Less than 50 days away from the World Cup kick-off on 11th June in South Africa, the smaller teams which don’t have many players playing in the top European competitions have already started preparations. It is a different story for the top teams though. Their coaches get tense every time one of their players takes a knock playing for their club. They are all hoping all their key players will come through the long and grueling club season in reasonable shape. Let us glance at how the top teams are shaping up for the Big Cup
1. Brazil: Ricardo Kaka is by far the biggest concerns of the Canarinha. His season has been plagued by hernia and the limited time he was on the pitch didn’t show much by way of quality. Real Madrid and their fans are impatient and are even accusing him of prioritizing the World cup above the club, a reaction to his prolonged absence from the pitch. Apart from Kaka, the biggest issue is the saga of Ronaldinho and whether he will be selected for the trip to South Africa. Smart money says he won’t make the summer trip to South Africa.
2. Spain: The injury list of Spain is very long. Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres are out for the season and are expected to make it just in time for the World cup. Another key cog of the reigning European champions, Marcos Senna is struggling after a lengthy injury lay-off. Team leader and first choice keeper Iker Casillas is having an ordinary season. At this point you have to say they are not favorites. Too many risks and over-reliance on a lot of key players returning from long injury layoffs
3. England: Ashley Cole is going through long injury layoff. Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand have had injury plagued past few months. England’s main worry is the lack of a high-quality goal keeper and a good 2nd striker to support Wayne Rooney. John Terry’s form is also a cause for worry.
4. Italy: The waters are still murky in the Azzurri. Coach Marcelo Lippi seems to be favoring the old guard and experience over youth. Iconic keeper Gigi Buffon is the main long term injury worry for Italy. The strike force is also not decided upon. The backline will look very different with the retirement of Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro is fading. Other fading stars include Alex Del Piero, Mauro Camoronesi and Andrea Pirlo. Totti might come back from retirement and although the public wants Antonio Cassano in the team, Lippi hasn’t budged so far.
5. Germany: No major injury worries for Germany but lots of question marks at a lot of positions. Goalkeeper, central defence and the strike partnership. Michael Ballack is having a lacklustre season at Chelsea. The good news is the young players like Muller, Ozil and Helmes are having great seasons in the German league.
6. Netherlands: Probably one of the few teams in a great situation as far as form of players and injuries are concerned. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are having spectacular seasons for their clubs Inter Milan and Bayern Munich respectively.
7. Argentina: Another team which apparently doesn’t have many injury concerns with the likes of Messi, Milito, Higuain and Tevez all scoring more than 20 goals in the season. The problem for Argentina is the lack of a good constructive midfielder who can piece together some passes and provide enough supplies to the players up front like Messi and Higuain. Maradona’s tactics (or lack thereof) will be one of the biggest hurdles for them at the World cup. They have to find a way to use the riches of talent they have upfront to cover up for the deficiencies at the back. A possession based playing style will solve the problem but Maradona has not been able to put an eleven on the pitch that can play possession football.
8. Cote D’Ivoire: Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire are the two best African teams in this World cup. Ghana is a balanced side missing their talismanic leader Michael Essien, but he should be ready for world cup. Cote D’Ivoire is very powerful with the Toure brothers (Kolo & Yaya), the deadly Didier Drogba and a slew of quality like Kalou and Zokora to name a few. There are no major injury concerns for these teams but a lack of tactical discipline has prevented the African teams from reaching a world cup semifinal so far. Looks like this could be the year Africa breaks their semi-final duck.