With opening kick-off scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Friday (EST), we asked two of the biggest fans on campus for their predictions on the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Head squash coach Tomas Fortson (hailing from Mexico) and men’s soccer coach Fran O’Leary (from Ireland) shared their international football wisdom and their enduring memories of World Cups from their youth. (Head men’s hockey coach Terry Meagher of Canada was unavailable for comment.)
BDS: Growing up in soccer-crazed countries, what are your lasting memories of past World Cups?
O’Leary: I remember watching the 1970 World Cup played in Mexico. I was 7 years old and it was my first exposure to international play. We watched the tournament on a black and white TV and were so excited to watch the Final at our uncle’s house as he owned a color TV. In the eyes of many it still remains as the best World Cup ever. Brazil played a magnificent brand of soccer thanks to the likes of Pele, Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostao, Rivelino and Clodaldo. I loved their exotic names and immediately became enamored by their technical ability. They were simply a joy to watch. They remain the best team I have ever seen and comfortably beat a strong Italy squad by a score of 4-1 in the Final. It opened up my eyes to a world beyond Ireland and sent me scurrying to a globe to discover such far off nations as Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Israel and Morocco.
Fortson: Two memories are well engraved throughout the years. First, I had the thrill of being in Mexico in 1986 and having tickets to all the games at 110,000-seat Azteca Stadium and the madness around the country. Second, the guaranteed heart break that comes with elimination, knowing that the next try is four years away, and how often Mexico has lost ‘tight to the end’ thrillers. It always takes a while to recover.
BDS: Unfortunately, Coach O’Leary, Ireland was edged out for a spot in this year’s tournament, how do you rank the U.S. prospects for the Cup?
O’Leary: I am confident that the U.S. will advance to the knockout stage. They have an experienced team capable of knocking off any team in the world. Once there, anything can happen as was shown by their display in the Confederations Cup. I am confident the team will put forth a strong showing and will emerge from the event with the reputation of U.S. soccer enhanced.
BDS: America’s soccer rivalry with Mexico makes Red Sox/Yankees and Bowdoin/Colby look tame. How do “El Tri” look heading into the Cup?
Fortson: Just like the U.S., Mexico will have its best team ever, which I think is as good as the European teams. Many Mexicans are thinking that this is the year we can shock the world.
BDS: Prediction Time! Who is going to take home the Cup in 2010?
Fortson: I see the three slight favorites in Brazil (because it’s Brazil), Spain (because they have been the best team over the past couple of years) and Argentina (because of Lionel Messi). The experience and confidence of the other top European powers (Italy, France, England, Portugal, Netherlands and Germany) give them all a legit chance.
O’Leary: I think it will come down to Spain and Brazil. While I feel Spain may have a better side, I will go with Brazil to win their sixth World Cup. They possess the technical ability, tactical structure and belief to go all the way.