The first day of the finals are in the book and coming along with it, apparently is the World Cup of Parity. The two draws in an already anyone’s guess round robin in Group A further muddied the waters, making next week’s matches among this quartet even more critical and must-see. Odds have not budged much at the top and bottom ends of the bracket. France remains chalk and South Africa, despite their inspired effort against the Mexicans, the betting longshots to win this round robin, both at virtually the same prices you could get them before the games.  With the other two, the linemakers are catching up to stat geeks after today’s action dropping the price on Uruguay to +225 and raising Mexico to +375. These two have flip flopped positions and prices on the betting board. You’ll recall the same folks behind PECOTA in baseball formulated the World Cup and made Uruguay the pre tournament favorite. After today’s game and the shifting odds, everyone is almost on the same page. Hopefully you bought in early. Although if Uruguay is going to follow through on those expectations, they’re going to need a talent like Nicolas Lodeiro to play more than the time it takes to make a sandwhich.

Another thing I hope: You didnt take my picks seriously on Day One. Actually scratch that. I do hope you take my picks seriously. My real hope is that you didnt follow me blindly. We crapped out on all as the the failure to reach a decision in the games cost me on picks on Mexico and Uruguay. I really should have paid heed to some off my own advice in my own post. Even though every host team has earned at least a point in their World Cup opener, I failed to secure a winning ticket on South Africa doing so. Even though I mentioned betting both a Uruguay draw and win on equal amounts would at least net a profit if one came home, I just took a ticket on the greedier payout of a Uruguay win, and I lost out. I dont understand how something like happens other than I lose focus when actually staring at a betting board while peeling off bills from the money clip. Whatever. Hey, its a month long tournament. I dont have any delusions of profit. I just want to have fun watching soccer and this helps add to it. So, on to a new day, one with three games.

The first two games today showcase Group B. It’s perhaps the one Group with the most obvious pecking order. From chalk to longshot, its Argentina, Nigeria, Greece and South Korea. I dont think we can discount Greece getting out of group, but I think when push comes to shove just about every analyst would predict the 1-2-3-4 order above.

 The Greece-South Korea match we’re watching because everyone wants to see if either can emerge as a threat. For Greece, the questions are obvious.  Can Theofanis Gekas continue his scorching goal scoring touch from qualifications against much stiffer competition? Can a team thats only made one World Cup appearance and has never scored a finals goal really be a threat to advance? Can Greece save its country the way Michigan State basketball saved the city of Detroit in 2009? As for South Korea, I think the world soccer crowd still doubts them, shrugging off their 2002 results as they were riding amazing home field advantage and casting them aside as non-factors in this event. That all could change with three points today as it would give them a major leg up towards a spot in the Knockout Round. The Koreans do have one of the more versatile and talented midfielders in this whole tournament with Park Ji-Sung. He can control games defensively in the EPL, he can do the same in this round robin.

I really cant wait to see this Argentina/Nigeria match. If there is continent solidarity and if the Nigerians can get the support similar to the Bofanas on Day One, then we might have some interesting developments over the next couple of weeks. I am not saying look for it to push the Super Eagles to win over the Argentinians in this match, but I’m tuning in to see if it helps. If it does, then we’re going to see more African Nations make the knockout stage than most people are projecting right now. Nigeria has a lot of nice pieces, but remain a work in progress thanks to a coaching change earlier this year. Can it all come together on this stage? Its easy to be skeptical. The Super Eagles have specialized in playing to nil/nil draws of late. They shown over the last two years that they cant score goals against teams in this field. Yet they have some playmakers on the wings and strikers like Yakuba Aiyegbeni and Obatemi Martins ought to be able to drive home goals. Aiyegbeni has been scoring goals in the EPL for years, regardless of who he is playing for. Martins has always excelled in international competition. But for whatever reason, it hasnt been working on the world stage in recent years for the Super Eagles. Can the Nigerians make a stand on their home continent and reassert themselves as a world player?

 I’m a casual soccer fan, so when I see a matchup between Nigeria and Argentina, I expect exciting soccer. Even if Argentina ends up woodshedding Nigeria, how do you not tune in to see the first Diego Maradona/Lionel Messi act for the White and Sky Blue? I know Maradona takes a lot of heat from the pundits. And, frankly he brings a ton of the criticism onto himself. But, I dont think he’s quite the coaching laughing stock heading into this field people are making him out to be. I mean, isnt everybody hiring career criminals to bodyguard his team while in South Africa? Seriously what are the prop bets for the shenanigans these guys with their crony coach in tow will pull off while roaming the South African nightlife? We should at least be able to get over/under numbers on the total lines of cocaine snorted off the bellies and questionable local prostitutes. I demand lines for things like these.

