The Basketball Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, Part 2: The Stars

We’re now down to the 8 quarterfinalists, and a couple of sham contenders we analyzed in Part 1 (England and Italy) are out of the fray. You probably weren’t backing either of their chances unless you’re ill-informed, English, Italian, or a combination of the 3, but their exits mean superstars like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, and Daniele de Rossi will be joining the likes of France’s Franck Ribery, the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronado on early plane rides home. At this juncture, we’ll talk about some of the bigger names still remaining in the tournament. And again, we’ll be doing it in terms any serious NBA fan can understand.

Lionel Messi is LeBron James


Messi was identified as a prodigy early in his teens, broke into famed Spanish club Barcelona’s first team at the age of 18, and now, at 23, the potential he has long showed is coming to fruition. He isn’t the first Argentine wunderkind to be labelled as the next Diego Maradona, but with his incredible play over the past few years, he’s surely the most deserving. “El Mesias” (The Messiah) is the 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year, and barring a stunning turn of events, will retain his title at the end of this year. At this point, the only trophy missing from his cabinet is the one that would cement his status among the all-time greats: the World Cup.

Kaká is Dirk Nowitzki


Seemingly no matter what Kaká accomplishes on the soccer field, the Brazilian midfielder will always have detractors who question his mental and physical toughness. With his elegant, effortless style and calm demeanor, it’s easy to underestimate his competitive drive. The truth is, Kaká has a record of personal and team success as long as anybody else’s, and nobody wants this Cup more. Winning the trophy as Brazil’s attacking fulcrum (he was a member of Brazil’s winning team in ’02, but appeared in just one tournament game) would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.

Luis Fabiano is Kevin Garnett


Any tool that would be useful for a striker to possess, Fabiano has: size, speed, an immaculate first touch, and perhaps most importantly, predatory instincts in front of goal. His 28 goals in 42 national team appearances tell it all. Earlier in his career, though, Fabiano was known as one of the biggest hotheads in Brazilian soccer, and had to reel in his intensity to realize his world-class talent. To this day he’s enjoyed only moderate team success at the club level and currently plays for the consistent but unspectacular Sevilla in Spain’s La Liga, though he’s now clamoring for a move to a bigger club. Some players might be in it for the fan’s affections, but that’s never been Fabiano’s motivation. After using his hand (twice) to control the ball en route to scoring a goal against Cote d’Ivoire in this year’s tournament, he gave a cheeky smile to the referee who made the error. He’ll gladly play the villain as long as he’s winning.

Robinho is Allen Iverson

The current Brazil squad might lack some of the style of its predecessors, but Robinho does his best to make up for the discrepancy. His quick flicks and dizzying stepovers help to make up for his lack of size when taking on defenders, and he tends to break out moves more commonplace in street games than World Cup matches. His talent is obvious, but it’s not for everyone: he tends to need a lot of time on the ball to be effective, which doesn’t fit in with every manager’s philosophy. His current club, Manchester City, actually decided this past season that he was surplus to requirements and, rather than paying his hefty salary, decided to loan him back to Santos, his first Brazilian team. As he’s waiting for Europe’s big clubs to come knocking again, a run to the World Cup final would surely do wonders for his job prospects.

David Villa is Chauncey Billups

They might call him ‘El Guaje’ (“The Kid”) in his native Asturia, but Villa has actually been something of a late bloomer on the world stage. He didn’t receive a call-up to the Spanish national team until he was 23 (for reference, teammates Sergio Ramos, Cesc Fabregas, and striking partner Fernando Torres all debuted in their teens), but he’s since made up for lost time by molding himself into perhaps the game’s most ruthless finisher. Just 5 years after his debut, Villa stands 3 goals away from becoming Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer. For whatever reason, Villa tends to be overshadowed by his teammates, but with his knack for providing the winning margin in close contests he might be Spain’s most important player.

Xavi is Steve Nash


The man who pulls the strings in Spain’s midfield might be short, slight, and not particularly fast, but what Xavi lacks in physical attributes he more than makes up for with his intelligence and vision. Widely regarded as the best passer in the world, Xavi’s role both for the Spanish national team and for La Liga champions Barcelona is actually as much about dictating the pace of the game as it is about finding the killer pass. When his team needs a goal, he can push the ball forward to jump-start attacking moves, but when protecting a lead his sure touch and accuracy frustrate opponents and keep them from regaining possession.

Mesut Özil is Rajon Rondo


Quite simply the breakout star of this World Cup. For Germany to make a dent this summer, they needed coming of age performances from some of their young talents to complement the dependable stalwarts in the side like Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, and Bastien Schweinsteiger. The 21-year-old Özil has risen to the occasion and then some, guiding a German attack that has the scored the second-most goals in the tournament. In a rare turn for a player so young, Özil’s greatest strength is his understanding of the game, as he’s able to unlock tight defenses by perfectly timing his runs and passes. With his career just getting started, this undoubtedly won’t be the only World Cup Özil ever plays in, but he’s making sure that his first one counts.

Arjen Robben is Manu Ginobili


Robben, like many of his Dutch teammates, is a classic flair player. He mostly earns his pay on the right wing, where he specializes in running at, around, and through opposing defenders before cutting in and shooting with his devastating left foot. Perhaps because his style of play requires so much energy and invites so much abuse from opponents, he’s had chronic injury problems and his managers have often been forced to curtail his matches and minutes in an effort to keep him fresh, healthy, and at his most productive. In true form, he missed the entire group stage of this World Cup, then scored a brilliant solo goal to help the Netherlands overcome Slovakia in the Round of 16. In limited doseages, Robben contributes more than almost anybody playing full-time. If he can stay on the field, we might really see something special.

Thoughts on the NBA or World Cup? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook.

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