In the year 2010 it seems like there are increasingly fewer certainties in life. When it appears the United States is headed toward universal health care, you know all bets are off.
Now, having said that, there are still some things I'll add to this blog without fear of impunity.
1) Uwe Boll will never win an Oscar.
2) The Toronto Blue Jays will not make the playoffs in the foreseeable future.
3) Ray Parker Jr. will never have another No. 1 hit where it's video features brief cameo from a future U.S. Senator. (Al Franken, it happened, 3:41 mark.)
And now the statement that we're here for: New Zealand, North Korea and South Africa will not win the 2010 World Cup.
If one of these three somehow manage to pull it off, I will take a page from Werner Herzog and eat my own shoe. (Hell, we can even post it on YouTube.)
What's that I hear in the background? Crickets? Audible yawning? Perhaps a "no shit, Sherlock"?
Pipe down for a second.
Look at it this way, we could harness the power of the Large Hadron Collider, applying it to soccer (somehow) and these three still wouldn't have a shot. We could sit inside the computer lab from the Dharma Initiative's Swan Station and run probability simulations for the next 108 years, and the probability of these three winning world football's biggest prize is still John Blutarsky's Faber College GPA -- 0.0.
Hell, the odds of one of these three advancing out of their respective groups likely range in the 0.1 percent chance (North Korea) to, at best, 10 percent. (South Africa, if you want to give them a homefield bonus.)
It's worth remember, of course, that realistically only a handful of teams actually harbor legitimate hopes of winning come the Jul 11 final -- Brazil, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Argentina and in its own mind -- England.
So, why you ask, is it worth even looking at the tournament chances of North Korea, New Zealand and South Africa?
Even if they have next to no hope at the Cup, they certainly can certainly be the proverbial fly in the ointment for their three group stage opponents. Remember, when your raison d'etre is simply to not get embarrassed, sitting behind the ball to frustrate and flummox the favorites is a sound stratagem. Playing for the 0-0 draw might be the best these teams have to offer. From the lowest levels of the game to the top, the anti-soccer, 10 men behind the ball tactic is frustratingly effective. (By contrast, say you're Italy against New Zealand on June 20 in Nelspruit, the best move is to come out guns blazing, trying to score within the first 15 minutes. Then the rout is on.)
Nine nations are looking at these three as automatic, 3-point ATMs. Should they be that confident?
On one online betting site, the hosts are 4-to-11 odds NOT to qualify from the group. All the vuvuzelas in the world might not change this.
Steven Pienaar might.
The play of the Everton midfielder lately in the Premier League gives the Bafana Bafanaa glimmer, albeit a slight one, of hope.
Could they spring an upset on Mexico in the tournament opener on June 11? Might it be possible to grind out a result against a rugged Uruguay team? Can they hang with France and make Les Bleus sweat?
In a word? No.
The home fans have definitely been a boost at the last half dozen World Cups. The U.S. got through its group on homesoil. France lifted the Cup on the outskirts of Paris. South Korea and Germany each made the semfinals in front of rapid, flag-waving partisan crowds.
That might end here. Sure South African fans will get behind their team and cheer and go wild and construct some crazy costumes and dance in the aisles.
The South African fans, too, are realistic and realize that if not for Sepp Blatter's plan to stage a World Cup in Africa, they wouldn't have even sniffed the competition.
This team, even with the recent purple patch from Pienaar doesn't have a lot of talent, particularly in the back line even with towering back Matthew Booth.
South Africa is 1-1-3 in is last three matches, including a 1-1 draw with mighty Namibia earlier this month.
So the big question for South Africa is if the home crowd provides a boost? Or does the expectations end up weighing down the team? Will the players push too hard to impress, ending up hurting the team?
Maybe, since it's the opener, they can figure out a way to knock off an improving Mexican team. The best bet for the hosts to avoid a last-place finish is getting something off a middling Uruguay team. Guess it's worth mentioning, too, South Africa might have a chance against France depending on which Star Charts Raymond Domenech consults before he fields his lineup.
Put it this way, the South African players have heard since May 15, 2004 -- the day it was awarded the tournament -- that the host nation has always made it out of the group stages. Six years on, that minor molehill has become a major mountain of trouble for the Bafana Bafana.
Perhaps they can pick the brains of Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman for some answers, because frankly I don't have any.
The Kiwis/All Whites are probably the weakest team in the field from top-to-bottom, coming out of the laughable Oceanic qualifying region, which deserves to be relegated from actual FIFA sanctioning in all honesty. This team looked more out of its element at the 2009 Confederations Cup than Donnie during Walter and the Dude's discussion of V.I. Lenin, going 0-2-1 without scoring a goal. (Losing 5-0 to Spain could be considered a slight outlier, since Spain is a bit special.)
Couple this with the fact their manager -- Ricki Herbert -- has a named more in line with a female pornstar than an international manager, and its best/most-well known player -- Ryan Nelsen -- is currently injured and you'd have predict New Zealand going 0-3-0, with a goal difference in the -10 range, right?
Probably, though it's not a slam dunk.
