The Greatest Month in Sports is back, though a little later than it normally is. Normally it coincides, roughly if not entirely, with the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals. This year, due to blazing hot Qatar outbribing everyone else for the hosting rights, it coincides with college and pro football’s playoff races and the NBA and NHL getting into the swing of things. Deciding whether to watch football or football is an unusual dilemma.
Anyhow, as I get back into coaching school soccer, I’m in the sort-of-ironic position of following the top levels of the beautiful game less and less. But I’ll go ahead and make my uninformed group picks right now. The US was thoughtful enough to qualify this time and is in Group B with England, Wales, and Iran. I honestly believe England is getting worse over the years despite their trip to the Euro final last year and the semifinals in Russia in 2018, but they should win the group, beat the relatively weak second-place finisher from Group A, then lose embarrassingly in the quarters. The US on paper is better than Wales and Iran and should advance, but we’ll see. Berhalter often disappoints, but at least he got us back into the tourney so hopefully that’s something to build on.
Now to look for the group Italy landed in.
Let’s see, Group A: Holland should win, perhaps not easily, but they should win. I think Ecuador will finish second since Mane’s injured for Senegal. Qatar should finish fifth out of four, but be proud that they could purchase qualification.
We did Group B already.
Italy’s not in C, which should be won by Argentina in Messi’s last hurrah (which is going to disappoint despite the hype). Mexico should finish second, but they’re as historically flaky as the US so Poland might sneak past them. In fact, I’ll say Argentina and Poland advance.
D should be France and Denmark, in that order. I’m surprised at how few people are picking France to win the whole thing. Yes, they’re the defending champion, which hasn’t paid off since 1962, but even without Benzema they’re a strong, youngish team that can blow anybody out.
Group E: Germany, then Spain. Germany is a machine being reloaded and is probably pissed about last go-round. Spain met its Protestant wind and is on the wane, but only to second in their group.
F has two of the three best teams from last time around. I thought Belgium was unlucky to lose to France, but that’s life. This time: Belgium, Croatia safely qualify after the first two games, play to a draw in the group closer, Belgium wins on goal difference. Still no Italy, that’s strange.
If everyone’s healthy, Brazil should dominate Group G. I know Cameroon is the weakest in the group, but they earned a lot of good will with me by beating Argentina in 1990 so I want them to advance. They’ll finish second.
So Italy must be in Group H, which they should win, and then second place will– wait, Italy’s not in H. I guess they have nine or ten groups this time around. H looks like a real Group of Death, this is a tough call. Uruguay still has some bite, they’ll win first place. We’ll see whether (and how) CR7 reacts to the Man U controversy via his play for Portugal, but they’ll finish second.
So Italy will win Group I, which inclu– hold on, my editor’s trying to get hold of me.
It’s 48 teams this time, right? I mean I think that’s ridiculous, but there’s 48 teams, aren’t there?
That’s next time? Then where’s Italy? Defending Euro champs?
Out? How? What the hell happened? Bad calls, like in Korea 20 years ago? Gambling scandal? Bribing the refs, or failure to bribe the refs? Give me a minute, let me google World Cup Qatar controversy–