In January I predicted that the United States would fulfill its 1998 pledge to ensure that the United States men’s national team would become a legitimate threat to win the FIFA World Cup by 2010. Now that the time has come to put up, I am boldly, and perhaps irrationally, predicting the US will not only challenge f0r the World Cup, but will actually WIN the 2010 FIFA World Cup!
Granted, this pick is somewhat biased due to the many Chicago Fire connections with the US team and is made through red, white and blue goggles, but the mere fact that I find myself able to see a path to the top for the good ol’ U.S. of A. represents a sea change from the first US World Cup appearance of my lifetime in 1990.
Over the last 20 years, the “Dream” of advancing out of the group stage has morphed first to “Hope” then to “Wish” and now to ”Expectation”. I recall watching the three and done at Italia ’90 and just praying that we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves and my Milwaukee Wave star Jimmy Banks wouldn’t get torched by Italy. In 1994, as the host nation, I again hoped we wouldn’t be embarrassed and wished that we could surprise the world by advancing out of group play, which we did. As part of MLS in 1998, my confidence in a solid performance by the Americans was unrewarded by Steve Sampson’s crew. Four years later, for the first time, I remember having a realistic chance of advancing out of group play, which thanks to South Korea’s final group play win over Portugal, we did and then went on to surprise Mexico dos a cero before falling to Germany and a missed handball call.
In 2006, we were in a tough group, which muted expectations. Nevertheless, our boys didn’t play up to the ever increasing expectations, resulting in a call for change at the top — which was granted. Now we come to 2010, the magical year predicated by the word “Project” a dozen years ago. “Expectation” of advancing has now replaced “hope”. Some even think that advancing and then losing in the second round won’t be deemed “success”. It’s in that context that I made my bold prediction that Carlos Bocanegra and his teammates will be hoisting the sporting world’s most prestigious trophy in 32 days.
Last week, just prior to the kickoff of the United States’ final tune up versus Australia, I grabbed my official “The Highbury Pub World Cup 2010 Bracket” form and hurriedly began making predictions. It involved making 31 decisions. The first 27 decisions were mainly made with my head. The last four were admittedly influenced by my heart. When I put the marker down, there was one team circled in the center of the page as my predicted winner – the United States of America. Perhaps equally surprising was the other team in the center of the page, the one that wasn’t circled indicating the runner-up - Italy. It just so happens that I am half Italian (the Vilona familyis Calabrese) and all American.
Ten of the 16 teams I selected to escape the group stage were pretty obvious. The other six were educated guesses, gut feelings and random long shots. Once I slotted teams into the second round spots, the knock out round picks came pretty easily. If by some random chance, these matchups come to fruition, there will be some amazing round of 16 and quarterfinal games including a rematch of the World Wars (Germany vs. England) and a battle for Iberian supremacy (Spain vs. Portugal) in the round of 16 and Mexico vs. USA, Holland vs. Brazil, Argentina vs. Germany and Italy vs. Spain in the quarters! Those are all dream matchups…meaning, I must’ve been dreaming when I made these picks.
Groups F and G were the only two groups in which my picks followed the odds. In each of the other groups I have higher FIFA ranked teams finishing below their lower ranked opponents who I’m picking to advance to the second round:
Group A: Mexico (17) finishing above France (9) and Uruguay (16)
Group B: South Korea (47) advancing over Nigeria (21) and Greece (13)
Group C: USA (14) finishing above England (8)
Group D: Ghana (32) advancing over Serbia (15)
Group E: Denmark (36) advancing over Cameroon (19)
Group H: Australia (20) and Switzerland (24) advancing over Chile (18)
The upsets take a break with all my round of 16 picks going to form. Then in the quarterfinals I’m back on the upset trail with Holland (4) over Brazil (1) and Italy (5) over Spain (2). One of my semifinal picks goes to form, while the US over Holland pick may require a dose of faith and a Dutch epidemic of strained hamstrings.
Then, once the US gets to the final against Italy….anything can – and will – happen. My predicted path for Bob’s Boys winning the Cup requires getting results against three higher ranked nations: England, Holland and Italy. IMHO, the US is underrated and England is overrated and a draw could be enough to position the US atop Group C. Victories over an Arjen Robben hobbled Holland and aging Italy would certainly be upsets, but I believe the chemistry of the US team along with its mix of emerging young talent, veteran leadership and underdog status will surprise teams as the US makes its way to Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg on July 11. Final score of the final match? USA 2, Italy 1.
A boy can dream, no?