The Kiwis are getting 16-to-1 odds to advance from the group. And that group is hardly murderers row -- Italy, Paraguay and World Cup debutantes Slovakia. (There would be worse ways to blow $20.)
Yes Italy is a favorite by default, but isn't the Azzurri's M.O. to struggle in the opening round matches? With an aging cast of characters, the only reason you'd think they'll blow out New Zealand is because of history. (Italy did only win 4-3 in a June 2009 friendly, for what that's worth.)
And Paraguay is good, no doubt, but not exactly the most dynamic team in the world especially with arguably its best attacker -- Salvador Cabañas -- recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. (Sorry, Roque Santa Cruz. Don't see the Man City part-time starter as a one-man wrecking ball.)
Slovakia? When your best player -- Marek Hamsik -- looks like he's an extra on a live-action Anime adaptation, you don't get the benefit of the doubt.
Gun to my head would I pick New Zealand to advance, let alone get a point? Probably not, but with forwards Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen, the All Whites should at least be able to keep the opponents honest. It's biggest problem is avoiding getting overrun in the midfield and its three group stage opponents might not be best equipped to do that.
From a pure talent standpoint New Zealand is either 31st or 32nd, something makes me think they play a little better than that, assuming they don't concede a goal to Slovakia in the first five minutes in their match on June 15 then they might as well just fly back home immediately.
(Self-high five. Made it through the entire Kiwi part without one 'Flight of the Conchords' reference/joke. That that is an upset. ... And good for Murray [Rhys Darby] to land those HP ads. A man's gotta eat, though is he supposed to be Murray?)
North Korea aka Korea DPR:
Oh Beloved Leader, where to begin?
North Korea qualifying is, in-and-of itself, nothing short of amazing. The kind of feat worthy of an elaborate, choreographed dance spectacle.
The specter of Kim Jong II adds an entire wrinkle into the whole Cup. Literally anything is in play with this guy, with the bottom floor of craziness beginning with how he's threatened not to show the games unless North Korea wins. (Which might be a truth inside the country.) We're already hearing rumors of players swapping jerseys or different players showing up under different names.
In a recent friendly against Venezuela the team lost its jerseys and had to use spares from the hosts.
Like Charlie Kelly on "It's Always Sunny", North Korea is the ultimate wild card. We barely know anything about the country itself, let alone its national soccer team. In the year 2010 nearly every team or player could be scouted with a little bit of internet/video savvy.
The North Koreans? Nope.
North Korea might be completely unknown to nearly everyone aside from Asian soccer uber-aficionados. But are they any good? Could they possibly spring an upset like they did in 1966, defeating Italy 1-0 in England?
Doubtful since they were placed in the "Group of Death", or as it's known in North Korea, "The Group of Everlasting and Beloved Happiness."
Does this communist-approved, interchangeable, group of no-names have the chance to knock of Portugal, Brazil or Cote d'Ivoire? Let's call it very slim.
What Korea could do, is cause some major consternation in that group, since it's being looked as three automatic points by the other teams. If, say, Portgual has a hiccup and draws North Korea on June 21 in Cape Town that might be all it takes to send Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. home. Or how about the scenario facing the Ivorians on the last group stage game, when they are likely facing the pressure of needing to defeat North Korea, possibly by a large number of goals.
We can reasonably guess North Korea will work as hard, if not harder than any team in the tournament. God only knows what kind of pressure is facing them on their return. They're either getting the hero's welcome, free designer sunglasses for life, or perhaps never being heard from again. You never can tell with Kim Jong II.
Not to get into a huge geopolitical tangent, but North Korea is clearly a thorn in the international communities' side that wants to be taken seriously -- even if it goes about it in all the wrong ways, you know with the whole nuclear weapons thing.
Portugal, Brazil and Cote d'Ivoire would be best served to tread lightly and not casually dismiss North Korea. Their World Cup fates might, believe it or not, hinge on it.
(One final North Korea tangent. The best summation of North Korea, for me, is it's description during the zombie apocalypse described by Max Brooks' "World War Z". Check it out sometime, otherwise this makes 0.0 percent sense.)
South Africa, New Zealand and North Korea are clearly the weakest teams in the tournament, with dozens of nations probably able to put together an better resume of players. While they'll likely result in three points for the opposition, I tend to doubt those three-points will be gift wrapped.
USMNT Stock Watch:
Great week for the USMNT, ipso facto because of the slate of injuries now befalling England. Forget David Beckham, who was -- at best -- a 20 minute cameo sub. On the shelf are probable starters Ashley Cole, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe. Throw in Jolean Lescott's recent injury and a possible "niggle" which will sideline Wayne Rooney this weekend, and things are looking a lot brighter for June 12 in Rustenberg.
Let's not forget the rapidly declining form of John Terry and Steven Gerrard, coupled with England's lack of a true No. 1 keeper and maybe, just maybe, the U.S. repeats its famous result from 1950. (1,000 percent different parameters, mind you.)
On the flip side, Clint Dempsey is clearly back. Charlie Davies is getting there, and oh right, MLS kicks off Thursday night too.
This week's rating: Bullish