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The Scarlet & Black

Kunal signs off with everybody’s favorite: soccer

I’m not going to lie; when I found out I was writing my last column of the school year this week, I became a little emotional. When I first told my sports-crazy family that I would be writing a sports opinion column for the S&B, way back in August, they literally laughed in my face. I can still remember my sister sneering, “Why would you want to write about something nobody at Grinnell cares about?” I really didn’t care; I was going to get paid for doing something I often did in my spare time anyways—shameless plug for my blog: However, as the school year progressed, and I wrote a few columns, I found that Grinnellians do care.

It is safe to say that most students on this campus do not follow sports regularly, but that has not stopped them from appreciating the merit of the work that fellow S&B columnist, Kramer McLuckie, and I put out every week. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to Kramer or me and said something along the lines of, “Hey Kunal/Kramer, I really enjoyed your article this week, I just wish I knew/cared more about sports so I could appreciate it that much more.” Encounters like this make me so happy; not only do they reassure me that people do, in fact, care about what I have to say, but if I can pique the interest of people who don’t even care about sports, I must be doing something right. To wrap up this sappy, Rick Reilly-esque, portion of my column so we can get to the good stuff, I just wanted to say, “Thank you for reading, Grinnell, you’re awesome.”

Sports take on a global theme this summer, as the best soccer players in the world head to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. The big story in this region of Planet Earth, of course, is the potential success of the Americans in a tournament, and in a sport for that matter, that they notoriously struggle in. There is good reason for Americans to have high expectations; not only did the U.S. make an improbable run to the Confederations Cup Final last summer, in which they beat Spain and lost to Brazil after leading at halftime, but they also drew a pretty good group for World Cup pool play (England, Algeria, and Slovenia). However, I’m not going to talk about U.S. Soccer’s potential exploits in the World Cup – this a topic that’s going to get beat to death by sports media outlets over the next month or so. I am more interested in the World Cup prospects of the six teams that will play in their home continent: Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Algeria, and of course, South Africa.

Africa is a soccer-crazy continent, and it hopes the World Cup will serve as a coming-out party of sorts for its immensely talented, but perennially underachieving national teams. Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Cameroon are the class of the six African nations that will compete in South Africa. Pretty much every fan of the UEFA Champions League, or the Electronic Arts’ FIFA video game series, knows the names of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, and Samuel Eto’o, star players for Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Cameroon respectively. However, these teams are actually fairly well rounded, especially Ivory Coast, which boasts the talents of Salomon Kalou (another Chelsea star) and defensive midfielders Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure. Cameroon also boasts a number of European-based professionals, such as Arsenal midfielder Alex Song and Mallorca forward Pierre Webo. Ghana doesn’t quite boast the same amount of riches as Ivory Coast and Cameroon, but does feature Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari, and a solid defensive pairing of John Mensah and John Pantsli.

Although these three nations might be the best Africa has to offer, they drew three of the hardest groupings for pool play. Ivory Coast drew Group G, the proverbial ‘Group of Death,’ which includes the likes of Brazil, Portugal, and North Korea. If Ivory Coast drew the hardest group, Ghana drew the most well rounded; Group B contains the likes of Germany, Serbia, and Australia in addition to the Ghanese. Cameroon’s group, featuring the Netherlands, Denmark, and Japan, does not seem as hard as Ivory Coast’s or Ghana’s. However, one must keep in mind that Denmark has played fantastic in World Cup Qualifying, beating Sweden and drawing Portugal.

Ivory Coast will play each one of their opponents tough, but in the end, asking a team making its second ever World Cup appearance to beat out either Brazil or Portugal for a spot in the knockout round is a little too much. Cameroon can certainly advance if they play well, but an aging roster and a very poor showing in the African Nations Cup this past winter leaves me with little confidence that the Lions can beat out Denmark for that second advancing spot behind Holland. As for Ghana, their hopes really depend on the health of star midfielder Michael Essien, who may not be fully recovered from a knee injury sustained in World Cup Qualifying, in time to play in the actual World Cup. Even with Essien, Ghana really does not boast a whole lot of striking talent, which could spell doom against German and Serbian squads that can score a lot of goals in a hurry.

Honestly, I believe that the only African nation that will advance to the knockout stage is Nigeria; perhaps the 4th or 5th best team in the continent. Nigeria also drew a tough group, featuring Argentina, South Korea and Greece. However, a second place finish in this group for Nigeria is more than feasible, considering that South Korea and Greece have played horrendous of late, while the Super Eagles played well at the Africa Cup of Nations this past winter, finishing third. Furthermore, unlike Nigerian teams of the past, the current Super Eagles play a very slow-paced, defensive-minded game, scoring few goals, but allowing fewer. This strategy could work very well in playing the run-and-gun Argentinians, the one behemoth the Nigerians will face in pool play, to a draw. If the Nigerians can eke out a second place finish in Group B, they would then take on the champion of Group A, which will likely be Mexico or France. Nigeria would be the underdog in either situation, but hey, I’ve seen home-turf advantage work stranger mysteries.

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  • K

    Kramer J McLuckieOct 14, 2011 at 9:55 am


  • K

    Kramer J McLuckieOct 14, 2011 at 9:55 am

    This is by me, not Kunal.