there are a lot of emotions involved. It's normal. I'm German," Klinsmann said. "It's going to be a special moment."
Not just for him, either. Klinsmann has aggressively courted dual-nationality players, most of whom are German-Americans. There could be four or five on the U.S. World Cup roster, with midfielders Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson likely starters.
Imagine Phil Jackson's Lakers facing his old Bulls, with a third of the Los Angeles roster originally from Chicago, and you get the picture.
"Football produces crazy stories," Klinsmann said.
England fans are notoriously dour and hard on their team. This time, they've got good reason.
The Three Lions weren't exactly inspiring in qualifying. Sure, there were thrashings of Moldova and San Marino. But England also tied Montenegro and needed a late goal against Poland just to get to Brazil. Comparing its defense to a sieve isn't much of a stretch and, no, bringing John Terry back isn't the answer. A matured Wayne Rooney might be at his best yet, but his supporting cast is weak.
As for goalkeeper, what's that about if you can't say something nice?
Then came the draw, where England landed in Group D with 2010 semifinalist Uruguay and 2006 champion Italy, with a game in the one place they desperately wanted to avoid, the jungle city of Manaus.
"There were not going to be many scenarios where we were going to be jumping for joy," manager Roy Hodgson said.
Hodgson caused an uproar when he said he hoped his team could avoid Manaus, with the mayor of the jungle city responding that he didn't want the English, anyway. But the English aren't the only ones not thrilled with their tropical destinations.
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said he's even considering switching his team's training camp, which was to be near Sao Paolo, after the Swiss drew games in Manaus and Salvador. The average June temperature in Salvador is 83 degrees, with 10 inches of rainfall.
"We must adapt to the climatic conditions," Hitzfeld said.
Even the African teams are nervous about the effects of the heat and humidity, with most of their players coming to the World Cup from their club teams in Europe.
"It's very, very hot and the climate maybe is difficult," Cameroon coach Volker Finke said.
Looking for a dark horse to make the final? France.
Sure, the French put the "fun" in dysfunction with their petty squabbling and early exit in South Africa, then needed a playoff just to get to Brazil. But they're leading a charmed life now after landing in Group E, one of the most favorable draws of the day. The French must play Switzerland, considered the lightweight of the seeded teams, Ecuador and Honduras.
Best of all, they have no long-haul trips to the north, making their group-stage travel look more like an easy commute compared to the treks some teams are making.
"It's rather good news," France coach Didier Deschamps acknowledged.
Looking for a team to follow — literally? You can't go wrong with Ghana or Mexico.
Both might struggle to make it out of group play, but that won't matter. They each have games in Natal and Fortaleza, two of the most scenic host cities.
In fact, early exits might be preferable. All the more time to enjoy the beach.