Best bets at the bookies


  • Argentina

  • On a dream and a prayer
    Argentina could win the World Cup or crash out the moment they meet a decent side like Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil or The Netherlands. If any of these sides had players like Leo Messi, Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Agüero and Lucho González, they would, as in the proverb, already be counting their chickens.

    In Messi, Argentina has a player who can single-handedly change the tone of any game. He combines speed and trickery, guile and gusto in the way he runs at defenders, dribbles and scores goals.
    Argentina are fortunate—as they were in 1986 with Diego Maradona—to have a player of his calibre. Yet Argentina’s problems come in the shape of their favourite son, Maradona, the national coach.

    A report by the Guardian suggests that Ariel Garcé, one of the players in Maradona’s squad, is in the team because of a dream Maradona had that Argentina had won the cup and, from the group celebrating the triumph, he could only remember Garcé‘s face.

    Garcé didn’t think he could make the team and, in fact, had bought tickets to come and watch Argentina. So, on account of a dream, Garcé, with only four caps, got a nod ahead of Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso, players who won the Champions League, the Italian league and the Italian Cup with Italy’s Inter Milan.

    Maradona’s eccentricities aside, one should remember that sometimes matches are won on the kind of detail that a coach doesn’t have control over. I still believe that Argentina are favourites to win the World Cup; in fact, I dreamed that Argentina had won the cup.— Percy Zvomuya


    Brazil
    Football perfected
    “The English invented it and the Brazilians perfected it”—so goes the famous chirp in football circles.

    Brazil may be fielding one of their worst teams in their proud World Cup participation record but history places them as my firm favourites to win the first finals on African soil. The Samba Kings are the only nation to have played in every World Cup tournament and they have won a record five titles.

    More significantly, Brazil are the only team to have won a tournament staged outside their continent. They did it twice. First, when a 17-year-old named Pele made his debut in Sweden 1958, and then when Ronaldinho inspired the team to victory in Korea/Japan in 2002. Like most football fans, I was quite disappointed when Dunga left the exciting Ronaldinho out of his final 23-man squad for South Africa.

    Still, Brazil appear to be ready to carry on from where they left off at the Confederations Cup last year. They knocked out hosts South Africa before beating the USA in the final. It was a clear indication that African conditions suit them. Although not in the class of the 2002 team led by the three Rs—Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Rivaldo—Brazil still has match winners in Kaka, Robinho, Lúcio and Maicon. The team looked sharp when they dispatched Zimbabwe and Tanzania 3-0 and 4-1 respectively.— Phathisani Moyo


  • Spain

  • Even in face of unhinged national unity
    I have been both impressed and worried by how Bafana Bafana have inspired hope in the past few weeks with their positive displays which saw them notch an unusual 12-match unbeaten streak. They have scored lots of goals and conceded only a few. What worries me, though, is that it has created unreasonable expectations among ordinary South Africans, who are not your average football supporters who would know that a win against Guatemala is meaningless.

    While I think South Africa should cherish the rare moments of unity, celebration and unusual achievements of hosting the coveted World Cup, we should not actually be naive enough to believe that they can pull off some miracles in the World Cup.

    The African team that will do us proud will be Ghana, who have been through a stable period of preparation for the games and have kept the same coach and set of players, which is not what you can say for Nigeria and Ivory Coast. They will miss Michael Essien sure, but Germany is without Michael Ballack, England without Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham and Portugal without Nani. No African team has reached the semis before, and if any team should do that, it will be Ghana.

    The Netherlands and Argentina are also teeming with talent and Brazil are perennial favourites and could also make the semis, but I pick Spain to finally excel in the big stage.—Rapule Tabane


    Ghana: In my heart


    Italy: In my head
    There are suggestions that the football philosophy dominating the game currently is the approach used so successfully by Barcelona and the Spanish national team. That possession of the ball, complemented by control, movement and quicksilver passing will reap victories; opponents flag from chasing shadows and, eventually, relentless pressure will be converted to goals.

    Yet, latterly, José Mourhino’s European Champions League success with Inter Milan suggests that not having the ball isn’t a footballing death sentence. In Inter’s 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich in the Champion’s League final, the Italians had around 34% of the possession.

    Mourhino is the master of football’s deliciously dark arts and his tactics were simple: allow your opponent to have possession but strangle the space (which you determine) in which they do so.

    This requires keeping compact defensive shape and dogged pressing or false-pressing, but also positioning attackers to be alert to a swift counterattack. I’d wager that tactical nous and efficient counterattacking will dominate this World Cup rather than any allusions to the Brazilian’s Joga Bonito (play beautifully) or Holland’s Total Football.

    This requires a manager, street-smart coach, defenders and midfielders with rugged discipline and attackers with speed, technique and sniper shooting. There are very few teams that tick all those boxes.

    Brazil has been “winning ugly” under coach Dunga while their exquisite technique and counterattacking skills were on show when they won the Confederations Cup here last year. But will they maintain discipline? The Italians are masters of the dark side of defence, but do they have strikers of the quality required to put away the odd chance?

    Punditry is as scientific as You magazine. My heart is telling me Ghana, but my head is pumping for the Italians.—Niren Tolsi

    <
    b>Bafana Bafana
    Africa Ke Nako
    My attitude to Bafana Bafana has taken a dramatic turn over the past few weeks. I’m prepared to put my head on the block to say the boys will hoist the World Cup trophy.

    Perhaps my newly found optimism is blinded by patriotism. But having been among thousands of soccer loving fans who watched Bafana wallop the Danish team at the Atteridgeville Stadium (now renamed after soccer legend Masterpieces Moripe) last Saturday, I’m now more than convinced that South Africa is ready for any team in the world.

    Some of my colleagues were quick to dismiss my optimism as nothing but a wishful thinking. Granted, South Africa enters the World Cup tournament as the underdogs. But nothing is impossible in the game.

    The fact that Bafana will be playing in their own back yard is a huge boost to the local boys. This was proved during the 1996 African Nations Cup, when Bafana emerged victorious when no one gave them a chance. No one gave France a chance before they won the World Cup, held in that country in 1998.

    The South Koreans were unfortunate to be knocked out in the semifinals in 2004, but their startling performance taught us something about playing in one’s own back yard.

    I am convinced that the boys have found their magic feet once again and are not only determined to do the country proud, but to break the record to become the first African country to win the World Cup trophy. Africa Ke Nako. [Now is the time.]—Matuma Letsoalo


    Brazil
    2002 redux
    Brazil will win the World Cup because they have the best squad. It will extend to six their record number of wins. They also have the best defence and the quickest counterattack.

    A Brazil-based colleague said this week: “They even see defending corners as a goal scoring chance.”

    South Africa has the good fortune of arguably the strongest field yet assembled for a World Cup. When the tournament reaches the last eight, and should all the major contenders still be in the running, it will become a lottery.

    Brazil have a potential meeting with the Dutch in the business end of the knockout rounds, which in current form is a potential “final before the final”; The Netherlands have a long history of imploding in tournaments where they patently display the ability to win.

    The top half of the draw also includes England, France and Argentina. In the bottom half, Spain and Germany are likely meet in the semifinal.

    Spain are a persistent pick by respected pundits but disappointed in last year’s Confederations Cup. Their players have had a taxing season, notably the Barcelona and Real Madrid contingents, and Fernando Torres and Cesc Fàbregas have been injured.

    Germany have a young side but a strong tournament pedigree and a great self belief.

    Brazil to beat the Germans in the final, as was the case in 2002?—Mark Gleeson

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