By Kevin Koczwara
Let’s look at the first half of the Group Stages of the World Cup. The draw was Friday afternoon, and now that I have had some time to digest the pairings, I am going to make a few predictions. I will write a wrap-up of each group, two at a time, in this series. There will be four parts and all will be posted this week.
So let’s start it off with groups A and B.
South Africa– the hosts will have to hope that their form improves from now until June because they have looked terrible in their friendly matches and the Confederations Cup. Steven Piennar will have to create and be a workhorse for South Africa in the middle which is too much to ask of him. He is a good player, a very good player, with a lot of experience but he isn’t someone I would want to build my team around. The hosts can only hope that an emergence of unknown talent comes out of the woodwork as they will need the help in this very tough group because they will be very lucky if they get out of it.
Mexico– After going through three coaches during qualifying, the Mexicans are now in prime possession to make a move in the World Cup finals. They have enough talent to move on, they just need to keep their cool and be organized. The team has a great mix of experience and young talent. Watch out for Mexico’s two young forwards, Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos, and midfielders Dos Santos Ramirez Giovani and Andres Guardado. Mix that youth in with the experience of players like Blanco, Gerardo Torrado, and Guillermo Luis Farcuason Franco. They have good enough depth to make some moves. They will definitely be moving on from this group if they can live up to their potential.
Uruguay– People are sleeping on this Uruguay team. This country hosted the first World Cup, and won the first two ever played. This team isn’t as good as those teams, and they aren’t the deepest in this group, but their starting 11 and bench is experienced and talented. They had to qualify from the toughest continent and then had to play a play-off against a very good Costa Rica squad, and people are holding that against them. Which they shouldn’t, this team played well through out qualifying and should have something to prove. Youngster Luis Suarez scored three goals in qualifying to lead the team and looks like he could be one of the breakout players in the World Cup Finals. He should be on many top clubs radars come August. This could be Diego Forlan’s last World Cup so look for him to impress as he wants to leave his mark on the game. I am picking them to move through this stage and be a troublesome match-up for teams in the knockout stages.
France– Barely making it through European Qualifying, France is in trouble. They don;t have the cutting edge they need in the middle of the field or in their defense. They have a lot of talent, but it is aging and it is showing when they play in international matches. Mexico and Uruguay’s youth and strength will cause problems for the French. I can’t pick them to move on here, they just don;t impress me. Their strength is in net and with youth phenom Hugo Lloris. If it comes down to goal differential the young keeper could keep the French in the tournament. But I’m not going to pick the slacking squad to move on, they won’t make it past Mexico and Uraguay.
Argentina– Nothing has been easy for Maradona since he has taken over as the manager of Argentina, and this draw just keeps making his life a little more difficult. Argentina can expect a tough task with Greece and Nigeria in their group, but they should move on to the knock-out stages if they don’t underestimate their opponents. With players like Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Esteban Cambossio, Maxi Rodriguez, SergioAguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Lissandro Lopez, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gabrile Milito, Gabriel Heinze and Javier Zanetti, Argentina should have no problem moving on. They have more world class players than any other team in the group. Their success hinges on if Maradona can find good chemistry on the field and him keeping his head.
Nigeria– Qualification was shaky for Nigeria, but they made it through Africa and now have a chance to make a run in the World Cup Finals. Nigeria is short on the bench and that could be the teams downfall. They don’t have a deep midfield but with John Mikel Obi anchoring the midfield just in front of the defense, Nigeria has a solid make-up that will create difficult attacks for their opponents. With Yakuba and Kanu up front Nigeria can create havoc for any defense with their creativity and power. I think they can sneak in enough goals and get a good decision against the Greeks that allows them to move through.
Greece– The Greeks surprised everyone by winning Euro 2004, and they won it like Italy won the 2006 World up, with defense and discipline. Greece qualified for this World Cup the same way, they stay organized and keep their shape, rarely giving up a surprising or easy goal. They are aging now, and it showed in their qualifying group. They just don’t have the attacking power to get out of this group, they will surely beat North Korea but they may have too score more than one goal to do it and that may not be possible. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they did get out of the group ahead of Nigeria.
South Korea– South Korea is a powerhouse in Asia, but can they stand up to the skill level of the other teams in this group? I just don’t think so. They have a few talented players and a good track record in international competitions, but they got three tough teams in their group, all who can make some noise in the later rounds, so I don’t think the Park Ji-Sung lead Korea will make it out of this group.
Don’t miss the other 5 parts to this Group by Group breakdown of the World Cup : Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow the Soccer Guys on Twitter for all your updates @thesoccerguys.