By Michelle Kaufman
Any team that has Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi on the bench has to be the best team in the World Cup. Did you see those 24 passes that led to one of six goals against Serbia? Granted, it was Serbia. But still. The Argentines looked just as impressive in a scoreless tie against Holland, and they showed toughness against Mexico. It’s too bad they play Germany in the quarters. That probably should be the final.
So much for all the bashing of coach Juergen Klinsmann. The Los Angeles resident is the toast of Germany after his team’s amazing run to the quarters. The Germans can score, defend, and the home-field advantage certainly helps. France won in 1998, South Korea made it to the semis in 2002, and Germany is poised to make a similar run.
Even an underperforming Brazil team —; which is what many of their fans say they are —; is better than almost every team in the world. Ronaldinho has been quietly effective, Ronaldo has scored three goals despite his added weight, and Ze Roberto and Cafu are reliable as always. They’ve won 11 World Cup matches in a row. Their last loss was in the 1998 final, to France, their quarterfinal opponent. Should be a doozy!
Four years ago everyone talked about Portugal as one of the best teams in the world, and then the United States beat them in the first round. This time, they are living up to their reputation. Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo are among the best players in Europe. The foul-fest against Holland was ugly, but this team has the look of a semifinalist.
The Italians haven’t played great, and they have had distractions —; Juventus’ match-fixing scandal, and now the apparent suicide attempt of former teammate Gianluca Pessotto. But the Italian lineup is lethal, on the offensive and defensive sides. Luca Toni is terrific, and Francesco Totti is regaining his confidence, which could spell danger for Ukraine.
The English team is in the quarters despite itself. But coach Sven-Goran Eriksson insists he’s not worried and doesn’t care if the wins haven’t looked pretty. “Our best is yet to come, I’m quite sure of it,” he said after David Beckham’s penalty kick saved the day against Ecuador. Wayne Rooney looked like his usual self in the second half of that match, which is promising for the quarters.
Les Bleus were pretty bleu early on, on the verge of a second embarrassing first-round exit. But they came together, Zinedine Zidane has shown he’s still got game, and Thierry Henry proved he can score in his national team jersey. Brazil might be too much for the aging French team to handle, but it figures to be a fun match.
Finally, the outsiders, the 45th-ranked Ukrainians —; if you put any stock in FIFA rankings (keep in mind the U.S. was fifth and Argentina ninth entering the Cup). Led by Andriy “Sheva” Shevchenko, the $54 million Chelsea man, Ukraine is playing with great spirit and if anyone knows how to play the Italians, it’s Sheva, who spent the past seven years in Serie A with AC Milan.