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Monday, May 31st, 2010 at 8:00 am  |  42 responses

Cup Comparisons

An NBA fan’s guide to the FIFA World Cup.

by Dan Casey

With all the national pride on display, South Africa is certainly gonna be “where amazing happens” this summer. Having seen more and more comments on SLAMonline referencing the Champions League, the EPL and La Liga, it’s clear soccer’s gaining popularity in America. Perhaps this is because of the similarities between hoops and the world’s most popular sport. links between the NBA’s leading lights and those of the World Cup.

For instance, although 32 nations will compete in South AfrMichael Ballackica, the general consensus is that there’s only a few title contenders. One website had it narrowed down to Brazil, Spain, England, Italy and Germany.

Germany’s obvious basketball link would be Dirk Nowitzki, but in reality their fortunes couldn’t be more different. Dirk now has a reputation for consistently coming up short in the Playoffs, whereas the Germans are always feared because of their “tournament mentality,” even if their team doesn’t look so strong on paper. Missing their captain and star Michael Ballack might not hang over them in quite the same way as missing Yao or Chris Paul did for the Rockets and Hornets, but it likely puts them out of contention.

If you’re a fan of the Lakers, support Brazil. Both teams are perennial tournament favorites, and they both play in yellow, too! Kobe was even doing his thing, Brazil-style, on that crazy Nike ad. Unfortunately Brazil doesn’t have a star of the same magnitude as Kobe these days — midfielder Kaka is probably their best-known player, but had an indifferent season at Real Madrid. Ronaldinho was used on the aforementioned Nike advert, but he won’t even be in South Africa. Many complain that the current Brazilian coach, Dunga, has his team set up far more pragmatically than the previous Samba-style generations. But after they crashed out in 2006 with a team that was a collection of stars rather than a cohesively functioning unit (think 2004 Lakers), this team’s pragmatic approach should take them far in the tournament.

Meanwhile, Boston fans might want to take a look at Italy. Both teams have storied histories and a ton of titles won years back. Both teams rely on their high-caliber defense. Like the Celtics, Italy have enjoyed a recent return to the old glory days, winning the last world cup, albeit on penalties — boring. So if the Celtics go on to win the championship this season, you might want to put your money on Italy to follow suit. But you may forget to collect your winnings because you will be fast asleep on the floor.

Spain, then, would seem to fit the bill as an equivalent to the Orlando Magic, one of the few contenders for the title. Like Orlando, Spain has never won the title, although they are fresh from success at the 2008 European Championships, and they look strong in all areas. The Portland Trail Blazers might be a better comparison – Spain is worrying over injuries to a host of key players which are threatening to derail their hopes. Fernando Torres, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas are all carrying injuries, and all could be ranked amoWayne Rooneyng the world’s top 20 players.

England’s inclusion in my initial list probably surprised/outraged some European readers who don’t see England quite at the top table, though in star Wayne Rooney, they have a player capable of taking his team all the way single-handedly (think LeBron or Dwyane Wade). England is more of a Utah Jazz-style team – well-coached (by Italian Fabio Capello), good players, they know their system, always competitive but rarely in the final four of the tournament.

Argentinian readers would by now surely be questioning Rooney’s mention coming ahead of Leo Messi, Barcelona’s fantastic young star who could similarly draw Bron/Wade comparisons. I just don’t see enough strength in his supporting cast, and Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players who ever lived, is sadly an awful coach and will drag this team down. That suitably qualifies Argentina for a Cleveland comparison, doesn’t it?

The Dutch team compares to Denver because of the quality of both teams and a Dutch propensity to have a troublemaker cause friction in the team. Portugal could compare to Phoenix because of fleet-footed Cristiano Ronaldo’s ability to run this team like Steve Nash and take it to contention. But Holland and Phoenix might be a better fit – nice orange uniforms, and everyone is kinda rooting for them because they generally play a nice style. And the Dutch have suffered some heartbreaking losses (World Cup Finals 1974 and 1978) to rival Phoenix’s recent close-but-not-close-enough runs.

