The Welsh Gull

Torquay United, the Football League and other stuff

The draw is done…

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Group A
South Africa – As hosts, I expect them to raise their game, which they will need to do to have any chance of getting through. They could cause a few surprises but I don’t think they’re good enough to get through, unless France have another mare
Player to watch: Tricky winger Steven Pienaar

Mexico – Started off qualification poorly under Eriksson but since Aguirre has retaken charge, they have been very good. Could cause France a few problems, and are always good candidates for progression
Player to watch: Experienced centre-back and captain Rafael Marquez

Uruguay – Scraped through in a play-off against Costa Rica and have lost a few of the big names they had 8 years ago, such as Alvaro Recoba and Paolo Montero, but still could cause a few problems. Drew with France last time out, helping to knock them out
Player to watch: Diego Forlan, one of La Liga’s leading strikers

France – Despite the fact that Eddie Jordan-lookalikee Raymond Domenech is a useless manager, France somehow survived a near-disastrous qualifying campaign and have now been handed a kind draw. Will always be a threat, especially in the big tournaments, but could also collapse once again in the first round
Player to watch: 2006 sensation Franck Ribery

Prediction
1) France
2) Mexico
3) South Africa
4) Uruguay
France will probably be unimpressive but will grind out the results, building momentum. They are lucky that their game against South Africa is last. Mexico should make it too, with the first game being vital. South Africa will play well but not have enough gas in the tank to compete. Uruguay could yet surprise all of them

Group B
Argentina – Another of the big guns to have a poor qualifying campaign, Argentina came through with the last automatic spot in the CONMEBOL group. Maradona is inexperienced in coaching and has made some eccentric call-ups, but you can never rule them out. Will probably go through
Player to watch: Lionel Messi, on his day the best in the world

Nigeria – Having missed out in 2006, the former Olympic champions are back with a very different team. They also lucked in to qualifying, overturning Tunisia’s advantage in the final game, but they have some quality in the line-up. Dark horses for this group
Player to watch: Chelsea midfielder Mikel John Obi

South Korea – A lot has changed since the Koreans made the semi-finals as hosts in 2002. There is still a smattering of quality players in the line-up, many of whom are now experienced campaigners. Could make it into round 2 but this is an open group
Player to watch: Manchester United star and SK captain Park Ji-Sung

Greece – The 2004 European champions came through the play-offs with a 1-0 win in Ukraine. There’s a nice mix of youth and experience with a few top class players. If they gel as they did in Portugal, they may go through. Met Argentina and Nigeria the last time they qualified
Player to watch: Theofanis Gekas, one the top scorers in UEFA quali

Prediction
1) Argentina
2) South Korea
3) Nigeria
4) Greece
A potentially nail-biting group. If Argentina finally click, they could be devastating here. SK and Greece could do the same – I’d suggest the former has the best chance of doing so. Nigeria could make it but they may need to beat SK to do it, which will be tough

Group C
England – A much-improved side under Fabio Capello, this is the strongest England side for a long time. But we’ve heard that many times before and they have not delivered on the day. If they stay injury-free and avoid dramas and complacency, then there’s a potential route through to the semis
Player to watch: It’s got to be Wayne Rooney

USA – The Americans were inconsistent in qualifying but at the Confederations Cup, they nearly pulled off a major shock by giving Brazil a run for their money. Like so many teams, it depends on which team turns up. On their day, they could even challenge England. Match 1 will be crucial
Player to watch: Young Fulham winger Clint Dempsey

Algeria – The only North African team qualified for the first time since 1986 in dramatic fashion by beating Egypt in a special play-off after they tied at the top of their group. Probably the weakest African nation but there are no “poor” teams in a World Cup
Player to watch: Portsmouth defender Nadir Belhadj

Slovenia – Having missed out in 2006, the Eastern Europeans are back after pulling off a major shock in the play-offs by beating Russia. They are another team to have seen major changes since they last qualified, with the likes of Acimovic and Zahovic departing. England have already beaten them once so 2nd is probably the target
Player to watch: Milivoje Novakovič, leader of the Slovenian attack

Prediction
1) England
2) USA
3) Slovenia
4) Algeria
England should breeze through here. USA proved they have talent against Brazil but also proved they can run out of puff after a while. Slovenia could steal it from them if England are already through and get complacent, but have they got enough to match Algeria and the USA? The Africans will probably take Tunisia’s role – solid but unspectacular

Group D
Germany – The Germans are always a factor, and will be again. They haven’t been playing brilliantly but they’ve been solid in qualifying, conceding just 5 goals and edging out Russia in both matches with them. They will be one of the favourites come June
Player to watch: Prolific goal-poacher Miroslav Klose, who has 10 World Cup goals so far

