by Celso Chamochumbi - 06/06/2006
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The frenzy surrounding the World Cup is overwhelming. The latest scrimmage results, practice developments and even team rules regarding sex have been under a global microscope for the past month.
The players will bring a youthful enthusiasm to a tournament that can be career-defining. However, along with the exuberance of playing in a World Cup, comes the responsibility (maybe burden?) of shouldering an entire nation's hopes.
A four-year interval comes to a climatic end on Friday as Germany plays Costa Rica in the inaugural match of the eighteenth edition of the World Cup.
As gaming operations worldwide have frenetically advertised match lines, prop bets and futures contests, there has been minimal attention paid to the 'totals'. In fact, as of seventy-two hours before Friday's kick off, many of the sports books still have not posted their 'totals' figures.
One exception, however, is the Las Vegas Hilton, which opened with the number at 2.5 (-130 for the over). Thus, one risks $130 to win $100 to play the over, or one can wager $100 to win $110 with the under.
Recent World Cups have opened with a fair amount of bangs and thuds. Cameroon's thrilling upset, 1-0, over Argentina in Italy 1990, as well as, Senegal's eye-opening 1-0 win over France in 2002 rank among the most memorable.
Meanwhile, Italy and Bulgaria nearly lulled the world to sleep with a lethargic 1-1 tie in Mexico '86, and Germany's unimpressive 1-0 performance over Bolivia in USA '94 does not rank far behind on the scale of forgettable World Cup opening matches.
Whether thrilling or dull, the under has cashed in four of the last five opening-game matches. The lone exception occurred in 1998, when a Scottish own-goal tilted the match in Brazil's favor, 2-1.
The anticipation and high expectations of the opening matches have evidently produced an unusual amount of pressure and nerves. Friday's game could very well add to the historical pattern of low-scoring opening games for other reasons as well.
Remember, the first tiebreaker in the standings is goal differential (goals scored minus goals allowed), meaning that even overmatched teams tend to prioritize defense. Do you think that this point is lost on the Costa Rican national team? It was a 5-2 shellacking at the hands of the Brazilians in the last game of the first round in 2002 that sent them home because of the goal differential tiebreaker.
Furthermore, Costa Rican Head Coach Alexandre Guimarães (naturalized Costa Rican) played on that memorable 1990 squad which stunned Sweden and Scotland on the way to a second-round appearance. One key to the second round was a "good" 1-0 loss to Brazil. Hence, it would not be surprising for Guimarães to employ sound defensive strategy, and maintain an extra midfielder or two in the defensive half for this game.
On the opposite side, Germany needs a convincing win as bad as just about any country. Never has this powerful soccer nation limped into a World Cup with so much doubt swirling around the team. Controversy and second guessing have been the norm for Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players.
Nonetheless, the harsh criticism bestowed upon this team is deserved. A week ago, Germany rallied-yes, they were down 2-0 in the second half-to tie Japan, 2-2. That game was played in Germany, by the way. Days later, however, Klinsmann's boys made amends by disposing of a weak Colombian team, 3-0.
The scenario thus has one team trying to redeem itself in a game where it couldn't score enough goals to placate the home fans, while the other vies to avoid humiliation in front of a world audience.
Of course, a low-scoring game is always predicated on some luck and missed chances. Germany could very well pull a trick out of its 2002 bag, and end Costa Rica's second-round hopes in ninety minutes, as it did to Saudi Arabia with an 8-0 thrashing.
The under could also be in jeopardy if there is an early goal or if Costa Rica scores first. An early goal, as occurred in the 1998 game between Brazil and Scotland, would prod the other team forward and instill a sense of urgency to the game.
Similarly, a first strike by Costa Rica would oblige Klinsmann's side to attack relentlessly. This scenario could become very dangerous for the under because the German players, if not the team right now, are world class, and could easily score in bunches. Such was the case with the recently played game against Japan.
In summary, I think it would be too brash to overlook the historical patterns for opening matches and the current level of play of both teams. Assuming that Costa Rica survives the critical pressure points of a match, which are shortly before and immediately after halftime, the game should stay in the 1 or 2-0 range.
Good luck and please do not interpret the perspective presented here as the views of Doc's Sports World Cup picks service.