World Cup 2010 Preview: Vol 2 – Mags' Barmy Army Reports

On the eve of the 2010 World Cup I sit on my hotel terrace, sipping a cold glass of exquisite South African Chardonnay, looking north towards Table Mountain shrouded in a plume of ethereal clouds; I cannot quite believe the expense that Venuing has gone to too bring you coverage of this years fabled World Cup.

And they have done precisely that; spared none, none at all, nil, nada. The above is merely fiction, wishful and wistful thinking on my part; thanks Venuing. I will be viewing the coverage of this summer’s extravaganza just like you; on the telly. Continuing from where we left off, this week we preview Groups E to H.

World Cup Group E:
Denmark:
Nicklas Bendtner and Daniel Agger are probably Denmark’s most recognizable players, especially to the Premiership fans out there. Manager, Morten Olsen, has done well to get his team this far, with an almost unbeaten record in the qualification campaign. Many think Denmark will have to fight it out with Cameroon for second spot, but they are a tricky outfit and could challenge Holland for group supremacy if the Dutch don’t watch out. They have height as one of their advantages, especially at the back and Juve’s Christain Poulson is a man to watch in midfield.

Cameroon:
Who can forget the inspirational Roger Milla and his samba, corner flag goal celebrations when Cameroon shocked the footballing world by beating Argentina in ’90? Although the Ivorians, Ghanians and Nigerian have since taken over the African reigns, Cameroon have the history to rival many of the top sides. Under the eyes of Paul Le Guen, Cameroon have be reshaped and hope to reignite the passion and flair that delighted the world back in 1990. He may have trouble though. They had a dismal showing at the recent African Cup of Nations, looking defensively disastrous and although Samuel Eto’o is the one redeeming feature, the poor guy can’t do everything. His performance at forward is crucial to the Lions fate. One guy to keep and eye on is Achille Emana in midfield, who some people think is rather special.

Holland:
The Dutch have made a very commendable nine previous World Cup appearances, finishing as runners-up in ’74 and ’78. They have always been a well organized and skillful unit, inventing and employing the “total football” ethos, which for the uninformed is as follows;“a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining the team’s intended organizational structure. In this fluid system, no player is fixed in his nominal role; anyone can be successively an attacker, a midfielder and a defender. The only player fixed in his nominal position is the goalkeeper.” In recent years, Holland have not reached their potential and have performed in less than admirable fashion, something that they will want to amend. Their strength lies in their forward and midfield areas, with the likes of Van Persie, van Bommel and Inter’s Wesley Sneijder being there greatest threats. From the bench the have the extra options of Van der Vaart and De Jong and manager, Bert van Marwijk, will look to use them. Holland believe they have a side that is on par with the last great national team of ’98, and if they can begin their campaign on a positive note, this belief will rise dramatically. If their confidence catches up to their skill then look out, they could be at least a Semi Final contender, with the mouth watering prospect of Brazil in the offing.

Japan:
Recent performances have left the Japanese side at a loss about their prospects. In true stoic fashion, coach Takeshi Okado, has hinted at them making the Semi-finals but to be honest I think he is in lala land. Japan lack creative ability and also at times their defense has been, well, non existent. If they can carve a win out against Cameroon, they may be in with a chance, but I can’t see them out maneuvering the Danes or the Dutch. A couple of names to remember are forwards Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda, but don’t blink or you’ll miss them; they may not be around for more than the group stages.

World Cup Group F:
Italy:
Some might say there is a fine line between experience and ‘past your prime’ and some critics have already labeled the Azzuri as the latter. Lippi’s current squad is peppered with veterans; Buffon, Cannavaro, Di Natale, even midfield linchpin Pirlo is getting on a bit. But they are the reigning World Cup holders and they have the ability and skill to progress to the latter stages, but they just may not be the exceptional team that we usually expect. Lippi has caused some controversy in Italy with the notable omissions to the team, no Totti, no Balotelli, no Cassano, but he still has an array of options, especially up front, depending on the formation he adopts (4-3-2-1, 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2??). Daniele De Rossi, another one tipped by Mourinho and Claudio Marchisio are two players to keep a beady eye on, both play with energy and style.

