Friday, June 25, 2010

Analyzing the World Cup Sweet 16

OK, so I've got a serious case of World Cup Fever--or I'm being brainwashed by the global civil religion of the World Cup (see my previous post here). I just can't help but watch as much of every game as possible.

For those who haven't been glued to the news, the first stage of the World Cup tournament is over, and now starts the Round of 16, which is a single-elimination tournament. If you like making predictions similar to those made during the NCAA men's basketball tourney, I put together a single page bracket in this document. Feel free to print this out and follow the tourney the next few weeks.

Apart from the sheer fun of guessing which team will win, I couldn't help but offer a quick analysis of the tournament so far. I think the results so far demonstrate that globalization is allowing non-traditional soccer powers to compete more effectively with the powers. While traditional powerhouses like France and Italy were ousted, some definitely non-traditional "minnows" were able to beat them. Among the non-elite teams that made it in, there are Uruguay, South Korea, Ghana, Slovakia, Chile, Paraguay, and Japan--and they make up nearly half the field. If we include the U.S.A. as a non-power, then that's exactly half the field.

Of course, that still leaves Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain--all of whom have made runs deep into the tournament or won it. The safe money is on one of these teams winning.

So far the big surprises have been the smaller South American sides and the two Asian teams, Japan and South Korea. They, along with the US, have benefited from the leveling effect of globalization. Competing with the top teams in the world, sending national team players to the top European leagues, hiring the best coaches in the world, building up national club systems, learning from the global leaders--all of these things have helped non-traditional soccer nations succeed through emulation.

The other major upsets during this tournament thus far--Uruguay holding France scoreless, Switzerland beating Spain, Serbia beating Germany, Slovakia beating Italy, or Algeria holding England scoreless--also suggest that traditionally weak teams have learned how to compete.

Despite all this leveling-through-globalization, however, I expect one of four teams to win: Spain, which has never reached the final game; the Netherlands, which made two finals but was runner-up both times; Brazil, which has won five times; or Argentina, which has won twice.

Still, my heart (if not my head) is with the USA. I would absolutely love to see the US national team make a run to the semifinals or finals. They'll have to beat Brazil or the Netherlands to get there, and then they will have proven that they have gone from being a soccer nobody to a soccer power. And then we can thank globalization for that, even if they don't win. But first they need to beat Ghana. Go Yanks!

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