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Mês de Ouro do Futebol!

(The Title is, “Soccer’s Golden Month!” in Portuguese)

90+ minutes, 32 national teams, 22 players on the pitch, 3 misguided referees (depending on who you’re cheering for) and one ultimate winner.

The beautiful game, for which it’s known universally across all cultures and languages, will once again step onto the world’s stage starting today at 4:00 p.m. ET for its biggest tournament: The World Cup. Having visited Los Angles in the summer of 1994 for my birthday when the United States hosted this magnificent sporting spectacle, I was fortunate enough to visit the Soccer Fest at the LA Convention Center. There, I saw something I’ll never forget. Despite being protected by thick transparent glass, its shining glory could not be contained. Golden in every way stood The FIFA World Cup ™ Trophy. Gazing in a moment of surrealism and, ironically, clarity, I had but one goal in life: to hoist that trophy above my head as a champion of the world wearing the red, white and blue.

20 years later (and one month from now) and one national team (which, sadly will not include me) will have the honor of fulfilling that very exercise. It will be historic, powerful and rewarding in every way imaginable. Fans will remember this moment forever. Stories will be told and, if one’s lucky, will be given the permanent tag of a national legend in his country.

So, what teams should we be watching a little more closely than others? What players will stand-out with stellar performances?

I’m glad you asked.

Teams to Watch (in no particular order):

Brazil – They’re the hosts in a futebol-rich culture with a young superstar in Neymar (22) who is looking to provide his fellow Brazilians with a few Pelé flashbacks/comparisons. Are they the best team? Debatable. But expect them to make some noise well beyond the group stage, both on the pitch and in the streets with a party or two…

Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Nani are three of the players on a team that finally shined for a few games internationally at the 2012 UEFA Euro 2012 tournament. They’re fast, athletic and dangerous. Plus, Ronaldo is at the top of his game right now. As mentioned before on this blog, the slogan this team should have on the side of their bus is: “We Have a Star Player Named Ronaldo Who Speaks Portuguese Playing at the World Cup in Brazil…I Mean, C’mon.”

France – Franck Ribéry  With Ribéry ruled out of the competition with an injury, so go France’s chances to advance far in the tournament. Unfortunate for them, but likely true.

Argentina – There are infinite discussions about Neymar and Brazil’s chances for a return to World Cup glory. However, recall that Lionel Messi is still searching to cement his legacy as an elite footballer beyond his ridiculous club statistics and silly awesome performances at Barcelona. A World Cup hosted by a neighboring South American nation…It’s almost a perfect situation.

Germany – Neuer, Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Schweinsteiger, Özil, Müller, Kroos, Götze, Podolski and Klose. Elite, veteran leadership coupled with a dynamite youth movement. Damn (or Verdammt). Enough said.

Belgium – This team could very well become the trendy pick/fun team to follow at the 2014 World Cup. Think Uruguay in South Africa four years ago…

Uruguay – Two names: Luis Suárez and Diego Forlán.

Holland – They will have (arguably) the best offensive/attacking set of players in Brazil in Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Conversely, their defense will be young without a tremendous amount of experience (beyond a few of the defenders from Feyenoord). Still, Louis Van Gaal is their manager, so this orange Lion may roar with surprising purpose and confidence in the jungles of Brazil…

Spain – Yeah, they only won the World Cup in 2010 with a squad that features many of the same players who stood before the globe as soccer’s biggest champions in South Africa. How soon people forget as Spain has garnered very little fanfare going into Brazil. Their first game versus the Dutch (FYI- a 2010 Final rematch) will be telling in terms of the team’s initial momentum in trying to reach peak form again.

Players to Watch (in no particular order):

Arjen Robben (Holland)

Diego Forlán (Uruguay)

Fernando Torres (Spain)

Eden Hazard (Belgium)

Philipp Lahm (Germany)

Iker Casillas (Spain)

Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Wesley Sneijder (Holland)

Neymar (Brazil)

Mario Götze (Germany)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Gonzalo Higuaín (Argentina)

Michael Bradley (United States of America)

Robin Van Persie (Holland)

Manuel Neuer (Germany)

Mix Diskerud (United States of America)

Before any kickoffs, what teams will likely make the final?

Again. I’m glad you asked!

A Projected 2014 World Cup Final:

Germany versus Argentina

And (as of right now) it’s looking like the 2014 World Cup Champion will be…

Argentina

In picking the winner of the 2014 World Cup, a meeting with a marketing professional yesterday provided me with a unique perspective to use for this prediction. It stemmed from a phrase she used repeatedly, “leadership through guidance.” Regarding soccer, it’s not necessarily just about star power, but evaluating what team has the players and coaching staff to translate their vision into beautiful soccer on the Brazilian pitch in moments of chaos, clarity and some unexpected confusion.

Bottom line: It’s going to be a fun, wild and all-around b-e-a-utiful month of world-class soccer and partying in Brazil.

