Friday, December 4, 2009

South Africa 2010: Analysis of Every World Cup Group

The World Cup draw has produced not one but two "Groups of Death", as well as handing England and Italy the best possible routes to the knockout phases.

Over 190 countries tuned in to watch the World Cup draw as Charlize Theron and FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke drew the eight groups for next year's finals. The duo barely got through the process without throwing the balls at each other, with Valcke in particular making some very strange insulting comments towards the Hollywood star.

But who really cares, let's look at the draw...

As ever with FIFA, no draw is without controversy. The strange seeding system chosen this time was based on continents rather than ranking, and as such France and Portugal found themselves facing the very real possibility of finding themselves in an unwanted group.

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France

South Africa were the first team drawn, as hosts they were awarded a first seed ranking and will play their opening match in the 95,000 Soccer City stadium.

As one of the lowest seeds in the tournament, 74th, Bafana Bafana were hoping for an easy draw. Even before the draw, bookmakers had made South Africa favourites to be eliminated.

Initially the draw was kind, Mexico and Uruguay are there for the taking, but with France coming out of the bowl last, the group has taken on a very stiff task for the hosts.

Carlos Alberto Parreira has the unenviable task of getting South Africa through the group. The Brazilian will have to use every trick in his wide repatoire to achieve this unlikely task.

Javier Aguirre was the man who picked up the pieces in Mexico following Sven Goran-Erikkson's disastrous reign. And they may have found the right group, some of their matches will be played in high altitude, something that favours the Mexicans.

Uruguay were the last team to qualify from South America after a tight play-off victory over Costa Rica. Gone are the stars of yesteryear, and the over-reliance on the Ajax star Luis Suarez makes them very one dimensional.

Having qualified through the most controversial way possible, France will be thanking their lucky stars for such a favourable draw, especially when you consider that they were unseeded.

Raymond Domenech will continue to scupper his team's chances, and it will be interesting to see if he ever gets around to playing his best team, one that could conceivably win the tournament. Judging by his poor recent history, expect France to qualify and then crumble when they are questioned.

Winners: France

Runners Up: Mexico

Group B: Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece

This was the group that all the top seeds wanted to get. The least amount of travelling, and one fixed hotel throughout the first stage makes it a much coveted placing.

Diego Maradona will lead Argentina into battle in his first World Cup as a manager. But how they stumbled to get there reveals many cracks in the great player's managerial skills.

Whilst they may appear to be as weak as at any time in living memory, you can never write off a side that contains attacking talent such as Barcelona's 2009 Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero, and Angel di Maria of Benfica.

But that all depends on if Diego plays them...

Under Guus Hiddink, South Korea built a very steady reputation for themselves. That has continued through a qualifying campaign that saw them unbeaten and only conceding four goals. However, this well drilled team lack the players or the fervent home support of 2006 to make a real impact in South Africa.

Nigeria will fancy their chances of making an impact in this group, and progressing to the last eight after a favourable pairing within Group A.

Up front they are incredibly powerful with Everton's Yakubu, and Wolfsburg's Obafemi Martins providing the fire power while Jon Obi Mikel is their star in midfield. Their defence remains their Achilles' heel though, and they don't look capable of winning tight matches.

The European Champions of 2004 will fancy themselves in this group. Greece still possess a brilliant team ethic and will be difficult for any team to beat, as they never give up. Their front line remains a problem area and they will look to sneak wins rather than go out and win matches.

Winners: Argentina

Runners Up: Nigeria

Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia

Fabio Capello will hardly be able to contain his glee at being handed such a group. England will not fear any of their opponents and given their opponent's abilities it should give Capello a perfect opportunity to give his squad players a game.

John Terry and co. will also be keen to lock horns with the US and delete that historical 1-0 defeat thanks to Joe Gaetjens' header in 1950.

