In a world, where every four years, 32 nations gather to determine a champion, only one team can hoist the World Cup trophy. [Cue the massive explosions.]
With apologies to "Iron Man 2," "Twilight" and whatever other blockbusters are headed to theaters this summer, none of them can compare to the most dramatic event of 2010: The World Cup.
The World Cup, in addition to being the only truly world championship outside of the Olympic Games, is the only tournament capable of providing the full range of human emotion:Anger, awe, boredom, depression, disgust, embarrassment, euphoria, frustration, guilt, misery, pride, rage and surprise
. The best screenwriters couldn't script some of those things.
To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.
The preview you've all, hopefully, been waiting to read...
The United StatesGroup C THE BASICS
• Nickname: The Yanks
• Colors: White, blue and red
• FIFA Ranking: 14
• How They Got Here: Finished first in the CONCACAF despite a fairly inconsistent showing
• World Cup Pedigree: 8 World Cups, finished third in 1930 and have qualified for the knockout round only two more times ('94 as hosts, '02) THE PLOT
After years of speculation, waiting, hoping, dreaming, will this be the year that the United States finally announces to the world that it can be taken seriously as a footballing nation?THE DIRECTOR
Bradley has come under fire at times during qualifying, but the truth is this: He's brought stability, fitness and results to a nation that desires them. He's an excellent motivator, but his weakness lies in halftime and in-game adjustments (see the Confederations Cup final against Brazil).LEADING MAN
Arguably the greatest American soccer player has a lot riding on him this year. He's only 28 and has 100 caps with the national team. This will be his 3rd World Cup. It's imperative that he showcases everything that makes him great (speed, vision, passing, touch, attitude) in order to bring glory to a country that desires it in these competitions.SUPPORTING CAST
Clint Dempsey (midfielder, Fulham) is country's second-best player and is the only player with on-ball swagger and will likely play up top with the absence of Charlie Davies; Michael Bradley (midfielder, Borussia Mönchengladbach) will need to prove to the world that he's more than just the coaches son, he will need to show he's the box-to-box midfielder this country hasn't had in forever; Tim Howard (goalkeeper, Everton) is one of the Top 5 shot-stoppers in England and one of the best athletes on the planet; Oguchi Onyewu
(defender, AC Milan) is the team's biggest question mark, as he hasn't played since injuring his knee in a qualifying game in 2009 (he's back practicing with the Italians now).LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR(s)
In one play (the post-up move he made on the Spanish defender in the Confederations Cup), Altidore showed every U.S. soccer fan that the future is very, very bright. The striker (who played at Hull City on loan from Spanish side Villarreal) possesses skills unlike any other American striker -- he's fast, skilled with the ball, strong with his back to the net, strong going toward the net. But the future has been slightly erratic in developing, as he's had a sub-par year in England. He also was sent off after a violent head butt in the last month of the season. A good performance could land him a move to another team.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
A controversial (it was a card, maybe not a red) sending-off in the Confederations Cup semi-final game meant he missed out on the final against Brazil. The U.S. needs him on the field.PRODUCTION NOTES
The team will most likely set-up in the 4-4-2 empty bucket. It suits the personnel if Bradley opts for a two-headed strike force. If he opts to go with a lone striker, look for a 4-5-1/4-3-3 with Dempsey and Donovan on the wings around Altidore.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
The Star Trek franchise
The original "Star Trek" kinda sucked, but "Wrath of Khan" ruled. Then the "Search for Spock" was bad, but "The Voyage Home" was good. So on, so forth. USA works just like that. In 1990, things were bad. In '94, things were better. Then the disastrous '98 cup. Then '02 was amazing. Since '06 was a shambles, it's not without of reason to speculate that this will be a bounce-back year.TRAILER
This is marvelous. If this doesn't pump you up, you ain't American.DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
Not only does average daily TV viewing in the U.S. (around 8 hours) lead the world, it's about twice as much as the closest competitor (Greece).CRITICAL BLURBS
The time is now for the United States. They have the most talented roster they've ever had with 75% playing overseas at big(ish) clubs. ... The group plays well into the American's strengths. England is injury prone with a weak goalkeeper, Slovenia isn't an offensive threat and Algeria is even less of an offensive threat. ... A potential second-round game against Germany would be a good chance to extract revenge for 2002. ... Most players will be desperately trying to put the disaster of '06 behind them. ... Replacing Davies will be difficult, replacing Onyewu will be almost impossible. ... Bradley's decisions vis-a-vis his midfield pairing (Bradley-Edu or Bradley-Clark or Bradley-Feilhaber or Bradley-Torres) could potentially make or break this team. Bradley-Edu would be the ideal pairing, but Bradley-Feilhaber will be the best attacking option. ... Best-case scenario? Winning the group by going 3-0, dropping Ghana/Australia in the second round and Mexico in the quarterfinals before bowing out to Brazil in the quarters. ... Realistic prediction?
Falling to second in the group, drawing Germany in the knock-out phase and falling just short. Again.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
In 1950, the United States recorded, perhaps, one of the greatest upsets in sports history, knocking off England 1-0. The lone American goal was scored by Haitian immigrant Joe Gaetjens. The U.S. opens the 2010 World Cup playing against England (in jerseys, by the way, that are modeled after the '50 version) with a striker who is the son of, you guessed it, Haitian immigrants. (His dad's name was Joseph, just like Gaetjens.) A 1-0 victory with an Altidore goal is just about too perfect though, even for Hollywood right?
Group A: South Africa, Uruguay, Mexico, France
Group B: South Korea, Greece, Nigeria, Argentina
Group C: Algeria, Slovenia, USA, England
Group D: Serbia, Australia, Ghana, Germany
Group E: Japan, Cameroon, Denmark, Netherlands
Group F: New Zealand, Slovakia, Paraguay, Italy
Group G: North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook