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.

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 D Analysis

29 May

Current FIFA rankings 

  • Germany (6)
  • Serbia (15)
  • Ghana (32)
  • Australia (20)

Controversy has engulfed Group D from the moment Germany captain Michael Ballack was ruled out of the World Cup via a challenge by Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng during the English FA Cup final. Conspiracists in the German media have framed this incident as an intentional ploy to weaken “Der Nationalmannschaft’s” chances of topping the group and German born Boateng has been vilified as an enemy of the nation. Adding fuel to the fire, it is likely Kevin-Prince will line up for Ghana against younger brother Derek, who has opted to play for Germany, in Johannesburg on June 26 (NZ time). Ghana meanwhile have their own injury problems with key playmaker Michael Essien officially out of the tournament. Still, an Essien-less Ghana finished second at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations showing that the “Black Stars” are not to be underestimated despite the absence of their talisman. 

Despite the loss of their most influential and experienced player, Germany are steady favourites to top the group. German coach Joachim Low will likely implement the same striking duo of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski from the last world cup, and despite both Polish born players having largely disappointing Bundesliga seasons for their clubs (Klose for instance only scored one league goal last season) their international pedigree is one for others to fear. Behind them, young Werder Bremen midfielder Mezut Ozil and Bayern Munich schemer Bastian Schweinsteiger will be pulling the strings. Both players have been in fine form for their respective clubs of late, and Ozil in particular may quickly become one of the stars of the tournament. 

The reasons behind Miroslav Klose's poor Bundesliga form are revealed.

However this is a young German team in comparison to previous campaigns, and it is unlikely that Ballacks presence will not be missed. Exemplifying this, the most suitable replacements for Ballack in the central midfield position have also been ruled out the tournament, Simon Rolfes and Christian Trasch through injury, while Torsten Frings is not on speaking terms with Low. If the Germans have a weakness, this is it, and the opposition will be aiming to exploit this. 

And if anyone can beat Germany to the top it’s Serbia, my personal dark horse for the tournament. The Serbs are a well organised and efficient unit under coach Radomir Antic and showed this by topping a group containing the likes of France and Romania in qualifying. Serbia’s attack will be spearheaded by 6 foot 8 inch giant Nikola Zigic and assisted by a midfield containing the likes of Inter Milan treble winner Dejan Stankovich and the much coveted CSKA Moscow playmaker Milos Krasic. This is backed by a rock solid defence containing Nemanja Vidic, Branislav Ivanovich, and Neven Subotic. Serbia’s only real weakness is the lack of a top quality keeper, with Vladimir Stojkovic more known for his tantrums than his prowess in goal. Despite this, don’t expect Serbia to be embarrassed in 2010 like they were in 2006. 

Making up the numbers in Group D are our Australian cousins. Coach Pim Verbeek has assembled a motley crew of seasoned veterans who will likely rely more on hard graft and tough tackling than attractive ball skills to progress past the first round. The Socceroo’s cause is not helped by the lack of a recognised prolific striker and it will up to midfielders such as Tim Cahill to hit the back of the net on a regular basis. However one should never discount the Aussies, with the likes of Craig Moore, Harry Kewell, and Lucas Neill likely to give everything to secure a successful swan song at the World Cup. 

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 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?

Phoenix Vs Boca Juniors: July 23

27 May

Our beloved Wellington Phoenix have just announced that they are going to play a friendly against South American heavy weights Boca Juniors.

Date: July 23, 2010
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kickoff: 7.30pm NZT

I will definitely make the trip down from Auckland for the game.  Unfortunately goonix will be in Europe drinking red wine and eating cheese since he likes to pretend he’s French.  So it will just be me and Nolan flying the flag.

I doubt the crowd will be as big as what we got for Beckham, Boca just don’t have the same profile as golden balls. Riquelme is an amazing player but I doubt the average fair weather football fan (who are needed for a sell out) will have heard of him.  In this regard it’s good to hear that the Phoenix are realistic about crowd numbers (Tony P reckons 20k) and also don’t face any financial risk.

I think ideally we need to get a big European team (Nolan:  LFC) to come here to really raise the profile of the Phoenix to the next level.

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?