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FIFA World Cup: Group G analysis

3 Jun

Group G (April FIFA rankings):

  • Brazil (1)
  • Portugal (3)
  • Ivory Coast (27)
  • North Korea (105)

Group G provides that very special “Group of Death” feeling to the 2010 Fifa World Cup.  Prior to the draw Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast all would have felt confident about reaching the knockout stages of the competition.  However, only two of those teams are going to make it through this harsh test.

As the lowest ranked team in the tournament, North Korea would have had trouble getting out of any group.  However, to make matters even more extreme they have been placed in a group with three of the tournaments top teams.  So far they have looked surprisingly robust, pulling out an unlucky 1-0 loss against Paraguay and a 2-2 draw against Greece.  Furthermore, they are a relatively unknown quantity – implying that they could be ready to snake some tactical surprises on their more illustrious opponents.  Yet this seems to be where the positives end.  There has been a lot of talk about how strong their defense is with North Korea only conceding seven times in their 16 qualification games.  Although this is true, football in Asia is very different from the sort of football they play in Europe and South America.  Generally the play is less physical and direct in Asia, and defenders put less pressure on allowing for more time on the ball.  As a result, I do not expect their defence to hold up against such high level opposition – and they will come last in this group.

Missing out on a place in the last 16 will be Ivory Coast.  Although Ivory Coast has a strong, and surprisingly balanced, squad and although Portugal are a shadow of the team they were in 2006 I expect Portugal to pip them into second place.  I didn’t want to believe this, I wanted to see Portugal unceremoniously dumped out, I wanted to see Ivory Coast push on (even if they do have Drogba in their team).  But it just doesn’t seem to stack up.

Ivory Coast has been leaking goals in the lead up to the competition.  With their defence out of form, even top quality strikers like Drogba and Kalou will not be able to do enough to keep their dream alive.  Portugal on the other hand have looked “good enough”.  The main risk for Portugal stems from their incredible randomness – some days they produce such electric football that they look nearly untouchable, other days they have a 0-0 draw with Cape Verde.  Portugal’s squad is also starting to show its age, with a number of its “golden age” players (such as Deco and Carvalho) starting to experiece the sharp drop in ability that comes with age.  Even so, there is enough there for them to snake second place.

Drogba trying to keep his defenders inline

This leaves Brazil for top spot.  The Brazilian squad does not have the same degree of flair we may have previously associated with Brazil, but it is an incredibly strong squad.  Although they have big names like Kaka and Adriano (even Adriano got taken out of the final squad) at the front, their squad is very much built from the back – with Dunga tending towards a more defensive style of play from the Samba Kings.  Interestingly, when choosing the squad Dunga showed a preference towards players who helped Brazil to qualify.  The most high profile casuality of this decision was Ronaldinho – whose form has improved markedly over the past year.  Overall, Dunga appears to view the team atmosphere as too important to mess with coming into the World Cup – a refreshing and sensible point of view from a national football team manager.

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FIFA World Cup: Group E analysis

1 Jun

Group E (April FIFA rankings):

  • Netherlands (4)
  • Denmark (36)
  • Japan (45)
  • Cameroon (19)

Outside of Group F (which has my team, perennial strugglers New Zealand [ed or maybe not following the result against Serbia  …], in it) Group E is the most exciting group for me.

Like a number of other groups, first and last appear clear in Group E.  More than likely topping this group, unbeaten, will be the Netherlands.

The Dutch were the first European team to qualify for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, winning all 8 of their group games.  Even more importantly, they only conceded two goals.

The quality of the Dutch strikeforce has been apparent since Euro 2008, when their electric performances took them to the last 16 – where they conceded twice in extra time to lose to Russia.  I remember watching that game and thinking how frustrating it was that such a good squad had just thrown it away.  However, over the past two years their defenders have continued to play together with Bronckhorst, Ooijer, Heitinga, and Mathijsen forming an increasingly impressive backline.  Even as their defence has improved, the attacking acumen of their strikers and attacking midfielders has grown – compare Van Persie, Robben, and (to a degree) Sneijder to the players they were two years ago!

The Dutch should not only clean up this group, but go the whole way in the tournament as long as:

  • Van Persie and Robben don’t break down,
  • The defensive line doesn’t experience spontaneous brain explosions.

Whatever you guys are doing, DO NOT get injured doing it!