But you probably know a bit about the big teams – what lesser-known nations are worth keeping an eye on? This being the first World CDidier Drogbaup held in Africa, all the African teams will be excited, with hosts South Africa (known as Bafana Bafana) out of their depth but with home advantage, anything could happen. Cameroon, Ghana, Algeria and Nigeria will all be confident of getting some good results.

The African continent’s biggest hope will be the Ivory Coast, a young team with a legitimate star who’s a scoring machine (Didier Drogba). Like the OKC Thunder, the Ivory Coast is a team which everyone will be rooting for. Unfortunately, they drew drew the Brazil (compare to Lakers) in their qualifying section, as well as Portugal in a group which has become known as the Group of Death.

The fourth and final team in the Group of Death is North Korea – a team that thinks it’s better than it actually is. Run by an evil dictator, could North Korea compare any more appropriately than to the Clippers?

Other outsiders worth a look would be Chile, who has a young team with a reputation for running and attacking. Chile has to be your sort of team if you like the Warriors. Uruguay was winners of the tournament many years ago but have a more recent reputation (at least in the ‘80s/’90s) for thuggery, making Uruguay a team Knicks fans can appreciate. The Knicks haven’t had anyone as good as Uruguay striker Diego Forlan recently, though. Paraguay complete the South American contingent – I can’t provide a good NBA connection, but I had to include them because star striker Salvador Cabanas will miss the World Cup after being shot in the head and surviving!

No Mexican mention yet – sorry, I just don’t know the team well enough to make a good comparison. They have a favorable early draw, and their game with Argentina in their last tournament was one of the highlights (especially Maxi Rodriguez’s winner – apologies to Mexicans for reminding them!). Still, they are unlikely to get further than the quarter finals.

And what about Team America? Every tournament, hushed whispers wisely tell us, “Hey, you know what? This could be America’s time.” We’ve long been expecting the USA to make a significant leap in the world game, and some would argue the progression to last year’s Confederations Cup final was that significant leap, but they would be wrong – no one really cares about the Confederations Cup. On paper, the team still doesn’t look quite strong enough yet. Just know that, as an Englishman, I’m pretty confident ahead of the England/USA game on Saturday, June 12. That’s the second day of the tournament, and if England gives the US a thrashing, make sure to check this article again for a new team to support! (And if USA gives England a thrashing, know that I will certainly not be coming back on here the next day!)

In any case, enjoy the month of high-caliber soccer. It might not seem so far away now, but four years is a long time to wait for the next one.

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  • French Toast

    Excellent article !!!
    Lakers – Brasil and Italy – Celtics were great comparison. Anyway, you did forget France !!!!
    And don’t be so low on Argentina, they have a great shot on this World cup !

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Germany is nothing like the Mavericks, just sayin’.
    The Huns always start off slowly, and build momentum as they progress through the pool rounds, and later games.
    The Mavericks are the opposite.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    Didier Drogba is a hell of a player but his antics at the end of the Chelsea season were WAY worse than what Andray Blatche was up to in his triple double quest.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Regarding the Group of Death – It’s Pool D.
    Germany, Australia, Serbia & Ghana.
    Ghana is like PHX – they run, play uptempo and are very creative. But, they’re also more physical.
    Serbia is a better defensive team than Ghana, but are VERY good in the midfield, and like to push from centre-back. If they can get a goal early, they’ll fall back and defend the rest of the game. They’re my sleeper pick for this Cup.
    Germany is injury plagued, they’ve lost 2 starters already. But they’ll still progress unless they’re held to draws against Australia and Serbia, allowing those teams to progress at their expense IF they can beat Ghana by goal differential.
    Ahhhh, Australia! They’ve got injury concerns in Harry Kewell, but they did 4 yrs ago as well. Cahill is playing well, and the defense is considerably more organised this time vs. ’06. Josh Kennedy should start and provide bulk and presence similar to Viduka in ’06.
    They play Germany first up, and have a great chance to steal a win first game up.
    BTW, us Aussies are STILL fuming over Italy getting that penalty kick in the 1/4 Finals.. it was a dive ref! We would’ve won that game too… Italy only had 10 men.
    Game of the Pool Rounds? Brazil vs. Portugal. And it’s not close.
    Overall, a VERY good piece Dan. Congrats on the good work!

