Fever Pitch

The 2010 World Cup will kick off in South Africa tomorrow and and one or two teams from Europe will be hoping to create a little bit of football history on June 11th. Since its inception in 1930, a European team has never won the World Cup outside their own continent, although there’s a feeling that the current European Champions could change all that. Spain go into the tournament as favourites, but also with the tag of perennial underachievers. They’ll be hoping for better luck as they appear for the thirteenth time and their ninth in a row. They’ve yet to reach the final and will be hoping to better their fourth place in 1950. They were also quarter-finalists in 1934, 1986, 1994 and 2002. They should top a group that includes Chile, Honduras and Switzerland and I think they’ll be the team to beat at South Africa

Holland appeared at just two of the first nine World Cups and they failed to make it past the first round in 1934 and again in 1938. They burst onto the world stage in 1974 with their new brand of Total Football that saw them knock out Brazil and Argentina to face hosts West Germany in the final. They took an early lead, but the Germans came back to win 2-1. They returned four years later and progressed to a second round group that also included West Germany as well as the Italians. Holland topped the group, but lost to hosts Argentina in the final. They failed to qualify for the next two tournaments, but have made it to four of the last five. In South Africa, they share a group with Denmark, Cameroon and Japan. They could go far if their defense holds out and they don’t resort to the in-fighting that has cost them in the past

West Germany withdrew from the first World Cup and were banned from the 1950 competition, but they’ve appeared at each of the remaining ones. They won the 1954, 1974 and 1990 tournaments. They have competed as Germany since the 1994 World Cup and continue to be as consistent as ever. German teams have been losing finalists on four occasions, losing semi-finalist four times and the only time that they finished outside the top eight was in 1938. This month, they’re favourites to top a group that also contains Serbia, Ghana and Australia

Holders Italy are also making their seventeenth appearance at the finals. They won their fourth title in 2006, following previous successes in 1934, 1938 and 1982. The Azzurri were also losing finalists in 1970 and 1994. This year, they should come out on top of a group that also contains Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. They’re scheduled to meet Spain in the quarter-finals and that could signal the end of their tournament

A dispute with FIFA meant that England didn’t enter the first three World Cups, but got their chance in 1950 with a 2-0 win over Chile. Then, in one of football’s biggest upsets, the USA beat them 1-0 and they suffered the same fate in their final match against Spain. England won the title as hosts in 1966, but have only made it past the quarter-finals on one other occasion. In 1990, they were fortunate to beat Cameroon to set up a semi-final clash with Germany. The Germans beat England on penalties and the same fate befell them against Argentina in 1998 and Portugal in 2006. Their opening game in South Africa sees them take on the United States again and Slovenia and Algeria are their other opponents in the group. A kind draw could see them go far this year as long as they don’t have too many injuries, Rooney has a good tournament and their defense isn’t too shaky. Expect them to go out on penalties near the end

France are appearing at their thirteenth tournament and won the competition as hosts in 1998. They were runners-up four years ago and losing semi-finalists in 1958, 1982 and 1986. However, they failed to qualify in 1974 and 1978 and again in 1990 and 1994. In 2002, they failed to score a goal as they lost to Senegal and Denmark and drew with Uruguay. They qualified for South Africa by defeating Ireland in a playoff as a result of a blatant act of cheating by France’s all-time top scorer. They are not amongst the top seeds in South Africa, but are favourites in a tough group that also contains Mexico, Uruguay and hosts South Africa. Even if they make it out of their group, it’s unlikely that they’ll make it too far

Prior to 1986, Portugal only qualified for the World Cup once, when they finished third in 1966. They next qualified in 1986 and 2002, but failed to make it past the group stages on both occasions. Four years ago, they made it the semi-finals where they lost by the only goal to France. Even though they are in third place in FIFA’s world rankings, Portugal are not seeded and find themselves in a group that includes the top ranked team, Brazil. The Ivory Coast and North Korea make up the rest of the group and it looks like it’s going to be between Portugal and the Ivory Coast for that second spot. The winner of that contest will most likely face Spain in the next round and it’s going to be hard to see past the Spaniards in that one

It is not uncommon for vocalists from mainland Europe to sing in English and more than half of my final selection do just that. One of the exceptions is Barbo who hail from Barcelona and the song Exilio in Yokohama appears on their album Matagigantes. Its driving guitar and pounding drums are very reminiscent of U2 when they were good, but without Bono’s warbling. The drums and guitars are also to the fore on Starlight Love by Dutch trio The Stutters. Any kind of lovin’ would be welcome in Holland’s squad as communications often break down amongst the players due to internal bickering. Kraftwerk are one of the most influential bands to have emerged from Germany and were hugely influential on the development of electronic music. Senor Coconut is one of many alter egos of the German composer, musician and producer, Uwe Schmidt. In this guise, he mixes electronic and latin styles as on Senor Coconut’s second album, El Baile Alemán (The German Dance), which features Kraftwerk songs as you’ve never heard them before. Their take on Showroom Dummies goes out to all the World Cup players who’ll be trying to attract new clubs this summer

From the beautiful city of Florence in Italy, Sbanebio are an entertaining live band that combine elements of ska, punk and rock into their sound. The group also features my good friend Lorenzo on guitar and backing vocals and I remember him once telling me what Brasile in Barca a Vela was about over a pint of Guinness or two. I think it had something to do with a girl and a boat to Brazil. Sbanebio have been together for a dozen years and will celebrate like it’s 1998 if Italy can repeat their feat of four years ago. Mumford & Sons have taken a popular form of English folk music into the music charts all over the world and Roll Away Your Stone is emblematic of their sound. This song from their Sigh No More album goes out to the England players and the metaphoric stone that is 1966 and all that

From France, Les Ogres de Barback have been using folk and traditional instruments such as accordions and fiddles since 1994. The group is comprised of four brothers and sisters: Fred, Sam, Alice and Mathilde. Petite Hypocrite is taken from their second album Irfan, le Héros and I’d like to dedicate it to Thierry Henry. Jasmin Jones has a Portugese mother and calls Lisbon her home, but she was born in Australia and grew up in different countries. She is lead singer for a rock band called Triplet, but Lost in Rainbows is a poppy affair that opens her debut solo offering entitled Beyond the Clouds. Here’s hoping that the clouds over the Rainbow Nation won’t contain too many raindrops and that South Africa 2010 will be remembered for colour and sunshine, both on and off the field. And don’t forget to head on over to Football & Music for loads more football and music

Exilio En Yokohama – Barbo (Spain)

Starlight Love – The Stutters (Holland)

Showroom Dummies (Cha-Cha-Cha) (Kraftwerk cover) – Senor Coconut (Germany)

Brasile in Barca a Vela – Sbanebio (Italy)

Roll Away Your Stone – Mumford & Sons (England)

Petite Hypocrite – Les Ogres de Barback (France)

Lost In Rainbows – Jasmin Jones (Portugal)

Previously on World Cup 2010:

Escape to Victory

The Beautiful Game

Africa Unite

Top of the World

Give Him a Ball (& a Yard of Grass)