While these things occur far too often for the Dutch – I am relatively certain they won’t happen until a knockout round – as a result, the prediction of the Dutch topping this group holds 😉

At the other end of the spectrum is Japan.  The Japanese team has looked devoid of creativity and has lacked that cutting edge in front of goal – a severely problematic issue when you are a team relying on pace and counter attacking play to get anywhere.  In their last three games they have conceded six goals and, apart from Keisuke Honda, no-one has been playing with much intent.  Although the narrow loss to England will provide them with some hope, the close result came off the back of England playing poorly, not Japan playing well.  As a result, Japan is destined to hold up the bottom of this group.

This leaves us with Denmark and Cameroon.  Both squads have their share of quality, and yet both squads have looked subdued coming into the tournament.  While the market is just backing Cameroon to snake second spot, I’m leaning towards Denmark.  The reason for this is GOALS.

Now don’t get me wrong, the best thing about the Danish team is their defence, not their attack.  Sorenson (who I’m assuming will be back from injury) has been in spectacular form between the sticks, Agger is a technically gifted defender, and even though Kajer is out injured Kroldrup provides a ready made replacement (given that he was the first choice defender less than a year ago).  However, with Bendtner, Tomasson, and Rommedahl at the front, the Danish team will be able to put away the occasional goal.

And this is where Cameroon has struggled recently.  They have scored once in their last three games, two goaless draws (against an aging Italian side and lowly Georgia) and a 1-1 draw with World Cup virgins Slovakia.  Even following a lacklustre season at Inter, Eto’o is the Indomitable Lions greatest goal scoring threat – and he is talking about leaving the squad.  Overall, unless Cameroon can pull their finger out the Danish are going to push their way into second spot in this group.

FIFA World Cup: Group B analysis

27 May

Group B (April FIFA rankings):

  • Argentina (7)
  • Nigeria (21)
  • South Korea (47)
  • Greece (13)

On the face of it this group looks like a simple one to pick:  Argentina and Greece.  Both teams have history, strong players (namely Argentina), and they are highly ranked.  However, the relatively awful form of these teams heading into the World Cup has made this a far more open group than meets the eye.

Even though Argentina struggled to qualify for the World Cup (only ensuring qualification in the final round of the CONMEBOL with victory over Uruguay), they remain one of the favourite teams to win the tournament.  And given the insane amount of quality they have in their strikeforce and midfield (Messi, Agüero, Milito, Tévez, Higuaín, etc) it is hard to argue with this conclusion.  However, Argentina has felt unbalanced, and unstable, under the coaching of Maradona.

Maradona keeps an eye on the players while they train

Combined with the relative frailty of their defensive line this implies that Argentian aren’t a shoe-in for getting out of the group stage – even if they are massive favourites.

In my opinion Greece is the most over-rated team in this group, by a long shot.  The Greek squad lacks depth AND quality, and unlike previous Greek squads they are vulnerable at the back.  The one big plus for the Greek side is their physical nature – a factor that has led many to believe that they will be able to force their way past Nigeria and South Korea.  However, as the friendly against North Korea illustrated, a physical game plan doesn’t mean much when it is all you have.  The Greeks lacked quality during qualification and have looked flat in the lead up to the World Cup.  I expect them to come last in this group.

The president of Nigeria has demanded that they bring back the World cup … or at least get to the next round.  And while the Nigerian team isn’t bad on paper, there are issues.  With their new manager (Lars Largerback) only seeing them play a competitive match for the first time on Monday (against Saudi Arabia) and Nigeria consistently showing itself to be inconsistent in front of goal (even with Obafemi Martins and Yakubu) I can’t see Nigeria getting out of the 1st round.

South Korea is not expected to achieve much.  Although they topped their group in Asia (undefeated), the fact that they are generally quite a short team, lack a recognised striker, and do not have the physical presence of many European sides, has seen them written off.  However, they are the only one of these four teams coming into the World Cup on form – beating Ivory Coast, Ecuador, and Japan in their last three games.  Furthermore, even though I despise Manchester United, Park Ji-Sung is a great player – a great player who has been on form in recent months.  Combining the momentum of the team and the good form of Park Ji-Sung with the weakness of the Greek side, and general inconsistency of Nigeria, has lead me to put South Korea as favourites for the coverted second place in Group B.

So, who is going to take out Group B?