Beware of all international players who are currently injured or out of form. Beware. They might be the ones stealing the show in RSA.
Every World Cup has its upsets (Brazil being sent home in the round of 16 in Italia '90 is one example). That's why we watch it. Otherwise we would simply play it on paper. And, instead of 62 games, we'd watch Spain play Brazil (as the obvious 2 best teams, on paper) and just get on with our boring summer. But no, we long for these surprises caused sometimes by controversial red cards or wrongfully awarded penalties. Or, once in a while, some average footballer becomes, with 4 or 5 marvelous performances, one of the greatests of all time. This is more likely to happen this time around, as the level of International Football has never been this high. Gaps between teams have shrunk, and apart from North Korea (of which we know close-to-nothing), everyone has a good idea of what to expect from their opponents (Thank You footytube.com!). One can even argue that South Africa 2010 has more than one "Group of Death". The point here is that anyone will be in the position to shine.
The most important aspect of a footballer's game is his confidence. Confidence that he is sharper than his adversary, fitter, and ready to run non-stop like a mad man. That sort of belief comes easily with being sidelined with an injury for a month - getting massages and watching your mates killing themselves on the tube - or simply with having -possibly- the worst season of your career. Indeed, having nothing to play for in the last remaining weeks of a season removes any kind of pressure or expectation off a footballer's shoulders. Example please! -Liverpool are crappy this year, so is Steven Gerrard, their captain. They're playing for nothing, and I can't even remember what winning a game feels like anymore. So this morning, I didn't bother waking up to watch my boys play Burnley away in the PL. Result: the skipper scored twice, and the Reds crush freshly-relegated Burnley 4-0. No pressure? No problem. So now, expect a cracking Gerrard this summer when he wears the Three Lions shirt. The hottest transfer target of the summer has yet to revealed; while we wait, here's the list of players we know that may write their name in History:
-Wayne Rooney (England): Some much deserved rest for the hottest striker in the world, just in time for the Cup. Ferguson abused of Wazza all year long, even playing him while he was injured. But he's winning the race to fitness, and may well live up to his (overrating) nickname "The White Pelé", to the delight of his England boss, Don Fabio.
-Park Ji-Sung (South Korea): Having only played a total of 25 games for Manchester United in 09-10, Korea's captain will surely create a few surprises versus Argentina and Nigeria...
-Josmer "Jozy" Altidore & Clint Dempsey (U.S): the pair of strikers have had their share of time off the pitch, mostly through injury for the latter, and have already shown the World that they can beat the very best (Spain in the Confederations Cup in '09). Be prepared England!
-Franck Ribéry (France): Tendonitis kept him out of the Bayern Munich lineup all season long, and now, he's back. In top form. Domenech is delighted. Vas-y Francky, c'est bon!
-Miroslave Klose (Germany): Having lost his spot in Munich to Ivica Olic and Thomas Muller, the 2006 WC golden boot simply knows how to score for Germany. If he's on Joachim Lowe's 23, he will surely add to his WC goal counter and break down defenses in two months. Never dismiss the National Mannschaft's chances in a tournament.
-Robin Van Persie (Netherlands): RVP injured his ankle last November during a international friendly (that was both useless and boring) against Italy, and never came back. Until last week, when he came off the bench for Arsenal against Tottenham. Ten minutes later, Spurs keeper Gomes had to get to work to stop an RPG of a free-kick from RVP, quickly showing what the Gunners lacked all season. Along with Robben, who's also back from a long term injury, Van Persie will try to lead the Dutch to their first trophy since 1988, on a set a very fresh legs.
-Michael Essien (Ghana): The Chelsea super-midfielder with 5 lungs and strength like 10 men, will be back for his country after missing most of the season due to injury. I expect him to win the midfield battle against his club teammate, (the very tired) Michael Ballack when Ghana play Germany in the group stages.
-Yakubu & Martins (Nigeria): The Yak spent all year recovering from an achilles tendon injury, and will be fit for the Big Show. Oba Oba hasn't played much for Wolfsburg (less than 20 games). These two leathal finishers may cause more damage then expected to their underestimating opponents.
-Kakà (Brazil): Nothing much to say. He can be the best footballer in the world when fit. His manager at Real Madrid, and some members of the press claim that his recent injuries were fake and that he is simply resting his legs for the World Cup. Can we blame him for being far-sighted? Yes. Real pays his rent, not Brazil. But are we gonna complain when, he and the others on the list, crush (or deliver) our hopes and cause heart attacks this summer? Probably not.