We're officially ONE MONTH AWAY from the start of World Cup 2010! It's been a long (long.) four years since we watched Italy beat France at the 2006 games, and we're so excited to spend another summer drinking beer, cheering on teams based on personal nationalistic biases, and oogling the players. Oh. Well, yes, and watching soccer. That too, of course.
We go CRAZY for the World Cup in the Guest of a Guest office, so we'll be bringing you the best New York coverage we can next month. In the meantime, if you're a little rusty on your soccer trivia (let's face it, it's not an American sport), here are five players you can cheer for. Because they are good at soccer.
Alexandre Pato-Brazil-Forward Striker
At only 21, Alexandre Pato, or "Pato" as he is referred to by fans (and tabloids) is sort of a wunderkind of soccer. (Some commentators call him "The Duck", but that doesn't really have the same sexy ring to it.) He started playing professionally at only 16, and holds the record for the youngest player to score on a FIFA competition. In 2007, he signed with Milan, only one day after his 18th birthday, where he's currently one of the team's top goal scorers. He was injured earlier this season, forcing him to sit out much of March of 2010, but he should be good to finish up the season, and play for Brazil in the World Cup.
Pato's personal life has gotten almost as much attention as his professional life, possibly because it's been so tumultuous. He had an on and off again relationship with beautiful Brazilian actress Sthefany Brito for years, and the two finally got married in Rio de Janeiro last July. However, a few weeks ago the photogenic young couple announced their break-up, due in part to Pato's hard partying ways.
It's for the best, Pato! You don't want to be 21 and gorgeous and a World Cup Champion and married. We understand.
Poor Michael Ballack; he came SO CLOSE to winning the title for his home country in 2006, the same year Germany hosted the games. The East German-born player and his team did a great deal in 2006 to usher in a renewed era of National pride, something the country hadn't seen (ehrm, with good reason, perhaps) in decades. The (unbelievably attractive!) player currently plays for Chelsea and is serving as the captain of the German team. This is his third World Cup, so perhaps third time is the charm?
Michael has been with wife Simone Lambe forever--they have three kids together. (Whatever. It's fine.)
It's impossible not to root for the tiny coutnries like Cameroon and Togo in the World Cup. An African country has yet to win the title, but they're getting closer and closer; an impressive feat considering the amount of money rich countries like Germany and Italy are able to pour into their teams. 29 year old Samuel Eto'o is the captain of the Cameroon national team, and the all-time leading scorer in the history of the African Nations Cup. He started training with Real Madrid when he was still a minor, and went on to play with Mallorca, Barcelona, and finally Internatzionale.
Eto'o and his wife Georgette have three children together, who are adorable and all live in Paris and speak French and lead perfect lives.
First of all, the stress is on the SECOND syllable of his name. Very important. Kaká, born Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite. is a 28 year old Brazillian player and 2007 World Player of the Year. When he was 18, he suffered a paralysis-inducing spinal fracture, but recovered to become one of the most famous athletes in the world. Because of this, he donates most of his (staggering) soccer income to the Church, and dedicates himself to humanitarian endeavors.
His career started when he signed with AC Milan in 2003. In early 2009, there was talk of Kaká being transferred to Manchester. Milan fans protested outside the club headquarters, but the trade came to nothing. Mere months later, however, Kaká was traded to Real Madrid on a six-year deal. He was relatively unimpressive in the last World Cup, but he now has four more years of experience under his belt.
Kaká has been an evangelical Christian since the age of 12, and frequently wears "Jesus Loves You" t-shirts under his soccer jersey during games. He married his childhood sweetheart in 2005. The couple have one child.
Fabio Cannavaro-Italy-Centre Back
Fabio Cannavaro was credited with leading the Italian team to victory in 2006, also winning the FIFA World Player Of The Year award. Cannavaro played for Juventus until 2006, when he followed coach Fabio Capello to Real Madrid. At Real Madrid, he was given the #5 shirt which had previously been Zinedine Zidane's, the very player he fantastically beat in the last match of the 2006 Cup. After a three season stint at Madrid, Cannavaro moved back to Juventus.
Cannavaro has three children with wife Daniela, but has (weirdly?) stated that he favors women of Indian and Chinese descent:
"The most beautiful of women life in Asia, that in India and China, they are truly walking goddesses."
[Photos via Vanity Fair, Wikipedia, Gente, and FIFA]