  • Fut,

    Do not insult Celtics fans by suggesting Italy. I spit in their face.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Fut. – You can spit. Zidane will just headbutt.

  • T-Money

    Essien can’t play. Ghana is done.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    T-Money – thanks for the update. If that’s the case.. hmm. Poor Ghana.
    Btw, the minipic on the homepage looks as if Dwight Howard and MJ have been morphed onto the same face, and been given braids. Seriously, it’s uncanny closely it resembles the two.

  • http://www.acb.com Alan

    I’d say Spain, Argentina, Brazil and England. Argentina has huge offense with Messi, Aguero, Higuain and company. Too bad Maradona didn’t select Zanetti, didn’t he saw how he played in the Champions League? Brazil is full of stars and creativity, and always take care of business. England has Capello, and for that alone they have to be feared. And they also have a great squad with Gerrard, Rooney, Lampard, Joe Cole… But I’ll go with Spain, not only because it´s my team but because of the loads of talent that we have, specially in the midfield with Xavi, Iniesta, X. Alonso, Cesc, Silva, Busquets… plus Villa and Torres on the offense and great defense with Puyol, Pique or Casillas. Best team in Spain’s history. We should have a really good shot. Can’t wait to see the World Cup begin!!! Let’s go Spain!!!

  • LB

    Definitely rooting for Spain and the Netherlands. They play a fluid, creative brand of ball, and they’ve never won the Big One, so it’s not like I’ll be a total bandwagoner for rooting for them.

  • http://www.bluefont.com Hisham

    hahahahahahahaha@hursty’s group of death.. man please, group G is much much tougher with brazil, portugal and ivory coast.

  • http://www.bluefont.com Hisham

    comparing the Holland team to denver works on more levels than just the troublemaker causing friction. Both teams are known for high octane offense, playing down to their opponent’s level (SMH@the 2008 flameout), rarely advancing as deep as predicted.

  • http://Www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Super Eagles!!!!! That is all.

  • Le Prince de Nsam

    The best team in Africa is Cameroon, the country of Roger Milla (the man who taught the world how 2 celebrate goals on the new Coca Cola advert), and with Samuel Eto’o, the best African soccer player of all time (google him and you’ll see his impressive palmares) he has won everything in his career except the World, this may be his year.
    Cameroon = S.A. Spurs.

  • Whistler

    I beg to disagree!

    Spain (similarly to FC Barcelona) plays a very collective, pass-first, ball-movement style. The closest comparison you could get in basketball would be the Princeton Offense I guess. They would be a more comparable fit to Phoenix than to Orlando. a Xavi/Nash comparison maybe? beautiful vision, nifty passes and an invisible but very real control of the game tempo!

  • Whistler

    To finish, I would compare France to the Mavs. Lots of great players, star potential, but will head out early (as in 2002). No proven winners and a lack of D, as for the Allas Mavericks!

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  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    I don’t know jack about fubol, but that North Korea/Clippers comparison was funny as hell.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Great piece, Dan.

  • franko

    GReat GreAt and so funy to read article!

  • JD

    Cant wait 4 the world cup! And by the way, England is much,much more like Cleveland, a team which their supporters are always sure that this is their year and they always end up in the quarters plus they have one of the best in the world in Wayne Rooney
    i’d actually put it like this
    Brazil LA Lakers(though the current teams more like Boston)
    Spain Orlando
    Italy San Antonio( with the veterans with previous
    sucess and good defence)
    England Cleveland
    Netherlands Denver

  • Kendrick is God

    i agree with JD im English and im sure this is our year in my heart but in my head all i can see is heartbreak on penalties.

