The pundits are calling this the Group of Death, but if you’ve read my Group A preview, you’ll see that I think Group A might just be a bit less of a foregone conclusion than Group G. Let’s be honest, Group G has one winner and one winner only: Brazil. Then it looks like there’s one place to play for and it’s between two teams and, yes, they are two good teams, so it could be the group with the best matches to watch and possibly the most goals. In fact, there’s going to be a shed-load of goals if North Korea are actually as bad as some people might think.
Brazil: The top South American team in qualifying, the bookies’ favorites and the five-times World Cup winners. There is really nothing to say about Brazil that hasn’t been said in the build-up to every World Cup. Brazil lost twice in qualifying, to Paraguay and Bolivia, but there was no real damage done in defeat. They thumped several teams in their group, including the strong Uruguay outfit. They have a squad full of the world’s top players, including three Champions League winners in Julio Cesar, Maicon and Lucio. Brazil has looked fantastic in their pre-tournament friendlies, especially against the strong Republic of Ireland team. On that day, Brazil looked like scoring 5 without really being troubled. Brazil shouldn’t be troubled by any of the teams in their group and will no doubt be looking to reach yet another World Cup Final and looking at their squad, I wouldn’t put it past them.
Ivory Coast: Almost the new kids on the African block, Ivory Coast as a strong, physical team with a lot of quality over the pitch, capped by the magnificent Didier Drogba. This team has been touted for the last 4 years or so as being the big African force and they have sadly been a bit of a let down, although their group in the last World Cup was, again, the Group of Death. However, perhaps in their home continent, they can take the next big step for an African team. They qualified top of their group, without losing a game and racked up some pretty big wins along the way. The build-up they’ve had to this tournament could cast a doubt on them finishing second, especially looking at the 2-0 defeat to South Korea and also the 3-2 defeat to Algeria. However, a 2-0 over Japan will have restored some confidence and Ivory Coast might just sneak it if they get a run of the ball.
North Korea: North Korea have one of the most famous stories in all World Cup history. Their run at the 1966 story is the stuff of legends and when they reached the quarter-finals, it was almost a miracle in terms of football. The fact they led 3-0 over Portugal and lost 5-3 was tragic. However, in 2010, they have a chance to make amends. However, will they? Probably not. They finished second to South Korea in qualifying and although they only lost twice, they picked up a lost of draws against weak opposition. They don’t have goal scorers, they don’t have much of a defense and a lot will depend on Ri, their goalkeeper. Sadly, they’re drawn against three teams that will score goals for fun without giving them too many chances. What chance do they have of even picking up a point? Well, none. I won’t waste any more of your time.
Portugal: They should chance the name of their country to Ronaldo and Co. This is rally a team built around one player and quite rightly so, in some respects. However, there are a lot of questions surrounding the Portuguese team, especially after their qualification campaign. Simply put, it didn’t go according to plan. They drew far too many games, lost to Denmark and struggled past Bosnia to get to South Africa. However, there is no denying that the team is quality through and through and will pose a problem to the teams in their group. But the huge question mark is there and they’ll need to get a result against Ivory Coast to have a chance of getting to the last round – it’s the big game for both teams. Well, that and who will score more against North Korea. The other worrying thing is the 0-0 with Cape Verde Islands. Yes, they beat Cameroon 3-1, but they were down to 10 men when they pulled away and they beat Mozambique 3-0, but Mozambique are not setting the international world alight. The 0-0 draw with Cape Verde speaks volumes about the team: they’re so inconsistent. If you do back them, it will, if anything, be a roller coaster ride.
So, Brazil are everyone’s pick to win the group, myself included, but there’s nothing between Ivory Coast and Portugal. North Korea are the also-rans and will struggle to score, let alone get a point. But I like Didier Drogba and Co to come through this group simply because they’re on, more or less, home soil and it’s a huge boost in the arm for African football.
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