World Cup South Africa 2010, Part One.

The best month in sports is back. Hopefully it’ll be as good as the last World Cup, won by Italy.

The US is in Group C with England, Slovenia, and Algeria. On paper, it’s the easiest group we’ve ever drawn because we should beat Slovenia and Algeria, and two wins should be enough to advance. In reality, a bad result against England in the first game might mess with our team’s psyche so badly that they lose points in the last two matches. And second place in the group means a likely second round match against Germany, instead of Austria, Ghana, or Serbia.

Italy, my second-most favorite national team, is in Group F with Paraguay, New Zealand, and Slovakia. It should be the easiest first-round group, and they should win it, but the Azzurri usually find a way to make it interesting. If they win, they’ll likely get past whomever finishes second in E (probably Cameroon or Japan) before facing Spain in the quarterfinal.

Last time around, I had some fun with my predictions for the US team, which included a semifinal victory against a fictional country from a really old Peter Sellers movie and a win in the final against the Soviet Union. This time, I’m going to make predictions for the US and Italy. I’ve also decided to be a bit more scientific this time around: I used my game system to simulate the World Cup over the last several days whilst riding the bike. Using carefully crafted digital versions of real-life players should be more accurate than merely making thoughtful guesses based on roster strength, tactics, recent form, and injuries. Here goes:

Group C: In our June 12 opener against England, Steven Gerrard scores early on a penalty kick when I accidentally get the “slide tackle” button confused with the “switch defender” button. The good guys recover quickly, led by Jozy Altidore’s six goals. Tim Howard also scores on a coast-to-coast run. USA 11, England 1. On June 18, the US will beat Slovenia 7-0, and on June 23, the US will clinch the top spot in the group by beating Algeria 9-0.

Group F: Italy has a more defensive approach than most countries–they’re notorious for their catenaccio–so they give up no goals at all as they rout Paraguay 9-0, New Zealand 10-0, and Slovakia 9-0. I’m not sure that they’ll actually start Iaquinta and Gilardino up front in real life, so those scores might be a little bit high.

Second Round [which I wish they’d re-name “Round of 16” or “Eighth Finals” (actually, “Octofinals” would sound coolest, but I’m not sure it’s mathematically correct)]: the US defeats Ghana 6-0 behind Brian Ching’s four goals, which should be interesting considering he was left off the team’s real-life roster. Italy edges Japan 8-1.

Quarterfinals: USA 7, France 0. The French take consolation in remaining on the field for the full 90 minutes, though some of their players stand by the sideline the last ten minutes, waiting for the whistle. Italy defeats Cup favorite Spain 12-1 behind Iaquinta’s seven goals.

Semifinals: This one looks tight at the beginning; four Americans are red-carded for hacking that flopping ponce of a whoremonger, Cristiano Ronaldo, out of the game. The US pulls through, 9-1. Italy faces Germany in a rematch of what I thought was the best game of the last World Cup (They fight to a tense but scoreless draw in regular time and look headed for PKs, then Grosso curls a lefty shot around Lehmann with two minutes left in extra time. He runs around like a maniac in celebration so long it seems like Italy’s still celebrating while Del Piero makes it 2-0 on a last-second break… it was beautiful). Alas, this time around, Germany (sans Michael Ballack) wages a valiant war, but falls 8-0.

Final: The US meets Italy in a rematch of that great 2006 Group E red-card-fest. Unfortunately, I can’t get the PS3 to play against itself. Therefore, on July 11, the United States will crush Italy 7-1 behind five goals by Altidore. Vincent Iaquinta has to settle for a consolation goal at the last minute, winning the Golden Boot award with 29 goals.

And if that doesn’t happen, then I think Italy or Argentina or Brazil or England or France or Germany or Holland or Portugal or Spain will win.

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