2010 World Cup Preview: Vol. 1 – Mags Barmy Army reports from South Africa!

Many of you sports frenzied individuals will, or should, be aware of a certain little soiree taking place in southern Africa starting next week. Some of you will be all clued up, some of you will be completely in the dark. Some of you will be familiar with your Drogba’s, your Rooney’s, your off side trap, your sweeper system, total-football, a nutmeg, a one-two, a holding midfielder as opposed to an attacking leftback, a drop-ball from a indirect free kick, others of you will be confused as chuff! And typing frantically on Wikipedia, reaching for the sportsman’s almanac or turning away in favor of more stateside sports.

Fear not! Here at Venuing we will endeavor to guide you through the turbulent international waters of the World Cup, pointing out various landmarks along the way and chipping in our unique brand of sporting satire and commentary. Hold on folks, it may get bumpy.

Who will win and scoop the grand prize???? Brazil, Argentina, Italy; they are always safe bets, those dashing Spaniards, firey Brits, Zee workmanlike Germans or devilish Dutch? Or will a dark horse from a far flung corner of the globe triumph; Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Australia, Slovenia?? Maybe a footballing minnow like Honduras or New Zealand with snatch the crown??? Whoever it may be, the Venuing staff win guide you through. And begin.

A basic layman’s understanding of tournament procedure is as follows: there are eight groups consisting of four teams (all these teams have spent the last two years qualifying for the World Cup within their various geographical regions). Within the group stages of play (approximately the first two weeks) each team plays every other team within their group, receiving points for the result; three for a win, one for a draw and nothing for a loss. Once all four teams in the group have played each other, the top two teams continue to the last sixteen, the “knock-out” stage. The winner of the group plays the second team in the next group and vice-versa. Winners of the last sixteen stages proceed to the Quarter Finals, Semi’s, then Final… with me so far?

We begin this week by embarking on a brief analysis of the first four groups, A to D:

World Cup Group A:

Mexico:
The boys in green were left in a right old mess thanks to former manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, but rather like humpty-dumpty have been put back together again by former and now current manager Javier Aguirre. They have both experience and youth at their disposal with the likes of Blanco and Giovani dos Santos and new Man Utd signing, Javier Hernandez, maybe making an impact from the bench. Their recent showing hasn’t been spectacular, but they have World Cup experience that will bring them through the group stage.

South Africa:
The host nation. Not normally famous for their football, Bafana bafana will have a nation behind them and like when the Springboks won the rugby World Cup in the nineties, this could be a crucial attribute. Everton’s Steven Pienaar is probably their most recognizable player, although he has pointed out Tsepo Masilela as a rising star. Matthew Booth (South Africa’s Beckham equivalent, off the field rather than on) will also stand out. I can’t see them making it past the group stages, but it wont be for lack of trying and it is the World Cup, anything can happen.

Uruguay:
Winners of the very first World Cup in 1930, Uruguay haven’t been convincing lately. Even with a stunning strike partnership of Forlan and Suarez I think they will struggle.

France:
Another country in disarray from a footballing point of view. The coach, Raymond Domenech, has ruffled many feathers during his tenure. He has big questions and big holes to be filled at the back, with no obvious defensive teammate for Gallas and the omission of Vieira in midfield they lack an on-field general to dominate. On the plus side, Anelka is a fine and often overlooked striker – they will need him!

A crucial match for me will be France V Mexico (the winner will take the group).

World Cup Group B:

If it all goes according to plan, and it rarely does in football or life, Argentina and Nigeria should progress with ease in this group. South Korea will be the only threat, but I still can not see them out-muscling the Nigerians or out-playing the Argentines.

Nigeria:
They are Africa’s largest footballing nation, but have under performed in all of their previous World Cup appearances. They have had numerous encounters with Argentina, beating them in the 1996 Olympic final, but losing to them in 2008. They play with energy and flair and many of their first team players are household names throughout Europe. Defensively they are formidable but it is their ability to create that is their Achilles heel. The likes of Odemwingie, Martins and Mikel need to shine for the team to perform well and they will want to redeem themselves after this years lack luster performance at the African Cup of Nations.

Argentina:
Thankfully Argentina have a shy, retiring manger at the held in Diego Maradona – yeah right. As a player and a manager he has never been backwards about coming forwards. He has a plethora of forward talent to choose from – Leo Messi, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Juan Roman Riquelme and Argentine could go far in this competition. Although, having been knocked out by Argentina in previous years, there is a small part of me that wants them to implode under internal turmoil and too many personalities in a white cloud of Maradona’s personal stash.

Greece:
Okay, so they surprised the whole of Europe when they won Euro 2004 with their brand of tiresome football; and their striker, Gekas, was the top scorer in the European Qualifying zone, but people this is Greece! The only reason they shone in the qualifying stages was because their group consisted of remarkable footballing giants like Luxemburg and Moldova!!! Sotiris Ninis is a young player to watch and will probably provide the only thrilling exuberance, other than that they will be dull, dull and dull.

South Korea:
These fellas made the semi finals in 2002 including a dramatic win over Italy 2-1 in the quarter finals. They have appeared in seven World Cup competitions, so are no strangers to the world stage. They are the only unbeaten Asian side in qualifying and recently overcame the Ivory Coast in a friendly. They have numerous key players – Park Ji-Sung, Ki Sung-Yong, Lee Chung-Yong – and will look to build on their most recent wins.