Having made their 6th World Cup in a row, Team USA will be expected to push for the knockout phase of the tournament. A solid team who are more than the sum of their parts, Bob Bradley's team will be difficult for any team to break down. They still lack the nous of a top class midfielder and it will be their downfall against well organised opposition.

The underdogs of Group C, Algeria, are more than capable of beating any in this group. While there will be distant odds on them qualifying they do possess a team with players plying their trade around Europe. And any team that can go into to an 80,000 cauldron and still come out winners deserve respect.

Slovenia are a middle tier team in Europe, more than capable of exposing weaker opposition but who regularly fail against well organised teams. They will be grateful at the group they were given but should not go any further.

Winners: England

Runners Up: USA

Group D: Germany, Australia, Ghana, Serbia

The first of the two groups of death sees the three time winners face an uphill battle to progress. Germany will find it difficult to advance past rivals who will all be looking at the same goal.

Germany do not come with the same mystique as previous incarnations but they still possess phenomenal quality. Michael Ballack will lead the team into South Africa and he will be backed by the likes of Miroslav Klose, Phillipe Lahm, and Mesut Ozil.

Another team where Guus Hiddink's shadow remains is Australia. The Aussies boast a team packed with Premiership talent and with a superb work ethic to match. A very similar proposition to the US, Australia will also be looking to progress to the knock out stages.

The Black Stars were the first African team to qualify for the World Cup after they sailed through their qualifiers. Ghana possesses two world class midfield talents in Muntari and the sublime Michael Essien and they will be extremely tough to beat.

Serbia come into their first World Cup after dominating their qualifying group. They have almost secretly built a team that can boast stars in some of Europe's top teams. While they are a fantastic prospect for a long run in the competition, they might come undone by their international inexperience.

Winners: Too tough to call but... Germany and Serbia to take the top two positions.

Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon

Holland, as ever, will go into this tournament as one of the favourites. They have always produced teams of technical brilliance and this current team is no different. Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Snejder, Arjen Robben, and Robin van Persie are some of the best players in the world and as ever, the Dutch's biggest enemy will be themselves.

They have been handed a good group and should easily advance, so the battle should really be for second place.

Of the three teams in the group, it would seem a straightforward battle between Denmark and Cameroon for that runner up spot.

Denmark came through the trenches of qualification in possibly the toughest group in world football. The Rolligans eliminated their fierce rivals Sweden as well as consigning Portugal to the playoffs. They are an extremely well organised team, and just lack that extra bit of flair that is needed to progress to the next level. Discount them at your peril.

Cameroon only qualified on the last game day. Despite this, they are extremely talented and experienced at this level. Samuel Eto'o will provide the goals while Alex Song should provide the steel in midfield.

Their un-doing could be their unpredictability.

Japan enter Group E as makeweights despite being the very first team to book their place at the footballing banquet on show. They are lightweight throughout their side and the physical Danes, and cameroonian's should be a bridge too far, never mind the skillful Dutch.

Winners: Netherlands

Runners Up: Denmark

Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia

This group will suit Italy and their playing style down to the ground. The Italians will go into these fixtures full of confidence and will be extremely confident of making it through to the next stage unscathed.

The have a formidable defence, a brilliant midfield, and possibly the best 'keeper in the world in Gianluigi Buffon. Their weak point is their strikers, who have not been hitting the old onion bag with any real venom for some time now.

Paraguay qualified for South Africa after they beat Argentina 1-0, and only finished one point behind Brazil, so they are no pushovers. Their main players are all based with high performing teams in Europe and they will be looking at taking advantage of their weaker group members.

The All-Whites qualified for their first World Cup since 1982, and New Zealand will be looking to acquit themselves well in a group they are not expected to qualify from.

Their squad is predominately made up of lower league journey men with a smattering of Premiership class in between. They have a great team ethic and will not be easy to beat, but they will find it difficult to win.

