Key players: Colombia is, like Belgium, considered one of the top ‘dark horses’ in the tournament, but the big question remains the health of superstar striker Radamel Falcao. ‘El Tigre’ has hit the fourth month of recovery from the knee injury he suffered with his big-contract French club Monaco, but by all accounts he should still need a significant amount of rehab. However, huge home country expectations and tournament endorsement deals with the likes of Puma and Gatorade have created an increasingly awkward situation. Perhaps the one saving grace will be national coach José Pékerman, who previously guided Argentina and its usual assortment of massive egos on a good run through the 2006 World Cup. Then again, they didn’t win…
Bus slogan: ‘Here Travels A Nation, Not Just A Team!’ — Strangely, as Colombia IS a good team even without their star, The Falcao Affair gives this platitude a new, intense twist, directed at his money men at Monaco.
Where to watch the World Cup: Probably not the ‘El Indio’ nightclub in Medellin, whose parking lot was the site of the infamous killing of Colombian defender Andrés Escobar twenty years ago after his own-goal against hosts US in the 1994 World Cup. Incredibly, the bar still appears to be in operation. Instead, there’s Falcao’s northern beach city of Santa Marta, in which masses have been held to support his recovery.
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Key players: Besides the cagey Giorgos Karagounis and various lingering elements of the Euro 2004-winning squad in it for one last tournament go-round, there’s the tank-like Socratis Papastathopoulos anchoring the defense, and the Ashton Kutcher-beanpole striker Giorgos Samaras from Glasgow’s Celtic, who is likely to be paired with the sneaky Kostas ‘Pistolero’ Mitroglou. He had a great early season with the Greek ‘Yankees’ Olympiakos, including scoring prolifically in the Champions League, before failing to contribute, despite a near-record transfer fee, towards saving London-based EPL team Fulham from relegation.
Bus slogan: ‘Heroes Play Like Greeks’ — archetypal Greek contrarian humor, but accurate, as Greek coach Fernando Santos has them going the 300 route once again…
Where to watch the World Cup: There’s nowehere better than a plateia (plaza) café on a Cycladic island, or at least in an off-the-beaten-path downtown Athens neighborhood. Late night start times won’t be a problem here.
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Key players: Ya Ya Toure, the reigning African Footballer of the Year and leader of EPL winners Manchester City; Didier Drogba, the former Chelsea star who may return to his coach Mourinho after a stint leading Galatasaray in Turkey; the flamboyant Roma midfielder/former Arsenal ‘meh’ Gervinho, recently snapped signing autographs in women’s shoes on the streets of the Eternal City; and young defender Serge Aurier, of Toulouse in France but a new Arsenal target.
Bus slogan: ‘Elephants Charging Toward Brazil!’ — good enough use of the the team’s symbol, if obvious… hopefully the Elephants will not behave likr lemmings. Then again, stampeding egos are a huge concern for this team.
Where to watch the World Cup: If you want to watch the Elephants depart on their amphibious charge, the Amazon-evoking Jaguar Bar in the Treichville section of Abidjan sounds like a good bet. Just remember that if you’re on the wrong side of an army barricade from your hotel after midnight, be prepared to party until at least 5 am.
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Key players: Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United substitute forward, will be counted on for creative ideas for this attacking side; Keisuke Honda, the AC Milan Yul Brenner/Cyborg forward; and baby-faced forward Shinji Okazaki, one of numerous Germany-based players.
Bus slogan: ‘Samurai, the time has come to fight!’ — Toshiro Mifune is turning in his grave.
Where to watch the World Cup: Japan is already well organized in presenting compiled lists of public venues to watch the games (such as in TimeOut Japan). While open-air big screen viewing requires an application and the paying of a fee, there are numerous (usually British pub-styled but a few with Latin spice) restaurants or clubs showing the games. My favorite is Rooney 08 (although it’s hard to think this is actually a reference to the number Rooney wore at Manchester United from 2004-2007).
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