Argentina and Nigeria are the powerhouse here, but when they meet South Korea, that will be the real test of this group. The Koreans could cause an upset, mark my words.

World Cup Group C:

England:
Will destroy everyone in their path and win the whole thing, no worries…..
So yeah I am a little biased. But seriously; under Capello, England have played some of their best and most impressive international football for a long time. They have a balance of experience and youth; pace and strength and the team composure and moral has not been this good for a long time. They do have the ability to blow everything in a competition though, so don’t count your chickens. The country is up in arms about Fabio overlooking young Theo Walcott, and as I write this I have just been informed the Ferdinand has sustained an injury in training and apparently the crime was committed by Emile Heskey, thanks mate! Nice one. Joe Cole has begun to shine again and Gerrard is composed as ever, we still have pace out wide with the likes of Lennon and Wright-Phillips even without Walcott. The back four are shaky at times and hopefully this wont be our undoing. Watch for James Milner, who is both strong and very skilful and will relish the opportunity to sparkle. The first game is crucial and has the most pressure, once we settle we will be a formidable opponent. And I didn’t even mention Rooney.

USA:
Never heard of’em. Wont go far.
But seriously; the US teams looks strong and up for this Cup. It is in the midfield that their strength lies; Donovan and in my mind especially Dempsey, who has had a stellar season at Fulham, are their best attributes. Altidore up front is a huge presence, both literally and metaphorically and there are a number of young guns whose confidence is on a high. The questions lie in perhaps the fitness of some players – Bocanegra, Onyewu and DeMerit – and they way in which the defense gels, or rather lacks in the gelling department. Bradley knows his players well, it will be interesting to see if they rise to the occasion.

Algeria:
These crafty dessert foxes are difficult to pin down. One minute they roll over and succumb to Malawi, the next they look like real outside contenders. I can’t seem them doing the business at this World Cup though. Their creative playmaker is Karim Ziani, and a young star, Riad Boudebouz, is one to watch. But, the Algerians lack power and strength in attack and this is where I think they will come undone.

Slovenia:
Any side that can batter the Russians is going to prove tough opposition and that is exactly what Slovenia did to qualify for South Africa. I think these lads will give the US and England a run for their money. Mourinho rates in Inter player, Rene Krhin, very highly and expect to see him alongside Nejc Pecnik shine. They have a solid defense, a good goalkeeper and a tenacious desire not to fail. They will prove difficult opposition and don’t be surprised if they take second spot.

Obviously everyone is thinking England, US – one, two; but it wont be as simple as that. The group will be decided in the other matches, rather than the group opener and Slovenia could cause both top dogs some trouble.

World Cup Group D:

Serbia:
In true eastern block fashion these guys are no joke either; well organized, meticulous with a string of talented players the key match could be with Germany. They rely on both height and pace to dominate, and in an old school move value their wingers to provide clinical speed and crosses on both flanks. Among others the ones to watch are the colossal Vigic, Vidic and Jovanovic. Their defense is a machine and they will no doubt need it to perform at its highest to progress. Upfront Pantelić has been stellar with Ajax this season, and will hope he can maintain this level of success for his country.

Germany:
Zee Germans… it just conjures up images of Jason Statham in “Lock, Stock..” Germany was up in arms when that tackle injured Ballack and ruled him out of the World Cup, mainly due to the fact that the culprit was one Kevin Prince-Boateng of half German, half Ghanaian decent (who chose to represent the latter). It leaves manager, Low, with a whole in the midfield. The entire team relies heavily on a Bayern Munich flavored squad; and if their showing in the Champions League final is anything to go by then there could be issue. But, the Germans always have depth and strength; in Ballacks absence Bastian Schweinsteiger will deputize, and is more than capable. In attack they have plenty of options; Cacau, there Brazilian born import, with perhaps Muller and Podolski behind. Germany have made the final seven times, expect them to go far.

Ghana:
In 2009 Ghana won the under-20 World Cup, no mean feat. Many of those young players have now graduated to the senior squad under the guidance of their Serbian Manager, Milo Rajevac. They have since been runner up in the African Cup of nations, but have had some setbacks with injuries; Essien and Muntari to name two. This leaves some problems in midfield, but Germanys favorite Prince-Boateng and Asamoah will step into the breach. In terms of goal scoring; look for Asamoah Gyan to delight; if he doesn’t the Black Stars will be in severe trouble. On a good day they could rattle the top teams, but it would have to be a good day.

Australia:
G’day mate… it’s the bloody Socceroos.
I am actually excited to see the first match in this group; the Aussies V Zee Germans, t’would be a beautiful thing to see the boys from down under cause an upset in game one. Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell are probably their most recognizable exports, other than Fosters lager, but Luke Wilkshire has had a fantastic season with League winner FC Twente in Holland and could be a rising star. The Aussies have nothing to loose and in a typical aussie swagger, like it that way. Although the underdogs in the group, they will make life difficult for the other three.

For me it’s between Serbia, Germany and Ghana in group D. I hope that the Black Stars step up and shimmer, purely for the sake of some visually attractive and exciting football. The opening game in this group will be very telling, its outcome could have Zee Germans scared and under pressure, or dominant and bombastic; we will see.

Next week I will attempt to make sense of the remaining four groups; E to H – they don’t look too shabby either.

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