Australia – Having breezed through the final stage of qualifying, the Socceroos have been handed a tough draw. But like in 2006, this will not deter them. It’s a slightly younger side this time around and under a different coach but as good, if not better than last time
Player to watch: Everton’s Tim Cahill, who dragged Oz to victory against Japan last time

Serbia – Having qualified as Yugoslavia and Serbia & Montenegro, this is the first time Serbia has qualified under this name, but the team remains formidable. Having beaten France in qualifying, their confidence will be high and they will go into this tough group as a force to be reckoned with
Player to watch: You cannot miss giant striker Nikola Zigic

Ghana – The Black Stars were one of the surprises of 2006, making it through a tough group. They are generally considered one of the best African teams and will be looking to prove it once again. A talented side that works well as a unit
Player to watch: Michael Essien will be at the heart of the midfield

Group E
Netherlands – The Dutch started both the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 in style and were tipped by many to go on to greater things. Alas, they peaked too early. But they still should make it through this group easily, having won all their quali games
Player to watch: Mark van Bommel, a driving force in midfield

Denmark – After a fallow period where they failed to qualify for the last 2 big tournaments, the Danes are back. It’s a different side from the one that shocked France in 2002 but underestimate them at your peril
Player to watch: Juventus midfield man Christian Poulsen

Japan – Having never qualified before 1998, Japan have shown promise in the last 3 World Cups but have never got past round 2. Their squad is now mostly Japanese-based but they have some talented faces. Could be a surprise package
Player to watch: Former Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura

Cameroon – Are the Indomitable Lions a one-man-team? We will soon find out. Traditionally the strongest African nation, their non-qualification last time was a major surprise. This time, they will be back, but they will need to play well to go through
Player to watch: Can only be Samuel Eto’o

Prediction
1) Netherlands
2) Denmark
3) Cameroon
4) Japan
The Dutch should see off this lot relatively comfortably, with the real battle being for 2nd. It will probably depend on whether Eto’o can fire Cameroon past the Danes and Japanese. I tend to think the Danes have a more complete side, although they lack experience and strength in depth. Japan have the potential for surprise but this time it’s probably beyond them.

Group F
Italy – The reigning champions had an ageing side in 2006. 3 years on and it’s still largely the same side. On the one hand, they have vast amounts of experience. On the other, they are a very old team by World Cup standards. Is this one tournament too far? Nevertheless, a gift of a draw
Player to watch: Gianluigi Buffon, still one of the best keepers in the world

Paraguay – The Paraguayans are becoming an ever-present in the draw but not in round 2. They always seem to do better in qualifying than in the big games. Even so, they have been handed a good draw here. Keeper and captain Villar will be hoping to play more than in 2006, when he was injured early on in the first game against England
Player to watch: Roque Santa Cruz, who cost Man City £18m in the summer

New Zealand – The All Whites have benefited the most from Australia’s decision to switch to the AFC. This allowed them with an easy run to the AFC/OFC play-off, where Plymouth (scum) Argyle’s Rory Fallon scored the goal that dispatched Bahrain. They will still be expected to lose every game, as they did in 1982, but as we saw with Trinidad last time, they will raise their game
Player to watch: Creative midfielder Leo Bertos, who lists Rochdale and York City as former clubs

Slovakia – A potential surprise package. Slipped under the radar to automatically qualify from a tough group with ease for their first World Cup. Although they have no major stars, they work well as a unit and could cause a few surprises in this group. A kind draw has meant they’re probably a good bet for progression
Player to watch: Napoli midfielder and Slovak captain Marek Hamsik

Prediction
1) Italy
2) Slovakia
3) Paraguay
4) New Zealand
Again, the question is over 2nd rather than 1st. Many may tip Paraguay but I’m going for Slovakia, as I think their qualification form has been overlooked. I reckon they could even give Italy a run for their money, especially as their game with the Azzuri is the last one. New Zealand may even cause problems as the smallest teams can raise their games considerably in situations like this

Group G
Brazil – The current Selecao isn’t the most flamboyant of all time but it is very solid, something you’d expect when your manager is an ex-defensive midfielder. There aren’t many big stars but that belies the talent. Even Ronaldinho can’t get into this side. Their lack of World Cup experience could be a potential flaw, though
Player to watch: Luis Fabiano is the next in a long line of Brazilian goal merchants

North Korea – Qualifying for their first World Cup since 1966 was an achievement in itself, but surely this time a repeat of that fairytale is beyond PRK. Very few members of their squad play outside of their home country, whilst their ranking is lower than all bar the hosts. A defensive side playing against 3 attacking teams. It probably won’t end well
Player to watch: Hong Yong-Jo plays his football for FC Rostov in Russia

