Rating the big seven

[MY VIEW] The seven seeds other than host South Africa were considered the favorites to win the World Cup. How did they do in their openers? They ranged from Germany, magnificent in its 4-0 win over Australia, to Spain, upset by Switzerland, and Italy and England, both lackluster at best in opening ties. Here's how we rate the big seven, taking into account their form in their opening game and how they project out throughout the rest of the tournament ...

1. Germany. Germany was the only emphatic winner of its opening game -- and the only team that really looked like it was enjoying itself. Well, if you go up two goals in the first half hour, you should be happy. Who needs Michael Ballack when you have Mesut Ozil? The 21-year-old Werder Bremen midfielder was excellent in Germany's 4-0 win over Australia, only one of several youngsters to have strong games. Bayern Munich's Thomas Mueller was also superb. World Cup veterans Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski also played well against the Socceroos, but the key player for the Germans may be midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, still only 25.  Germany was the best of the former World Cup champions on Day 1 but faces a tough bracket if it wins the group and form holds: the Group C runner-up (perhaps the USA or England?) in the second round and the Group B winner (Argentina?) in the quarterfinals.

2. Argentina. How Lionel Messi goes so goes Argentina. That was the conventional wisdom before the tournament started, yet the Albiceleste disposed of Nigeria, 1-0, without getting a goal from Messi. The Barcelona star played well but couldn't put away any of his chances. He was mortal, like all the other big stars who impressed even less: Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, Kaka for Brazil, Wayne Rooney for England and Didier Drogba, albeit injured, for Ivory Coast. Argentina is deep enough that Coach Diego Maradona could afford not to start Diego Milito, Inter Milan's UEFA Champions League, in the opener. Milito will probably need to come through if Argentina is to go far. What hurts is the loss of Juan Sebastian Veron, out for the Japan game with a calf injury.

3. Brazil. Who would have figured it would take Brazil almost an hour to score against North Korea? Or that the Koreans would manage to score against Brazil? Kaka, coming off injury, had a subpar game against North Korea. Defender Lucio looked ordinary on the goal scored by Ji Yun Nam in the 89th minute. Still, Brazil is just too deep at too many positions to imagine it having trouble before the quarterfinals. What could change things is the possibility of a Brazil-Spain meeting in the second round. Both were expected to win their groups rather easily, but neither is assured of finishing first. If one finishes first and the other second, they meet in the second round.

4. Netherlands. The Oranje was the only contender besides Germany to win its first game by more than one goal, so its 2-0 win over Denmark wasn't a bad start. But it was hardly like two years ago when the Dutch opened Euro 2008 with a 3-0 win over Italy. They clearly missed the injured Arjen Robben, though 23-year-old winger Eljero Elia impressed when he came in late in the game against Denmark. With a fit Robben in the attack, the Dutch would be legitimate contenders but it's doubtful that Robben, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, will be 100 percent before the end of the tournament.

5. Spain.
Switzerland learned a thing or two from the U.S. playbook and shut down the Spanish attacks down the middle. Just as Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley had outstanding games in the USA's 2-0 win at the 2009 Confederations Cup, Benjamin Huggel and Gokhan Inler were excellent for the Swiss in their 1-0 victory on Wednesday. For all their possession, Spain simply was unable to break Switzerland down on the wings. Can Spain still the World Cup? History says no. No team has won the tournament after losing its opening game. Even if it gets out of the group, it faces the possibility of having to meet Brazil in the second round.

6. Italy. Of the big seven, the Azzurri have declined the most from their form of four years ago when they won their fourth World Cup. Coach Marcello Lippi insists he has the right mix of old and young players, but the Italians were average on Monday against Paraguay. Holdovers like captain Fabio Cannavaro and fellow defender Gianluca Zambrotta are past their prime, while goalie Gianluigi Buffon is injured and probably lost for the rest of the tournament. Italy should still reach the knockout stage but it's unimaginable that it will advance more than a game or two.

7. England.  Of all the contenders, none promised so much and produced so little as did England, which had to settle for a 1-1 tie with the USA. No less an authority than Franz Beckenbauer, who won World Cup titles as the captain and coach of West Germany, blasted the English. "It looked to me as if the English have gone backward into the bad old days of kick and rush." Like Italy, England didn't show anything in its first game to make it a World Cup contender.

3 comments about "Rating the big seven".
  1. Gene Jay, June 17, 2010 at noon

    Wow. How crazy is it to try to rate teams chances of winning WC after one game, one opponent! Here is a thought: maybe England looked 'bad' because they ran into and outstanding keeper and USA played their socks off--and maybe, just maybe, Germany looked like world champs because Australia totally sucks (did you see the Australia/USA game?). Do you think England will look like they are having fun whilest beating Algeria 4-0--I bet they do.
    And as to Beckenbauer's comment---he is totally un biased isn't he? He would never unjustly throw dig at natural enemy England would he? He is not trying to get in England's head knowing this is very possible match up knockout round match up is he?
    PS-I don't think England gonna do it either--but I think one needs to see a few games against a few opponents before writing anyone off or in and predictions at this stage is the press at its very worse.

  2. James Madison, June 17, 2010 at 5:18 p.m.

    I would rate Italy above Spain and England, but, based ont the their opening matches, the rankings otherwise are spot on.

  3. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, June 18, 2010 at 7:30 a.m.

    I would just pour another beer and forget about all this cheap talk. Cheer for the sides that play well, and for the home team however well they play.

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