  • Kendrick is God

    no onw will be rooting for Ivory Coast here, outside of Chealsea Drogba is one of the most hated men in England. He’s a whining cheater who just happens to be annoyingly talented.

  • Nawlins Realest.

    honduras- golden state
    south africa- clippers
    usa- knicks

  • Ian

    Soccer/football is already a top 3 sport in the US…why? B/c a baby league such as MLS (15 years young) already has a higher average attendance than NBA and NHL…it’s demographic changes, it’s a whole generation growing up playing the sport; it’s inevitable. I give it 20 yrs. for soccer/football to take over baseball as a number 2 sport in the country…
    After all, football is the beautiful game; is it June 11th yet???

  • http://www.euroleague.net/competition/all-decade/main-page/i/64902/4259/euroleague-all-decade-selection-theodoros-papaloukas?lang=en&itemid=64902&mid=4259&tabid=1143&itemname=EUROLEAGU PAPALOUKAS (click on my name)

    anybody seen the new Nike ad with Ronaldo in the end? Perfect !!! The fact that Kobe is the only other athlete to participate just adds to the fact that he is by far the most popular bball player in the world (along with being the best). GO GREECE!!!!!
    GREECE – bucks (no talent but overachieving with the help of a great coach ) .
    SPAIN – cavs(the hot new favorite).
    BRAZIL – LAKERS (traditionaly the best in the world).
    GERMANY – celtics (always come near the top, i hate them but they got the most titles).
    ENGLAND – knicks (just one title but devoted fans, greatest history ).
    ITALY – spurs (like the germans win with solid defense and fundamentals, they got the soccer edition of BOwen= Canavaro, on of the dirtiest players you can find).
    HOLAND – suns (great offence, spectacular game, always come sort, never won anything).
    USA – Prokhorov nets (terrible team historically that will force it’s way to the top using its financial/marketing leverage ).

  • http://www,myczechrepublic.com SAB

    Papaloukas, we had the link to the nike ad in the article dude… and i couldn’t write about EVERY team, but i definitely had Greece/Bucks on my shortlist, i see you…

  • http://www,myczechrepublic.com SAB

    thanks for the nice comments about the article guys.

    @French Toast, i don’t count the French, they cheated against my father’s Irish…! i just read that England boss Capello said Argentina were the team he feared the most, so maybe i’m hasty writing them off. mind you, any coach might’ve said the same about Cleveland before the playoffs…

    @Hursty, definitely agree re: Mavs/Germany, re-read the start of the article. as for the Group of Death, you’re right, that Ghana-Germany-Serbia-Australia group will see two good teams eliminated early. Serbia’s a good sleeper call, but they were the same in 2006 before Argentina smashed them 6-0.

    @Kendrick is god – i can’t stand Drogba as a person, so the Drogba-Durant comparison doesn’t really stand up there. but they’re known as the Elephants. who doesn’t wanna root for the Elephants?

  • matt

    group of death is argentina’s group. Argentina, Nigeria, Greece, S.Korea.Think about it,besides argentina, any 1 of those teams can make it. Nigeria is always tough and lost to argentina in the olympics finals in 08, s.korea is possibly the best team in asia, greece – good d, euro champs in 08.
    Also, portugal will not make it to the round of 16. Anyways, VIVA ESPANA! IKER, XABI, XAVI, VILLA, PUYOL, PIQUE, TORRES, BUSQUETS, VALDES, REINA, ALBIOL, ARBELOA, MARCHENA, CAPDEVILA, S.RAMOS, INIESTA, David “Anime” Silva (nickname me and my familia made up), NAVAS,J.Martinez, LLORENTE, P.Rodriguez. VIVA ESPANA!!!

