2010 World Cup Group F Preview: Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia
This is a group where no team will want to finish second, as the Netherlands will be most likely lying in wait. Italy is the sure favourite, however neither Slovakia nor Paraguay will be pushovers, and New Zealand's unorthodox approach could cause problems for unsuspecting teams.
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 almost too sure of making it through to the next stage unscathed.
The have a formidable defense, 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.
Like Germany, Italy has suffered their fair share of midfield related injuries. One half of the best central midfield partnership in football, Andrea Pirlo, is doubtful to play, but Marcelo Lippi is willing to give him until the 11th hour on June 13 before he decides the AC Milan player's fate.
Further injuries to Mauro Cameronesi, Claudio Marchisio, and Angelo Palombo, have forced Lippi to include a 24th man, Cagliari's Andrea Cossu, just in case.
Lippi has also tried several different formations over the Azzurri's last couple of games so it is anyone's guess as to whether Italy will start with one, two, or even three up front.
Given the wealth they enjoy in midfield I'd expect them to start with one in the opening fixture against Paraguay, a game neither can really afford to lose.
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 to take advantage of their weaker group members.
La Albirroja were highly impressive in qualifying from South America where they finished joint second with Chile on a record of W10 D3 L5. Since then, things haven't exactly gone well for Gerrardo Martino's side.
In January star player Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head in an incident in a nightclub. A run of poor results ensued, but after a 2-2 draw with the Ivory Coast they followed it up with a highly respectable 2-0 win over Greece.
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.
The All Whites are a very disciplined unit Ricky Herbert runs a tight ship, and they play a direct, physical game. New Zealand can take any side to their limits but will struggle to win any game by more than the odd goal.
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 and Marek Mintel, 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.
Runners Up: Paraguay
Fixtures in Group F:
Match (11) June 14—Italy vs. Paraguay (Cape Town Stadium, 69,070)
Match (12) June 15—New Zealand vs. Slovakia (Royal Bofokeng Stadium 44,530)
Match (27) June 20—Slovakia vs. Paraguay (Free State Stadium, 48,000)
Match (28) June 20—Italy vs. New Zealand (Mbombela Stadium, 43,589)
Match (41) June 24—Slovakia vs. Italy (Ellis Park Stadium, 62,567)
Match (42) June 24—Paraguay vs. New Zealand (Peter Mokaba Stadium, 46,000)
Players To Watch:
Daniele De Rossi (ITA), Marek Hamsik (SLK), Shane Smeltz (NZ), Edgar Barretto (PAR)
On the way to winning the title in 2006, Italy beat Germany 2-0 in the Semi-Finals with goals two goals in the last two minutes of extra time. Fabio Grosso scored the first in the 119th minute before Alesandro Del Piero scored the latest goal in World Cup history when he added the second in the 121st minute.