The thing is, I recall 15 years ago the smart pundits psychoanalysis on football coach Steve Spurrier. The meme being he was too arrogant enough to allow another Gator player to win the Heisman, a ego trip that would ultimately cost them any chance at a national championship season. Then 1996 rolled around, Spurrier had a resplendent player in Danny Wuerffel at the college level and that myth was busted. That seems to be a big critique of Maradona entering this field regarding his superstar Lionel Messi. I just dont know how much I buy into it. He has a chance to play and coach his country to the championship during his soccer career, I dont think he would mind if Messi starred along the way. And, I tell you what, he sure is using the old school trick of taking the pressure off his players by making himself the story and sideshow. This is a tactic Bob Knight used all the time to keep the pressure off his teams from a fanbase that enjoys picking apart your fundamentals. And, yes I did just compare Maradona and Knight. I will now cower under the table in hopes of defecting what surely will be multiple lightning bolts.

Argentina usually has oodles of expectations heaped on their national team, but Maradona has taken the spotlight away from them. I think this frees them up. Its part of the reason why I love Messi to be the leading scorer of this tournament at 10/1 odds. I expect a goal out of him tomorrow. Anybody who can be linked with Kevin Durant (I am wearing a Texas Basketball shirt as I type this, btw) I am more than willing to get behind in a scoring contest. I cant wait to check out his game today. Getting back to the controversial coach, here’s the deal: Maradona has been a constant talking point for the soccer chattering class in the run up to these games. Everybody seems to have strong, generally negative opinions about him. Tomorrow, at the very least, those memes will be addressed by the facts of play on the pitch. The clash of memes and reality always interests this sports chronicler.

Oh yeah, and the Americans and English play, capping the day’s tripleheader as action in Group C begins. There are eleventy billion different opinions already out there on this game. Stars and Gripes outlines the influentials. A conversation between Brian of MGoBlog and Jerry of WarBlogEagle fame offers an excellent primer on the Yanks, this match and their overall chances. Thankfully, we’ve given back a colony to the blokes across the sea for Aaron Lennon. Ok, that might not be true, but where there is smoke, you know.  I cant really add anything to that. Well, maybe the fact that of the last 38 teams to lose their World Cup opener, only three have advanced into the Knockout Round. The Americans had best get a point in this match or else face a whole mess of history against them punching them in the mouth.

And the odds have been moving against the Yanks.  We’ve seen a lot of action on this game just in the last month. The American have always been good payouts to win this game, opening at 3/1 odds to beat England. But those projected payouts have been on the rise since the start of May. The odds rose to 4.5/1 and three weeks ago stood at 5/1. By the start of June, those numbers ballooned to 6.5/1. That’s where it peaked and in recent days finally enough action began to come in on the Yanks to bring those numbers down.  Less than 48 hours before kickoff, the Americans are 5.5/1 to beat the Three Lions. But, in the day before the game, odds jumped back up to 6/1, where it stands at the time of this posting.  A Draw had been holding steady at 2.8/1 for most of the last month, but the action that came in today pushed the draw price to a high of +325.  Despite the consistent climb of the underdog odds, the chalk prices for England havent been as volatile beginning at -188, rising as high as -250, settling in at -200 for most of the week. Hours before the game kicks, though the odds are approaching its most expensive price. As the clock passes midnight, officially making it gameday, the Three Lions are -238. That tells me the Books have  had a difficult time finding the right price to cajole American money while the whole time receiving a steady, yet not overwhelming flow of English action. Does any of it mean anything? Probably not, but I found the line movement interesting. Probably because its the first time I’ve ever checked in with a soccer line on a daily basis for a month straight.

Also worth noting the expectations and pressure on England. Everyone knows about the Big 3 in this field that are the favorites–Spain, Brazil and Argentina. But, there’s a fourth favorite among the crowd with Team England actually nestling into place more chalky than the Argentines. But its the action at the English books that really drive soccer action and in this event you have the entire United Kingdom snapping the rubber band at the window to put money down on the Three Lions. Its like Cub fans in Vegas sportsbooks during Spring Training. I think those folks are in for a rough ride tomorrow, because the match with the Yanks is no walkover despite the odds on the board.

Do I have any picks? Of course I do, you cant climb out of a hole if you stop picking. I’m rolling with the Americans tomorrow. And, I am doing what I should have done with Uruguay yesterday. I am playing the Yanks to win at 6/1 and to Draw at 3/1. Clearly I profit nicely if the Stars and Stripes can manage a point. I am putting half the amount on the to win bet. And, I am also taking a flier on the Greeks to win at +150 on a two-team parlay with Argentina, whose -250. Its pay a smidge better than 2.5/1. The Yanks never beat the Three Lions. The Greeks have never won on their stage. I went winless on opening day picks. The United States, Greece and the Just Cover Blog will come together and shine, amirite?!?!?!