  • http://Www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Umm Spanny? There was another non-football athlete in that ad: Roger Federer. Justsaying…,

  • deano

    I don’t think many of those comparisons are quite correct. Brazil simply can’t be compared to the Lakers, first of all they don’t have a Kobe. Anyways the WC is pretty wide open, I’d try to draw some bball comparisons but its pretty tough, all I know is GO USA!!!!! too bad Freddy and Charlie didn’t make the squad but i’m still liking our chances, on any given day anybody can get it. We showed that against Spain last year le go!!!

  • http://www.euroleague.net/competition/all-decade/main-page/i/64902/4259/euroleague-all-decade-selection-theodoros-papaloukas?lang=en&itemid=64902&mid=4259&tabid=1143&itemname=EUROLEAGU PAPALOUKAS (click on my name)

    @dark…:didn’t noticed him, if it’s true doesn’t change anything,he can be considered one of the top-5 athletes in the world of the last 10 years (along with Kobe and Ronaldinio). The important thing is we didn’t see Lebron…

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    The last Brazil team was akin to Nellie’s “I Believe” Warriors. “Strikers are great, they score lots, and we’ve got some of the best! So let’s put em all in the game!” Much good that four-forward formation did.

  • http://www.youtube.com/tripledouble TripleDouble

    There is absolutely no doubt that New Zealand’s ‘All Whites’ will win the World Cup. Cough cough… So dope we made it to the World Cup. Sick.

  • http://www.nba.com/suns Dacre

    Really Australia and Phoenix draw comparisons, they fly the ball up and down the field, always get the BS’est of calls and their defense is best described as scrappy.

  • Jon

    Wow not bad for an American. Pretty accurate. Although you can’t compare my Nuggets to the Ivory Coast. Drogba is a one man machine up front with little support (exception the Toure brothers). Seems to me alot more like the Suns? Led by a world-class forward, some decent support, play eye-pleaseing ball but never win.

  • hoodsnake

    Bafana Bafana all the way baby! We all are behind our boys down here! Ah all of this happening in my back yard. Gonna be the biggest show ever in my country. :-)

  • JD

    What guys? USA have no chance, they’d do very well to make the Quarter Finals? And Cameroon how can u compare them to San Antonio? Spurs hav actually won something, Cameroon wont make it out of the group stage let alone win the wordl cup, and matt r u saying Argentina,Nigeria,Greece and South Korea is a toughr group than Brazil Portugal, Ivory Coast and i thik its North Korea or something? Sur u cud say that any1 could get out of that group, but thats the point of the group stages! Nigeria were good but now their pretty bad, South Korea sur there a threat but r nowher near as good as in 02 and Greece they wer Euro Champs in 04. If ur gonna comment on Football at least know what ur on about

  • http://www,myczechrepublic.com SAB

    @Jon – thanks, but I (the author) am not American, and i did not compare Ivory Coast to Denver. but thanks anyway.

  • http://www,myczechrepublic.com SAB

    @TripleDouble – yep, it’s awesome that the Kiwis will be there. can’t see you doing much in your group (Italy obv strong, Paraguay have replaced the unfortunate Cabanas with an Argentinian who’s found out his mother was Paraguyan, and Slovakia will be enjoying their first WC, and will probably be underrated/written off)

  • http://www,myczechrepublic.com SAB

    @Spanananandapalopulus – Ronaldinho as one of the top 5 athletes of the last decade? Even though dude spent 3 years (age 27-29) being fat lazy and unfit? You do Kobe and Fed a disservice by mentioning Ronaldinho in the same sentence. He will not be revered in years to come. Ronaldo (and arguably Rivaldo too) left behind more impressive legacies for Brazil.

  • JD

    Actuallly it was Ronaldo who was really unfit and fat but yh i think he isnt one of the top 5 athletes of the decade

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