Cote d’Ivoire – The Elephants are perhaps the most highly rated of the African teams, with a squad packed full of stars. If any African side can win the World Cup, it’ll be these guys. However, just as in 2006, disaster has struck on Draw Day. They’re going to have to do it the hard way. But it’s not impossible to progress
Player to watch: Didier Drogba, quite possibly the best striker in the world

Portugal – The ‘Golden Generation’ has now truly passed, but another is just peaking now. However, Quieroz’s Portugal is not Scolari’s Portugal. In qualification, they did not look like the same team that has been a force in the previous 3 major tournaments and were lucky to make it. The big question is whether they can raise their game in South Afirca
Player to watch: Love him or hate him, Cristiano Ronaldo is a brilliant talent

Prediction
1) Brazil
2) Portugal
3) Cote d’Ivoire
4) North Korea
A tough draw for Brazil but perhaps looking worse on paper than in reality. This has already been branded with Group of Death Status but I think Group D is more open. The one key thing Portugal and CdI have in their favour over them is experience, but I don’t think that’ll be enough. As for the other spot for passage, I’d put my money on Portugal as I think they’d probably prove more solid. PRK vs Portugal, a rematch of the 1966 quarter-final, will be interesting from a historic perspective – Portugal went from 3-0 to win 5-3 that time

Group H
Spain – The unquestionably talented Spanish side are many people’s favourites this time but I am still not convinced they can deal with the pressure of the big tournament – there’s still a big step up from the Euros to winning the biggest prize in the sport. Progression is a near-certainty – they usually start well
Player to watch: Fernando Torres came of age in Euro 2008 – a lot more pressure second time around

Switzerland – Traditionally a team built from the back that concedes little. Last time out, they pulled off a shock by holding France 0-0 and progressing as top of their group, before going out on penalties to Ukraine without conceding a goal in the whole tournament. If they can repeat that, they have a good chance of going through, but their first game is against the free-scoring Spaniards, which will be key for confidence
Player to watch: Early Euro 2008 casualty Alexander Frei is the main Swiss striker

Honduras – Los Catrachos have qualified for the first time since 1982 and once again they have been drawn with Spain. But even so, there is great experience in this side – captain Guevara has 130 caps, Pavon has 95, and there are plenty with over 50. For them, this opportunity has been a long time coming. Qualification was a mixed bag, with the team fading towards the end after a good start. They could challenge for 2nd
Player to watch: Experienced striker Carlos Pavon has 56 goals for his country

Chile – The last time Chile qualified was in 1998, when their team was led by stars such as Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano. It has been a decade but now the next generation of stars has emerged – there are fewer big names but the team was impressive in qualification and could spring a few surprises. They could be the surprise package in what is a tough group
Player to watch: Humberto Suazo was top scorer in CONMEBOL qualification

Prediction
1) Spain
2) Switzerland
3) Chile
4) Honduras
Not a group that’s easy to predict, although Spain will most likely top the group. The Swiss defence, if on form, should be able to snuff out Chilean and Honduran attacks and may help them into round 2, although they may need to get the odd goal as well – Euro 2008 proved that this is difficult for them without their main man Frei, who was injured in the first game. Chile could cause some surprises with the strong forward partnership of Suazo and Sanchez, and would probably be the team most likely to progress if the Swiss faltered. Honduras are outsiders and may not have enough to get through but are dangerous opponents

The later rounds
The draw has also potentially set up a nice round 2. The results of Groups A and B could lead to a rematch for France and South Korea, who drew in their group game in 2006, whilst there could also be a rematch for Argentina and Mexico, with the Mexicans out for revenge after the Argentineans’ extra time victory. England and Germany could meet if one of those has trouble in the groups, whilst the Germans met the USA in the quarter-finals back in 2002. England could come up against one of their former colonies in Ghana or Australia. Meanwhile, Brazil and Spain are just a group apart, which will be a good motivator, whilst Spain could also end up with an all-Iberian tie with Portugal. It would also be interesting to see if the Swiss defence could halt the attack of the Brazilians.

The quarters could see France go up against old enemies England, providing both teams hit form – memories of France’s last gasp recovery to victory from Euro 2004 will be fresh in the player’s minds. Argentina could meet Germany again – plenty of history between those teams, not least from 2006 and the post-penalty shootout brawl. Italy and Spain could meet in a clash of the European powers, not forgetting Portugal too, whilst the Dutch may end up the next opponents of Brazil in a rematch of the 1998 semi-final – will the Dutch have peaked as they usually do by then or could they knock out one of the favourites?

