The World Cup Finals 2006 (if you don't know it's soccer, move on to the next post) is coming close. The draw has just occured, directly observed by viewers in 145 countries around the world, thus starting six months of endless backseat strategizing.
I am not a crazed soccer fan, but World Cup is the biggest sporting event after the Summer Olympics (Guess what is the third? If you said Winter Olympics, you are wrong. It's the World Equestrian Games!) in terms of numbers of countries, individual competitors, audience on site and TV audience. So, I'll be sure to watch at least some of it next summer.
The US team faces Italy, Czech Republic and Ghana. A tough group. Italians and Czechs are top European teams, both have been European Champions, and Italy was a World Champion before. Even Ghana must be good as it beat all other African teams in order to qualify.
The toughest group, at least according to this online poll, is Group C, consisting of Argentina, Netherlands, Serbia & Montenegro and Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Argentina is a multiple World Cup Champion and plays tough, no-nonsense soccer at the limits of what's legal (lots of yellow cards for them all the time). They love to finish their games with 0:0, then beat their opponents with penalty kicks (if I remember correctly, they did that three times during the 1990 World Cup). The Dutch are always one of the best European teams.
After years of sanctions, and more years in the doldrums bringing up the young team, Serbia has not lost a single match in the qualifications and has received only one goal total (from Spain), thus qualified at the top of its qualifying group. And whoever qualifies from Africa is bound to be in good form. Still, even at the hight of its form, as a team drawing talent from the whole country before it broke up into several smaller pieces, Yugoslavia could not beat Argentina (one of those victims of penalty kicks). It's going to be fun to watch.
Croatia plays its first game against the reigning Champion, Brazil, but the other two teams - Japan and Australia - should not be that hard to beat. Croatia is also in great form this year, also ending the qualifications on the top of their group.
It will be a fun summer.