Paraguay:
If their qualifying campaign is anything to go by then the boys from Paraguay could be a quiet giant. They completed home wins against both Brazil and Argentina and only finished one point behind the Brazilians at the end. After researching a little, I was surprised to see how many names I recognized in the Paraguan squad; Cristian Riveros, Jonathan Santana, Oscar Cardozo and Roque Santa Cruz all stood out. Journalists have commented that Paraguay have run out of steam of late and might not be full prepared for this tournament; well, June 14 will be the day of reckoning when they take on Italy, this match could sway their World Cup fortunes dramatically.

Slovakia:
Manager Vladimir Weiss has already surpassed expectations in getting his side to the World Cup Finals. They were certainly not a name that people were touting and the outset of the qualification process, beating the likes of Poland and the Czech Republic. Their strength lies in the ridiculous youth talent them seem to have produced recently and this marries well with the solid back pairing of Martin Škrtel and Ján Ďurica. The midfield acts as their core foundation, especially when Weiss employs the 4-5-1 formation with the experienced duo of Miroslav Karhan and Marek Sapara acting as holding anchors. In the forward role Martin Jakubko will be the main target, at 6’5” he won’t be hard to miss. Like the Kiwi’s, Slovakia have nothing to lose, and their pace could cause the older looking sides problems.

New Zealand:
The All Whites have no real name stars, apart from Midfielder Ryan Nelsen (who plies his trade at Blackburn Rovers). They are making only their second appearance in the World Cup under the guidance of Ricki Herbert (who played in the ’82 national side). Again, like Slovakia, the Kiwi’s have nothing to lose and on paper the match for them to gain some points would look to be against the eastern Europeans, but if the stars are aligned correctly they may cause a freak upset against the Azzuri, mark my words…..

The key game is the opener, and it could give us an excellent insight into the much underrated Paraguay, who I think will win the group. Then I think it is either Italy or Slovakia who fight it out for second place. That being the case then the game on June 24 will be huge. If Italy don’t make it out of the group stages, Mr Lippi may be banished from his homeland for life.

World Cup Group G:
This group has been touted as the group of death, three of the big boys all in one group. I would argue that Group D also has claim to this title, but much depends on the way the Ghana perform.

Portugal:
As I write this news has just broken that Nani has sustained a injury to his collar bone that will see him miss the entire World Cup, a huge blow for Carlos Quieroz and the Portuguese team. Nani’s flair and brilliance this year for Man U was exceptional and he would have provided the perfect foil for Ronaldo. The pressure now mounts on the young striker. However, Portugal are not lacking in names and talent; in forwards they have Simao and newly naturalized Liedson, who will both now be crucial. Deco, if he is fit, will provide experience in midfield and the strong defensive partnership of Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves will be priceless. Although the pre-competition friendlies can never be taken too seriously, Portugal did suffer an embarrassing nil-nil draw with the Cape Verde Islands, population three and a half! They will no doubt step up their game and look to take at least second spot in the group. It wont be easy though.

Brazil:
Brazil: were to start. I remember the glory days with the likes of Zico, Socrates, current manager Dunga, but every World Cup there are merely a new selection of stars to replace the old guard. It the current squad Kaka, Luís Fabiano, Robinho, Adriano and Nilmar are only some of the cream of the crop. At the back they have safe, experienced hands in Júlio César, and their back line isn’t to bad either; Maicon, Daniel Alves, Lúcio and Juan. The counter-attack and set piece’s are Brazils stronghold, although Dunga has come into for criticism recently for playing a more subdued form of Brazil football, the locals are non too happy with that. It would be a real shock if these boys didn’t make to at least the Semi-Finals, they have suffered only one defeat in two years. At times they can turn football into art, particularly the art of retaining possession, and watch for some delightful flicks and passing movement – they are a joy to watch.