É Kickoff Time!

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Got Slogans?

A recent article on CNN revealed the winning slogans for all the teams that will be playing at the World Cup in Brazil this summer. The winning slogans, written by fans from each country, will be displayed on the team buses for all to see during the tournament. A few are good, but most of them are bad.

Solution?

Here is Jimmy’s Daily Planet’s list of better, more realistic team mottoes for some of the 32 teams that will compete in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil:

Algeria: “Yes, We’ll Keep Track of Landon Donovan This Time”

Argentina: “We Have Lionel Messi, So Yeah”

Australia: “Forget Kangaroos, We’re Bringing Our Damn Crocodiles!”

Belgium: “At the End of This, You’ll All Be Eating Waffles”

Bosnia and Herzegovina: “If You Lose to Us, Everybody Will Know”

Brazil: “Win or Lose, We’ll Be in the Final!”

Colombia: “We Brought Our Own White Powder to Line the Fields With…”

England: “Excited For Our 10-Day Vacation Every 4 Years!”

Ghana: “Time to Beat the U.S. Again”

Honduras: “Just Happy to Be Here”

Italy: “And You Thought a Flower Blew Over Easily”

Japan: “We Have the Sudoku of Defenses”

Mexico: “We Have No Idea How We Got Such an Easy Group Again (Ju$t Kidding, We Know)”

Holland: “Real Men Wear Orange” (It’s the real one, but it’s so awesome & true!)

Portugal: “We Have a Star Player Named Ronaldo Who Speaks Portuguese Playing at the World Cup in Brazil…I Mean, C’mon”

Russia: “What’s This Rule About Wearing Jerseys?”

Spain: “Hey, Does Anybody Care or Want to See the World Cup Right Now!?”

Switzerland: “We Don’t Want to Offend or Defend Anyone”

Uruguay: “South America’s ‘Middle Child’ Will Be Kicking Butts & Taking Names!”

The United States of America: “One Nation, Under God, We’re Praying”

A little truth in advertising doesn’t hurt. It definitely revealed how Spain would fare 4 years ago with their simple slogan:

Spain in 2010: “We’re Going to Win”

P.S. You have no idea how painful it was for me to write that as a longtime and dedicated Dutch fan…just one delicate foot deflection away!

Damn, it still hurts.

Fool’s Gold

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) defeated Costa Rica last night 1-nil on a counter-attack goal courtesy of Brek Shea in the 83rd minute that started with a beautiful over-the-top service from Landon Donovan and concluded with a decent enough finish to rattle the net. With the result, the United States won their group in the Gold Cup. They will face El Salvador next in one of the quarterfinal match-ups this Sunday.

A good result with a good goal sequence. One certainty for the USMNT is that Landon Donovan knows how to counter-attack, when he doesn’t disappear for fifteen or so minutes every once in a while during the most important games…

But was the result really good enough?

The question during the Gold Cup and the World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF group is not whether or not the USMNT wins games, but it’s how they win and play. Do they have a reliably dynamic style that meets world-class standards? Let’s be candid: CONCACAF is not overly difficult and wins should consistently be achieved on the road and should definitely be achieved at home. During the home matches, there should be an abundance of spectacular goals and stellar performances from the goalkeeper up to the forwards. At this point, these games should not require a counter-attack goal after the 80th minute to secure a narrow victory at home. At this point, the USMNT should be running circles around the Gold Cup and CONCACAF competition with consistent 3-0-like victories.

Have the recent results really been good enough?

The teams from the Gold Cup and CONCACAF represent the weakest competition they will potentially face in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Does the team that struggles to defeat Costa Rica at home and other similar competition have the roster, style, toughness, talent, strategy, resilience and intelligence to defeat or compete with Spain? Brazil? Germany (their first team)? The Dutch? Portugal? England? Argentina? Belgium? Uruguay? Ghana?

Frustratingly, each time the USMNT roster is announced, there is a steadily uneasy feeling that half of the selected players should not even be there…especially one year out from the World Cup.

However, don’t paint me as a pessimist. I am an eternal believer in the “glass is half-full” mentality. I have long said Jürgen Klinsmann has the intelligence and insight to coach a USMNT that wins a World Cup. But, sadly, that team has not come very close to being organized on the field during his tenure thus far. Amazing things can happen in games that are predicted otherwise. Unlikely players show up and can change a game in an instant. Upsets happen and the USMNT has pulled off a few magical ones. They undoubtedly have the potential.

Yet, I am also a realist and am cognizant of the talent level of the aforementioned teams. There is a distinct difference between qualifying and playing in a World Cup and qualifying and competing for a World Cup.

It’s less than a year from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and it needs to said that 90 minutes is a long time, especially when you’re having to chase a ball while simultaneously climbing a mountain of goals against.

P.S. The U.S. v. Mexico game at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on September 10th will once again be epic! Importantly, it will reveal the talent and overall readiness of the USMNT going forward…