By Kevin Koczwara
I did not update yesterday because I went on an 8 hour journey to Maine and back for an interview. It was an amazing experience to drive that far, by myself, through what seemed like a never ending landscape. The drive also gave me plenty of time to think about a lot of things. And not surprisingly one of those things was Soccer.
I have been thinking about the recent struggles of Liverpool, the transfer market (mostly about how Maxi Rodriguez will look in a Liverpool uniform running up and down the wings and creating havoc), and the World Cup.
I have been putting off talking about Group G because it is the most fascinating group. It has an all-star cast, and is definitely the toughest group in the tournament. But what fascinates me is all the little stories that surround the group and one major story about Brazil (the group’s obvious leaders and favorites) and their coach, Dunga.
So without further ado, let’s get this group analysis under way.
Brazil- This isn’t the Brazil squad we are all sue to seeing. The fluid passing is there, the goal scoring happens, but the style of play is not what is expected. Dunga has taken the reins of this very talented Brazil squad and built the team in his likeness. He was a tough defensive midfielder who stunned and stymied oppositions attack and then controlled play. He played both ways, but wasn’t as flashy as his compatriots, everything he did had a purpose and was a diligent move. Now his team plays like that. Ronaldhino and Adriano are two noticeable absentees on his squad, the two major stars and attacking play makers are Kaka and Robinho. Dunga has dropped much of the squad that disappointed in 2006– Kaka impressed me for much of the tournament, he was Brazil’s best player in my eyes, but it is all a little hazy. Needless to say the fans in Brazil aren’t happy, they want the “beautiful game” back, not Dunga’s defense first, structure second, and scoring third style. His team plays disciplined, they don’t dance with the ball and everyone gets back and plays defense. But with Luis Fabiano, Kaka, and Robinho all counter-attacking on the same page, the team can score goals, but now they also keep clean sheets. Dunga has manipulated the squad into believing in each other and playing defense, and he has one of the world’s best keepers, Julio Cesar, right now, not something Brazil has usually bolstered. People aren’t happy with this new style, but look out because Brazil’s new style of play has made them a two-dimensional style of soccer. In a perfect world Dunga–who has stated he will retire from coaching hte team after the World Cup– will prove to the people of Brazil that defense and discipline do win trophies, not just skill.
North Korea- A virtually unknown team that doesn’t play outside of Asia much, North Korea has their hands full playing in this group. They are tactically strong–from what I read– and play a defensive style of play and lack a real attacking presence. North Korea hasn’t been in the World Cup Finals Tournament since 1966 and they hope to perform better and the leaders of that country are hoping for a good PR boost if the squad can perform well and show the people of the country–if they are allowed to watch the matches on television– that they have some hope and pride. But they will not make it out of this group alive, they cna only hope to leave with some pride.
Ivory Coast- Africa’s most talented team is the Ivory Coast. They have by far the most players from Africa playing top-flight soccer around the world. And they are lead by in-form and determined striker Didier Drogba. Drogba, love him or hate him, is a force to be reckoned with. He is powerful, skilled, fast, and an excellent actor whose flopping can send any viewer into a tornado of fury. He is so strong that when he wants the ball he can have it and hold on to it, and his skill allows him to make opportunities out of messy situations. But because he is so strong and skilled it is hard to believe he gets hurt so often and fouled as brutally as he makes it seem. He will be a star at the World Cup. Behind him in the center of the field the Ivory Coast has a strong backbone because behind Drogba they have the Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya. Kolo is the captian at Manchester City after transferring from Arsenal this summer, and Yaya played a vital part in Barcelona’s treble winning season last year by playing behind Xavi as their holding midfielder. The two brothers give the Coast a strong middle and allow their wide players space to create, and they have a good amount of good wide players. Soloman Kalou, Emmanuel Eboue and Bakaria Kone give the coast depth and width that will cause the other teams in the tournament hell. I see them surpassing Portugal in this group and make it on to the knock-out stage.
Portugal- The Portuguese disappointed during qualifying, finishing second in their group behind Denmark. But they beat a talented and young Bosnia-Herzegovina team to qualify. Now they have to put their poor performances behind them and show what they are made of in this difficult group. They have the talent to make it all the way to the Finals of this tournament, but they don’t have the cohesive make-up and team chemistry to put it all together. They also need their aging stars to show some life and help mentor the younger players. Deco, Simao, Ricardo Costa, Carvalho and Duda need to mentor players like Nani, and help them grow during the World Cup. But this squad’s age should help it, not hamper it. Last World Cup Ronaldo looked like a spoiled child on the pitch, but the years of playing for Manchester United and in some of the World’s biggest games should have toughened him up– The English Premier League did help him become a stronger player and develop some of his cutting-edge attitude. He should be looking to show that he is the best player on the planet so watch out, he will put in at least one miracle goal during the group stage. But the Portuguese tend not live up to their billing, and this will be another year of that. They need to find the right balance, and an identity–they are a collection of talented players with no focus or plan.
A player to wacth on the Portuguese team is Bruno Alves, the Porto centre-back was so impressive last year during the club’s Champions League fixtures with Manchester United that I was salivating for his name on a Liverpool jersey during the summer Transfer window. The 28-year old is often overshadowed by Pepe but I see him as a more level-headed player with a more refined skill-set. Too bad this group is so difficult because Portugal really does have the skill to continue on and make it out of any of the other groups in the tournament.
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. You can follow The Soccer Guys on twitter for all you updates @TheSoccerGuys and you can follow Kevin for all things news and soccer @kkoczwara.