In the semis, the potential draw is for England or France to play Brazil or the Netherlands. There are a few interesting combinations there – France and Brazil met in 2006 and of course in the 1998 final, England and Brazil have great history, England and the Dutch have played several times before, and the latter beat France 4-1 in Euro 2008. The other semi potentially could include Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany or Argentina – Spain and Germany would probably be the most likely combination

Overall
Conveniently then, the potential is there for Brazil and Spain, generally regarded as the 2 best teams in the world right now, to meet in the final. But of course as we all know, these things never work out as planned – specific emphasis on never there. Need I remind you of last time – the start of the tournament saw great displays by Argentina, Spain and the Netherlands, which led to everyone tipping them for great success. But the attacking teams fell short in the knockout stages as fatigue crept in and players started to get nervous. Come the semis and it was the usual faces that were still around. Germany, France and Italy, and the likes of Ballack, Zidane, Henry and Totti, ground out the results to get to this stage, which hardly anyone expected, especially the presence of France who until the knockout stages had struggled. The experience paid off. Portugal made it too after beating the Dutch in a bad-tempered affair and England on penalties – fortune definitely favoured them. In the end, the semis was one step too far for them as France edged past them, whilst Italy ground out another win in extra time against the Germans. And we all know what happened next…

The same must be said this time. Everyone thinks the Spanish are brilliant. They play great football. They attack. They can score goals. They have now won a major tournament too and went on that long unbeaten run which equalled the record for an international team. But the question marks remain. Last time, they started playing some great football, smashing the Ukraineans in game 1 and cruising through to round 2. But they peaked too early. Come round 2, when they faced struggling France, they fell apart. As I said earlier, the Euros are a different kettle of fish to the World Cup – the standard is arguably higher and it is also a longer tournament. They also now have the pressure of being favourites, something they maybe didn’t have as much of last year. I think that like so many favourites before them, they may crack, maybe in the early knockout stages. The USA showed they are beatable, and they are no great shakes

So then you look to Brazil. They have a great team, plenty of talented players and for once some of that talent is in defending as well as scoring goals. In Luis Fabiano, they may have another Ronaldo or Romario – this could be his big tournament where he emerges, like Ribery in 2006, Arshavin in 2008, Zidane in 1998 and Klose in 2002. But then they lack experience. This will be the first World Cup for many of these players in the next generation of Brazilians. The pressure will be immense. Can they handle it?

So there you have it. I don’t see the theoretical Brazil vs Spain final coming off. I think we’ll see the wise old heads, the teams that can grind out results, coming through as they always do. Tournament football isn’t for pretty football. As for who I do think will win it, I think you have to look to Germany. Joachim Low was instrumental in 2006, when they had a very good side with a mix of attack and defence and were unlucky not to get to the final. They got to the final again in Euro 2008, and were incredibly solid in World Cup qualifying, conceding just 5 goals. They must be considered one of the favourites – tournament football suits the Germans and the way they play. They have goal-scorers in Klose and Podolski. They have a solid defence. And there’s Michael Ballack and Schweinsteiger to provide creativity from midfield

Alongside them are the other big European powerhouses, Italy and France. The Italians now have the experience of winning the tournament. Continuity will help them. However, it didn’t in Euro 2008. Nonetheless, they cannot be ruled out – if they do end up against Spain in the quarters, I can see them beating them. As for France, we saw last time how they can turn things around when it doesn’t look to be going well for them. Yes, Domenech is inept, but he was in charge in 2006 too and they still made the final. Yes, they had Zidane to dig them out of the excrement, but Ribery is able replacement – remember that he hasn’t been playing much international football lately, so his return could be vital

If England can play to their potential they have a great chance too. But that’s the problem – potential. They never reach it. Too often it becomes a game of best 11 players instead of the best team. Recent English sides have never gelled. Capello has changed things around and they were formidable in qualifying but let’s not forget, it was a relatively easy group. I think they may not be able to hack it against the big teams

There’s also one other quantity that is often overlooked – the Netherlands. Too often the Dutch have played nice football but not done enough when it comes to the big tournament. Too often they’ve started brilliantly but then faded. But this time, they have an interesting side that could sneak under the radar. They’ve got some strikers who can score goals, such as van Persie (if he’s fit), Kuyt, Huntelaar, as well as some creative players like Robben, van der Vaart and Sneijder, holding players like de Jong and van Bommel, and an experienced defence consisting of the likes of Heitinga, Boulahrouz and the captain van Bronckhorst. They have a complete team – they could do very well if they can avoid internal disputes, injuries and just not peak too early this time

It’s a wide open World Cup for sure. I couldn’t possibly put my money on anyone. Mainly because I don’t bet. But there is no outright favourite as far as I’m concerned. People will put their money on Brazil and Spain, but I’m not so sure. The World Cup is never that predictable. That’s what makes it so great

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Written by James Bennett

December 5, 2009 at 02:39

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