Which teams are peaking at the right time? Which are tripping over themselves? Let's take an uneducated look.
Teams on the UPSWING
The team everyone seems to be talking about. Mainly because they've been playing a lot of high profile exhibition games, and doing well in those games. They've beaten El Salvador 2-1 and Nigeria 4-2 among the bigger ones. So is Jamaica a legitimate contender for the Championship? Here's my thoughts: They've still got problems at the back, and have no depth on the outside. A couple good players like O'Gilvie, Banerjee, Amilcar and Korthius can only take you so far, and then a good team will come along and exploit those weak spots. Jamaica will be a good team, no question, but they're getting hyped up to be better than they are. Still on the upswing though, because winning those games goes a long way towards solidifying your team.
Another team playing a lot of exhibition games. They'll be in game shape by the time they hit the field, and they'll give France a run for their money at the top of the group. When it comes to the playoffs, Nigeria still doesn't have the raw talent to beat the top teams, but with a lot of hustle and solid team play like they've shown, they'll have a much better chance.
Poland is getting lost in the their group. And this is a good thing. They've got a solid defence and core group of players, and they'll have a couple more Saskatoon players. Last year, the entire aim was to get the ball at the feet of their most dangerous player. He's gone now, replaced by a couple good players. Teams can no longer focus on one guy, they'll have to worry about the entire team. Poland also has great fan support, which does help. Playing good in exhibition games, and going in as an underdog. Recipe for success.
Luckily for them, they're in an easy group, where all it takes is a tie and lucky goal for a ticket to the playoffs. They've held their own against teams like Canada, and have the best chance out of their group to be able to repeat that success against Laos or El Salvador.
Their team might surprise some people. Younger players and hard-working. Remember, they made it all the way to fourth a couple years ago with a scrappy team, and that scrappiness is back.
Teams on the DOWNSWING
Don't get me wrong. They'll be in the playoffs, and they're a definite favorite for the title. But a complete lack of exhibition games and full practices has to be painful. France is in a group where they'll win, but they'll pay for it. Nigeria, Afghanistan, Greece and Botswana have never been known as graceful teams. This group will be the most physical group. France will be hacked often in this group, and for them to do well in playoffs they'll have to avoid any major injuries against these teams. Being away from real soccer for this long won't help them.
Losing two of their top players won't help. Out-of-towners that can no longer make it won't help. The core group has stayed the same, but like the rest of us, they haven't gotten better. Mix that all together, add in the fact that they won last year and have nothing left to prove, and Laos could have a rough time in this tournament. Poor showings in exhibition games as well. Again, don't get me wrong, they're a fantastic team and will very likely be in the semi-finals. But likely on the downswing.
Regarding the Women's portion of the tournament, teams are becoming much stronger. As interest grows in the women's portion, the teams are becoming a lot more even. Take for example the U of R girls against AC in the Women's Div. 2 Final on Tuesday night. An exciting game from start to finish ended with AC winning in a shoot-out. The U of R players, consistently touted as the best players in the WCP Cup, have some up and coming talent to watch out for. Look for these players in the Women's WCP Cup.
Any other teams on the upswing or downswing?