By Kevin Koczwara
I know I have been away for a long time and I am sorry for that. I was busy, very busy, with a job I had in the month of December. But, I am back and ready to go. So let’s start this column off with predictions for Group F.
Group F is a tough group with 2 defensive and strong-minded teams, one virtual unknown and a squad that won their group in European qualifying to many people’s surprise.They could very well surprise a lot of people again. This group has one virtual no-brainer pick in Italy to move through, and a battle to the death ensue for the second spot.
Italy – Italy win the Cup in 2006, and their aged and experienced squad look to make it two in a row. The squad will bolster a tough defense and opportunistic attacking players. The well disciplined and organized squad will play the tough brand of soccer they know best– they will control play, and systematically break down their opponents. They are going to make it out of this group because Totti is saying he would like to return from international team retirement, Luca Toni will be getting first team football alongside Totti at Roma (after a move from Bayern Munich) and the two should work as a well oiled machine. And they have a few young guns on their bench that can spark the attack to life (look at Giuseppe Rossi). And they still have a stalwart defense with Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Grosso and Chiellin. They also have the best goaltender in all the World Cup in Buffon–he was stellar in 2006 and I expect nothing less of him.
Paraguay – They tied for second in South American qualifying. They have a strong squad with a lot of players that play in South America or Mexico’s first divisions. They can score plenty of goals and their goalkeeper, Justo Villar, was impressive in friendly matches and qualifying. Villar was stingy and helped solidify a strong defense. And if Roque Santa Cruz can get healthy and more regular playing time at Manchester City (or maybe get a move to somewhere where he will) then Paraguay should give any team in this group a tough time.
New Zealand – The “All Whites” qualified through Oceania and had an easy path. They had to beat a few rivals then the 5th seeded team from Asia. Now they have something to prove at the World Cup–that they aren’t to be overlooked and forgotten. The teams only other time in the World Cup Finals was in 1982 when they lost all three of their games handily. Now they have a new team that will run behind Shane Smeltz and his goal scoring prowess. Too bad they didn’t get put into group A where they could have pulled out a win or two, but in this group they have to hope that one of these teams slips or falls asleep for them to win. Should be another quick exit like 1982 for the “All Whites.”
Slovakia- One of my favorite teams in this World Cup Final. Slovakia has a mean look– Martin Skrtel and Marek Hamsik look like they just got out of jail– and they play with a gritty style of play. They are also young and talented. What will determine their path through qualification will be how well Marek Hamsik plays in the midfield and the build-up. It will also depend on how well the defense plays (10 goals conceded in 10 qualifying games) because this squad has no shortage of goal scoring ability– they scored 22 goals in 10 games, a great strike rate. I think this squad can make it through the tournament on depth and skill and will finish second in this group behind Italy.
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @kkoczwara. You can follow The Soccer Guys on Twitter @TheSoccerGuys.