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FIFA World Cup: Group F analysis

2 Jun

The group consists of (FIFA ranking):

  • Italy (5)
  • Paraguay (31)
  • New Zealand (78)
  • Slovakia (34)

Group F sees a number of defensively minded teams drawn together, so I would not be at all surprised to see it win the ‘Golden Group For Fewest Goals Conceded’ award at the end of the group stages.

Let’s start with the reigning World Cup holders Italy. Every pundit and his blog are pronouncing this an “easy” group for the defending champions. On the plus side, the Azzurri collectively possess vast amounts of experience. And, like France and Germany are well renowned as being a ‘tournament’ team, able to step up when it matters most. However, this experience could also prove to be Italy’s weakness. The team is OLD, make no mistake. I expect them to make it out of the Group but perhaps not advance much further than that, although of course few pundits thought that Italy would go as far as they did in 2006 either.

Paraguay have had a very impressive CONMEBOL qualification, beating both South American powerhouses Argentina and Brazil along the way. Over qualification Paraguay also conceded less than one goal per game, quite a contrast from some of the comical defending that is often seen in the region. Recent friendlies have seen La Albirroja (the white and red) beat N Korea 1-0, lose to crybabies Ireland 2-1 and draw with the Ivorian Coasters 2-2, which is a rather more ordinary return. The final squad of 23 was devoid of key striker Salvador Cabanas, who was shot in the head earlier this year. The manager reportedly said he didn’t want to risk any brain explosions in front of goal.

It is hard to look past New Zealand‘s All Whites to progress out of Group F. They are coming off the back of a historic victory in Europe over Serbia (1-0), they played local rivals Australia off the park in Melbourne  (despite eventually losing to a extra-extra time goal), and they are led by a tactical genius in Ricki Herbert, who has revolutionised football as we know it with his bold 7-0-3 formation. Furthermore, New Zealand got well amongst the goals against Italy in a warm-up match to last year’s Confederations Cup, putting three past the normally miserly blue defence. If the All Whites live up to their potential, with a little bit of luck thrown in for good measure, expect more than them simply topping Group F: expect this…

July 11 2010: The All Whites being presented with the World Cup

This is Slovakia‘s first World Cup and hence they don’t have the pedigree of the New Zealanders or Italians. Slovakia are only here as a result of a relatively easy qualification group in Europe. Recent form has been pretty ordinary, with a lacklustre 1-1 draw against Cameroon in their recent curtain-raiser to New Zealand-Serbia in Austria. I expect repre (not sure what this means sorry) to be at the bottom of the pile once Group play comes to an end.

Congratulations to the All Whites!

30 May

Earlier today the All Whites defeated the heavily favoured Serbian team 1-0 in Austria. Serbia are ranked 15th in the world compared with New Zealand’s 78th position.

The banner below was spotted at the game, which amused me greatly.

FIFA World Cup: Group C analysis

28 May

The contenders (and latest FIFA rankings):

  • England (8)
  • USA (14)
  • Algeria (30)
  • Slovenia (25)

We’ll start things off with a worthless fact: Group C is the Group with the highest-ranked ‘worst’ team.

England are a team that are in pretty good form. They went through qualification losing only one match, which was after they had already qualified. Moreover, under Capello the team are scoring a lot of goals from across the park. Their recent friendly saw a very poor England still defeat Mexico 3-1, which is the mark of a good side. These factors all suggest England could have a genuine crack. But then I don’t think there has been an English side since 1966 that wasn’t going to triumph over all before it and lift the Cup (excluding the years when they failed to qualify, of course). Will England live up to the hype? Will Capello be able to banish the demons that have seemingly haunted England for over 40 years? Will Peter Crouch perform the robot when he scores a goal?

Interviewer: "What would you be if you weren't a footballer?" Crouch: "A virgin."

Their biggest competition is going to come from the USA. In fact the first match in the group is a mouthwatering tie between the old country and the new. While the USA may not have the big names of their former coloniser (that word looks so wrong but Google assures me I’m right), they are a true ‘team’. The USA didn’t have the toughest road to qualification, and there were speed bumps along the way, but I have a good feeling about them (even after they got shanked by the Czech Republic in a recent friendly). After all, recall that it was the USA that knocked out favourites Spain in last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup. I’m going to tip an upset and say they will take the group.

Algeria may well be Africa’s best chance at the World Cup. Which isn’t saying much. They have a friendly against cry-babies Ireland coming up as they look to build a head of steam heading into the tournament. In order to qualify for the World Cup, Algeria had a feisty playoff against bitter rivals Egypt, who they knocked out. The match up also involved a serious attack on the Algerian team bus and Algeria subsequently halting gas exports to their competitor. Only in Africa. The team will struggle in South Africa and I don’t expect them to make it out of the group…

…much like Slovenia. Slovenia were also involved in a playoff in order to make the tournament, where they defeated the heavily favoured Russian side. I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about the team. Apparently they have a fantastic keeper though. Before you criticise me too heavily for my ignorance, you probably don’t even know where Slovenia is. It’s in the Balkans.

FIFA World Cup: Group A analysis

26 May

Group A (latest FIFA rankings):

  • South Africa (83)
  • France (9)
  • Mexico (17)
  • Uruguay (16)

Put simply, South Africa stand no chance of advancing from the group. The host nation may have sentiment on their side, along with a large fan base blowing vuvuzelas (at least those locals who haven’t scalped their cheap tickets to tourists), but these factors will contribute little at the end of the day. Neither will trying to play like Brasil. South Africa are the second-lowest ranked country at the World Cup for a reason.

France have had a well-documented tough lead-in to the World Cup, scraping past Ireland in the play-off in dubious circumstances. Domenech, the manager, has no respect among the general French populace (any respect he had dissipated when he proposed to his partner on national TV immediately after France were unceremoniously dumped out of Euro 2008). However, France got extremely lucky with their draw and are a tournament side.  The cloud of a Gallas injury hangs over the side (who was also recently involved in a buggy crash – great choice of bonding activity Domenech) and Lass Diarra is also out with a rare blood condition. Nonetheless, I expect France to qualify top of their group.

Gallas: You're doing it wrong

Thus second position in the group is most likely going to fall to Mexico or Uruguay. Their rankings suggest a similar level of quality and I am not going to take issue with that. Mexico were beaten  3-1 by a poor England side a few days ago and arguably didn’t play all that convincingly against the mighty All Whites a couple of months back (winning 2-0). Uruguay are a bit of an unknown quantity and had to rely on a playoff against Costa Rica to qualify for the World Cup after finishing fifth in CONMEBOL. In short, I don’t know enough to make a call either way. But expect one of them to be there in the round of 16.

Who do you think will top the group?