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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.