Even though Slovakia won their group they will still be looked upon as being fodder for the bigger nations. They have some quality players, namely Marek Hamsik, but they lack guile and real nous where it counts. They will be stubborn opposition and will have set the game against Paraguay as their make or break game in this World Cup.

Winners: Italy

Runners Up: Paraguay

Group G: Brazil, Korea DPR, Côte d'Ivoire, Portugal

The other group of Death and the most intriguing of the early stages. Brazil are the only ever present team in World Cup history and they have been handed a real tough proposition in the Ivory Coast and Portugal.

As favourites for the tournament Brazil will be expected to advance from Group G. Having won South America's qualification group in the best possible fashion, the five-time winners will be looking to add an incredible sixth title.

In previous years, Brazil were always one of the favourites but they either had bad managers or poor goalkeepers to hamper them. This time around they boast one of the best 'keepers in the world in Julio Cesar, and have an extremely well respected manager in Dunga.

And we haven't even mentioned the players in their squad yet. Brazil boast frightening talent and should progress but they won't find the going easy.

Portugal and the Ivory Coast will be battling it out with Brazil to win the group but will in all probability finish second to the South American giants.

Didier Drogba is the most well known player from the Ivory Coast, but many look past Kolo Toure, Yaya Toure, Didier Zokora, and Aruna Kone.

They boast a brilliant team and are capable of beating any team in the tournament, and if they are lucky with injuries they could go far.

Portugal are one of the slickest passing teams in world football, their technical brilliance is perhaps only matched by Brazil.

Cristiano Ronaldo is easily their stand out star, but all too often he has to do everything himself. Portugal are suspect to high balls at the back and lack a forward of any kind of quality. So this group could expose them badly.

North Korea will be looking to make as big an impact as they did on their last foray in the World Cup. In 1966 they sent Italy home and ran Eusebio's brilliant Portugal to the wire, leading 2-0 before losing 5-2 in the Quarter Finals.

That is not going to happen again.

Their three opponents are too experienced to allow such a catastrophe to happen and North Korea will have to be happy with participation.

Winners: Brazil

Runners Up: Ivory Coast

Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

Group H is another tough group to call. Spain should sail through so the real battle is for second, between three evenly matched teams. And it is in effect another Group of Death, albeit of a different level.

Spain are one of the favourites and rightly so. The current European Champions play a sublime brand of football that has seen them win 30 of their last 44 matches.

They boast Fernando Torres up front, Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas in the middle, and Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique at the back, as well as Casillas in goal.

They will go far in this tournament and their mental strength will be questioned as never before.

Switzerland have a tradition of being a well organised dogged team, and under the wily old Ottmar Hitzfeld nothing has changed too much.

Defensively they are very well drilled and extremely difficult opponents to score against while Alex Frei is more than capable of scoring important goals. They will look to capitalise on set pieces and could easily nick second.

Like New Zealand, the last time Honduras qualified for a World Cup was in 1982.

Honduras are a rapidly improving side, boasting a number of players who ply their trade in England, Tottenham's midfielder Wilson Palacios and Wigan duo Hendry Thomas and Maynor Figueroa are their most well known players.

Currently there is political upheaval in Honduras and it will be interesting to see what frame of mind they take to South Africa. That being said, they will be massive undergogs to qualify.

Another team who have not appeared at a World Cup in some time is Chile, although they did manage to finish third in 1962 in that lone appearance.

It is some statement when your team is labeled as the most attractive footballing team is South America, more so when it is ahead of the likes of Brazil and Argentina. But that is exactly the position that Chile find themselves in.

A rapid fire counter attacking team with tons of speed and flair, Argentine coach Marcelo Biesla has transformed Chile's ambitions.

Their squad is also the youngest of all 32 nations in the World Cup, averaging out at just 23 years of age.

Bravery is their forte, and naivety is their bane. Chile could upset a few teams this year.

Winners: Spain

Runners up: Chile

Agree or disagree? Leave your opinions on the comments page.