When the World Cup begins this week, there will be one distinct favorite.
A small sampling of area coaches on Tuesday concluded that host country Brazil is the likely best bet, but that upsets always happen at soccer's premier international tournament.
Each coach will experience the World Cup, which happens each four years, in his or her own way.
• Steve Barrett will have his “England shirt” on when the United Kingdom competes.
• Paul Cox, a coach with the Southern West Virginia King’s Warriors, aspires once again to watch every match.
• Michelle Dye said, “My whole family, my kids, we all get into it.”
• Amanda Malkiewicz and her family will have “a huge barbecue.”
• Peter Dryer said that, as usual, he will get together with “other soccer people (to watch). It should be a good time.”
The United States’ prospects? The consensus is that it will be tough to survive the challenges of the other three countries in what has been dubbed the Americans’ “group of death.”
Barrett, men’s head soccer coach at Concord University, said Brazil is the favorite “in part because they’re hosting. The main contenders you’d think would be from Europe, but a European team never won the World Cup in this hemisphere. ... I have Brazil.”
“As much as it’s unpredictable, you could say that Brazil, Germany, Spain, Argentina — those are teams that you think will get to the finals, but you never know. There are so many unknowns.
“There’s going to be upsets. There’s going to be a team that not many expected to do anything, they pop up every year.”
He said about the sport’s unpredictability, “That’s what makes it the beautiful game.”
Dye mentioned Brazil as the pre-tournament favorite “because of their style of play, and home advantage, for sure.”
A key organizer of the East River Soccer Association and head coach of the Princeton Senior High girls soccer team, Dye based her assessment of Brazil on “their footwork and their ball control, and how they move the ball as a team and a unit.”
Dryer, men’s head soccer coach and athletics director at Bluefield College, said, “I’ll have to go with Brazil. They’re at home, and generally they are the favorite anyways.”
He added, “Spain, the defending World Cup champs, they don’t look to be any weaker at all. They look to be the teams to beat this year. And Argentina, they are always good, if they can defend.”
Cox said though the Brazilians are used to the climate in their native land, “My pick is Argentina. I think it’s their time, because of the players they’ve got. It’s just their time to win it again.”
He said he is excited most about “the story of the underdog ... the emergence of new teams, countries that haven’t been featured in the World Cup for some time.”
Among those are Belgium, “with the influx of young, top-quality players. I believe Bosnia may be a dark horse. I think they have a chance to go very deep. ... You never know, an African country may reach the final round.”
Malkiewicz, the new head coach of the Concord women’s team, thinks there could be a repeat champion.
“I wish I could say the United States, but I will say Spain,” she said. “The style of play, they hold the ball for 75 percent of the game. They have so much experience, and the tradition of winning is so huge and the level of their players is way higher than anywhere else in the world.”
She added, “They don’t have a tough bracket, so they have an easier road to the finals.”
• • •
The United States must deal with Germany, Portugal and Ghana in its group in the first round. The Americans begin play by taking on Ghana on Monday.
Dye said, “I’m definitely rooting for the United States. I think they have a chance; it’s going to be tough but they have a good squad.”
Malkiewicz said, “I think a lot of people right now don’t have a lot of faith in us because we’re a young team. I think Coach (Jurgen) Klinsmann is looking toward the future.”
“We have a three-game (winning) streak so we’re going into the World Cup on a high note. If we have a good result against Portugal, who’s to say we won’t advance to the next round.”
“I’m a huge USA fan and I’m rooting for us, but in the reality of things, we’re still growing.”
Cox, who like Barrett is from England, said, “I think the U.S. chances are slim. Living in the U.S. now, I want to root for them and hope they do well, but Germany is very strong — and Portugal, (Cristiano) Ronaldo is the best player in the world.”
Dryer was more positive. “I think they (the Americans) probably go into the World Cup better than they ever have been. They seem to have confidence and seem to be playing very well.”
“They can beat Ghana, and can give a good run at Portugal or Germany. I think we have a shot. ... I don’t think it’s a long shot for them to get out of there. I’ll be pulling for them. If you can defend, you can go far. It’ll be fun to watch.”
Barrett said it will be “very difficult” for the United States to advance. “I’d like to think they can beat Ghana this time around,” he said.
Portugal has Ronaldo, he said, “but they’re going to need more than that,” The Portuguese star has had some recent injuries, the Concord coach said. “He’s really tired, with the amount of games he’s played with Real Madrid and winning the championship of the Champions League.”
“Germany’s always going to be difficult, no matter what,” he said. “Their record is incredible. They’ll be hard to beat, but then again, you don’t know.”
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann left longtime star Landon Donovan off this year’s squad.
Dryer said, “I think the coach had to make a tough call on that one. I think Klinsmann’s done a good job with that team. (The Donovan decision) surprised a lot of people, because they know his name. I wouldn’t second-guess him ... with the experience he’s got and the things that he’s done.”
Barrett said, “He (Klinsmann) is taking players that are in form, and you’ve got to take that into account. Names are not enough. It’s good to take some youngsters, and get them involved in what is necessary to play in the World Cup.
Donovan “has been tremendous, there’s no question,” Barrett said, “but that’s in the past.”
• • •
Many soccer fans have traditions they follow for World Cup watching.
Dryer said, “Last World Cup, my wife bought me a new television, just for the World Cup. I was hoping that would start a tradition but just a one-time deal. We still have the same TV.
He noted, “I usually like to get together with some other soccer people (to watch the later rounds), whether at a restaurant or somebody’s house.”
He said the thing he finds most exciting about this World Cup is “the challenge for the United States to come out of the group and to see how we’re going to handle it. I think we’ve come a long ways.”
“I just like to watch good soccer. ... There’s always a dark horse in final four that no one expects. I always enjoy that. ... I’m hoping this year, maybe it’s the United States.”
Dye said, “I just enjoy watching the upper level of play that the World Cup produces. It’s just a completely different level of soccer from what you see every day.”
She said her family will either catch live coverage of games or record them to view later.
Watching the World Cup is definitely a family affair for the Malkiewicz clan.
“We have the whole family over,” the Concord coach said. “My dad is in charge. We have a huge barbecue, and games and stuff. We try to watch as many games as possible — especially the United States.”
“In my immediate family, soccer is huge.”
Cox said the King’s Warriors soccer club, which plays home games at East River, will have a new way to keep up with the international competition — a projector set up in one of their group residences so they can watch the games theatre-style.
The team’s roster includes players from many different countries. He said a couple of athletes from Chile and Argentina have been “going back and forth already” about an upcoming match between their nations.
As for himself, he said, “Usually I will try to watch each game. That’s the tradition I’ve kept up. Try to watch them all the best I can.”
Barrett said he and his family were in England for “the entire duration” of the last two tournaments, in a land where hundreds of flags fly from houses and cars when England has a match.
“The whole country it seems comes to a standstill when England plays,” he said. “The percentage of people that watch it are just huge. You just don’t get that here in America, that anticipation and the buildup. ... I’ll miss that.”
Even if he is experiencing England’s games via television or computer, he said, “Every game that England plays, I will be there. ... I’ve got an England shirt. I will wear that. The thought is if I don’t wear that, they won’t win.”
Expectations are not extremely high for that nation’s entry in this year’s World Cup, but Barrett said the English will keep calm and carry on.
“We just wait another four years,” he said.
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org
When the World Cup begins this week, there will be one distinct favorite.
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