I'm trying awfully hard to give a damn about any of Saturday's World Cup qualifiers. Looking at the 24 matches on tap, there isn't a shred of appointment television among the bunch. It's the first day of qualifying, and 18 months from now, we won't remember any of these matches, unless of course, Andorra smacks England around, Malta beats up Portugal, or Germany forgets to get off the bus in Liechtenstein--neither of which I expect to happen.
If there's a shred of interest anywhere, I give you the Cyprus-Italy match. This is Italy's first match in anger since Euro 2008, and it will have captain and stalwart defender Fabio Cannavaro in the starting 11. Recall, Cannavaro tore ankle ligaments days before Italy's first match at Euro, tearing Italy's chances for winning right along with it.
This is the beginning, not only of Italy's 2006 title defense, but of the Azzurri's redemption on many fronts. Luca Toni played at the Euro, but you wouldn't know it. He was miserable, like the rest of Italy's attack. He too is returning from an injury, so it's unlikely he'll be very effective; this is more of a fitness match if he plays. But longterm, Toni and Cannavaro have to play well for Italy to make a dent in South Africa (duh!).
Oh by the way, this is Marcello Lippi's first qualifier since winning the whole thing in 2006. Lippi was recalled to the bench as manager after Roberto Donadoni's short and forgettable tenure which ended once Italy was eliminated from the Euro in the quarterfinals. Lippi, as any coach worth his salt, is already playing up the opponent he knows his team can handle. He told Reuters:
"Cyprus is an insidious trip, they are a national team that play well and we'll face them on a field without much grass. We'll have to be careful."As for Germany, the big news for its road match is that Bastian Schweinsteiger is back in the starting 11 in place of the injured Michael Ballack. Schweinsteiger is pretty tough, and has a neat knack for scoring or setting up devastating goals. Apparently, he has some maturity issues that he's working hard to overcome. OK, whatever. Cutting through the coachspeak, Schweinsteiger is playing because Ballack is not in top form right now. He wasn't going to displace Ballack at the Euro because Ballack was probably playing better than anyone at the time. It's that simple.
For your reading pleasure, links to more on the World Cup qualifiers:
Bleacher Report on England and Andorra
Road to 2010 on African qualifiers
Four-Four-Two on European qualifiers
France World Cup Blog on France and Austria