Personally, in this coming World Cup, many notable footballing nations will not be there – Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Czech Republic, Turkey, Scotland, Russia, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and probably Iran as well; hence I think that those that made it there are surprise packages for sure. Nations like New Zealand, Korea DPR, Honduras, and Slovakia would be very keen to test themselves at this stage but should be under no pressure to perform as well as, say Portugal, the Netherlands (Oranje!) and France.
The First Round Groups are as follows:
France has been handed a kind draw this time round. It’s as if the footballing Gods are smiling upon them – first the Irish dispute and then this draw which should see them pip the hosts for the next round draw. I just think that the French needed to replace Raymond Domenech as he is the weakest link in French football, given the wealth of talent in the French team. I’ve not seen South Africa play for ages, and have no illusion that they would struggle even with experienced coach Carlos Alberto Perreira and the home crowd. Benni McCarthy and Aaron Mokoena are the stars of the host nation. Uruguay is another baffling team – talented Luis Suárez and Diego Forlan would be a match for any of the Group’s defenders. Much has been written about Mexico’s lack of firepower upfront but they have drawn to veteran Cuauhtémoc Blanco who at the age of 36 should not be expected to even make it to Premier League level let alone something as massive as the World Cup tournament itself. Arsenal forward Carlos Vela should be a good bet to come big this summer. PSV’s versatile defender Carlos Salcido is also an important asset in the Mexican roster.
Another interesting Group. Argentina has struggled in the qualifiers with enigmatic Diego Maradona taking charge this time round. Still, with the skilful players that they have at their disposal, they should qualify easily with small effort. The Koreans under coach Huh Jung-Moo face a fight to qualify with the ultra-defensive Greeks and the experienced Nigerians also scrambling for 2nd place.
I’ve never liked England team, but it goes without saying that this Group is the most straight-forward in terms of outcome of who progresses to the next round. Algeria and Slovenia are outsiders but the USA may have to glance nervously over their shoulders if they are to make the cut as this Group is too close to call.
If there ever would be a slight hint of a ‘Group of Death’, I would say that this is the one rather than the Brazil-Portugal setup. Germany mourned the loss of experienced keeper, Robert Enke who committed suicide in November 2009 and who might have been first-choice goalkeeper. My German client told me that Bayer Leverkusen’s Rene Adler is one for the future, so that should add some steel to the goalkeeping dilemma faced by Joachim Loew. Aside from goalkeeping woes, the Germans have strength in numbers in other departments – they have Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gomez, Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose. Australia are a mixed bag – they have improved tremendously in the past 5 years and its players are spread across European leagues which in turn, contributes important match experience to the side. Serbia is also a dark horse and their players are also regularly turning out for top clubs across the continent. Ghana may be thinking of staving off Serbia for the right to challenge Australia and with Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah in the side, it may be the trump card that the Ghanaians needed especially as their blunt firepower upfront needs a boost from midfield.
I love talking the most about the my favourite team of all time, Holland. They have won their qualifying group very comfortably and came away winning every game and only conceding 2 goals. My immediate concern is that their qualifying group consisted of Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. While most people could attest that there are no more minnows in world football, the convincing manner in which the Dutch qualified is the cause for concern. Het Oranje has seen a rather major shakeup of the entire squad – names like Eljero Elia, Wout Brama, Edson Braafheid, Gregory van der Wiel, Otman Bakkal and Piet Velthuizen have donned the famous orange shirt and turned out for the team but I guess that likewise, some above average players not so long ago like Kevin Hofland, Urby Emanuelson, Kew Jaliens have also had a look-in previously. It’s no big deal. I have some admiration for Denmark, but it was the 2002 World Cup squad with Martin Laursen, Jesper Gronkjaer, Thomas Gravesen, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Dennis Rommedahl. In comparison, the Danes have had a much tougher qualifying group with Portugal and Sweden proving to be stern tests of skill. That the Danes topped their group is also reason for the Dutch to be wary of their ability to lock horns with the best teams. I’d also be somewhat cautious about Cameroon – they have a large pool of players plying their trade in strong leagues at European stage and these are no pushovers – from the spine at the back, Idriss Carlos Kameni, Alexandre Song, Geremi, Jean Makoun, Geremi and Samuel Eto’o are playing for top teams and should be a match for the Dutch. The Dutch camp may not have much consternation as regards Japan but one can never tell.
New Zealand would be in a world of hurt this summer. Italy should qualify with relative ease; Paraguay and Slovakia to fight for the next spot. I’d go for Paraguay though. Seriously, New Zealand.
Group of Death this is not. Brazil and Portugal may be fancied to progress and I think that should be the case. Remember World Cup 2006 where Holland, Serbia, Ivory Coast and Argentina were in the same Group? That was also the so-called Group of Death but the Dutch and Argies quickly settled the issue. Case closed. The Drog is 4 years older now – what would one expect him to be? North Korea is interesting but I won’t hold my breath on this team.
We have reigning Euro 2008 champs Spain who looked poised to qualify. The Swiss have the benefit of a team playing top-level football in Europe but Chile should not be discounted either. Honduras may spring a surprise – they have David Suazo and Wilson Palacios in this team but looked the most likely to get booted out before the games are done.