It’s been exciting times in football land (that’s soccer for those in the US, still), with the draw for next year’s World Cup taking place in Cape Town a few days ago. New Zealand is in Group F, which has been called an “easy group”. I’m optimistic by nature, but any group that includes the defending World Champions, Italy, along with Paraguay and Slovakia isn’t going to be easy for New Zealand. In fact, there are no easy games at the World Cup, and next year teams will have to deal with the problem of altitude as well, with games in Johannesburg sure to sap the energy of even the fittest teams.
The great Muhammad Ali said "Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill." Every tournament carries a massive upset, so I’m hoping New Zealand can surprise everyone and get to the 2nd round. That would be huge. To do that, the All Whites have to forget about the difference in skill and have the will. That’s an issue for those other all whites – Fabio Capello’s England. With one of the best squads, one of the best managers in the world, and a relatively friendly draw in a friendly nation, I’m backing England to go all the way and win... vs Spain in the final. Capello will have them more mentally ready than ever before.
There’s always a star of the tournament too, and next year we’re due to see the newly crowned Ballon D’Or European Footballer of the Year winner on the global stage a little way in to what is already a truly great career. Argentina and Barcelona’s Leo Messi beat his nearest rival Cristiano Ronaldo by more than double in the vote for Europe’s best player, recording the highest ever score in the history of the vote. Messi is the classic made good story: a child from a family of limited means, with a growth hormone deficiency, who only grew to his current size of 5 foot 7 with the help of medical treatment paid for by Barcelona, who brought him to Spain at around 12 years old.
He’s done it all with good grace, humility, and the most sublime skill seen since a certain other Argentine graced the world stage at high altitude in Mexico City. He’s often been criticised for not being as good for Argentina as he is for Barcelona. But if his will is greater than his skill, 2010 is going to be something special for fans of football the world over.
And watch out for one man with real will. Wayne Rooney. England's next captain.