North Korea:
In a James bond-esque fashion little is know about the North Korean team as most of the team play their football domestically. Manager Kim Jong-hun favors a defensive approach and has been employing the 5-3-2 formation. That seems to be their MO, creative and offensive play is lacking. Their form of defensive football may stifle other more creative units, but still shouldn’t trouble the other teams in their group.

Ivory Coast:
A footballing country of paradox; the names of many of the Ivorian stars have become huge in Europe in recent years, but in the last two African Nations Cups the Elephants have been dismal. In their last encounter against Algeria, they seemingly had it sewn up only to throw it all away. Drogba has broken his elbow/ arm, just to keep it interesting, and may not feature at all, leaving his Chelsea teammate, Soloman Kalu, to pick up the slack. It is far from a one man show though; Premiership names like Emmanuel Eboué and Kolo Touré prop up the defense, with Barca’s Yaya Touré in midfield and Gervinho up front. On their day they can be outstanding, but equally they can be abysmal, if the law of averages plays its part some scintillating play is long overdue.

The key game will be on June 15 with the Ivory Coast taking on Portugal with the winner sealing their passage to the next round, although I am looking forward to Brazil v Ivory Coast if the Ivoirians are charged and playing at their best. It seems as though no one really has a hope for the North Koreans…. So that probably spells a major upset on the cards.

Last but by no means least; World Cup Group H:
Chile:
Marcelo Bielsa has been at the helm of resurgence in Chilean football over the last few years. They qualified with one of the best records in South America and used a three man attack (two wingers and a central striker) to great effect. They have a blend of ball control, flair and stamina, and after Spain and can see them securing second spot.

Honduras:
A glorious story that has galvanized the entire country of Honduras and in=united them in a common goal; to win the World Cup!!! It’s a wonder idea, but, it is just that … an idea and will never become reality. However, they did play Spain back in the ’82 World Cup and held them to a memorable 1-1 draw and will hope to emulate this great feat. The countries sports press have been speculating whether manager Reinaldo Rueda will play one of two ways; conservative or outgoing? The majority say conservative, clogging the midfield under the commanding duo of Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas. Carlos Pavon, although ancient, was the leading scorer in their qualification campaign and a cultural icon in his homeland. The boys from Honduras will play will passion and heart and have the potential to make life difficult, especially for Chile and Switzerland.

Spain:
My tip to make the final, they are a class act throughout. They have depth and strength through out, just reading the squad list proves that; the back four are a well drilled unit by now and in midfield they have the cream of Europe to choose from; Iniesta, Fàbregas, Silva, Alonso, Xavi. In the striking position the partnership of David Villa and Fernando Torres are formidable and if coach Vincente les Bosque wants to change from his usual 4-4-2 format, he has the ability and players to do it. They are second favorites behind Brazil and although they have had some injury worries ahead of the start of the Cup, their group draw should give them the option to ease into the competition. They should win all three of their group matches, but may find it tricky against the Swiss and Chile.

Switzerland:
Alexander Frei and Blaise Nkufo look like the likely partnership at forward, Nkufo had a stellar season with Dutch Champions FC Twente and although 35 will give the Swiss an edge upfront. Perhaps surprisingly many of the Swiss team play their domestic football in some of the top flight European clubs although they are not necessarily what you would consider superstars. Hitzfeld, has crafted a blend of youth and experience into his squad and the team concedes very few goals. The question lies in whether they can turn it on offensively in the World Cup.

Spain should proceed with ease, the question is who will take second spot; and well groomed Swiss side or a the reignited Chilean lads: I say Chile.

So there you have it, neatly laid out before you a guide to all things World Cup. Pick ya poison, pick ya teams, sit back and enjoy a month of devastating soccer. And check back in with Venuing once in a while to catch our thoughts as we cast our eye over the proceedings. Enjoy and stock up the fridge.

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