Today the FIFA World Cup 2010 South Africa groups were drawn. I don’t have my finger on the pulse of football as much these days, so most of this will be more established wisdom than anything particularly groundbreaking, but here goes some early predictions. Of course, anything can change from now and next summer, so it’s all tentative.
I don’t think the hosts have ever missed the Round of 16, and yet in this draw there are so many situations in which that scenario seems likely, on paper. But with the whole continent behind them, and hopefully with a little more disorganization and all eyes on the hands of French strikers (ahem), I think that South Africa do have a chance at moving forward. Of course, any good American understands that our friendly rivalry with our southern neighbors means that we do not wish them well, and actually, it’s not hard to imagine Mexico getting ousted in the opening round. Uruguay are back into the Finals after a long hiatus, and they are certainly not the dominant footballing nation that they once were, long ago. Nevertheless, where my head might be inclined to think that French Coach Raymond Domenech and his squad might get their act together in seven months, my heart is really hoping that the hosts and Uruguay move into the next round: one for the home team and one for old time’s sake.
Speaking of hearts, it’s difficult to see the outcome of Group B objectively. While Argentina might be an obvious choice to advance at the top of the table, their seemingly ill-placed faith in Diego Maradona at the helm could lead to their early exit — the shame of a nation. Of course there’s always a chance that El Diego takes them to their former glory à la 1986, but that’s a very long shot that I’m not putting money on. And I do have the next several months of trash talking with my Nigerian friends to look forward to, but in reality they are a strong squad who could do interesting things in South Africa, especially with their effective home field advantage. But my heart is true; there’s no way I can discount the speed and tenacity of a fiery South Korean squad who are pretty stable and no doubt motivated in part by the North Korean presence in the tournament.
I guess for the sake of some peace over the next few months with the Nigerians, I’ll say Nigeria and South Korea advance, while Argentina make the first round exit due to their skipper. Oh, how I hate to bet against Argentina, though, my adopted nation. It will be Argentina and South Korea. Nigeria, you are going down in 2010! Bring it!! Also, see you in 2014, Greece. It’s not personal.
I think it’s clear that the favorites are England and the United States. One/two ranking is important for the Round of 16, and I will give the upper hand to England, especially with the critical loss of Charlie Davies recently to a non-fatal but horrific car accident (here’s hoping for his full recovery). It could however come down to a goal differential if England and the USA tie, since England are traditionally poor performers in the World Cup (that isn’t hosted in their backyard, ahem).
While Germany and Australia are the favorites here, there is a lot of young Ghanian talent, and I would not be surprised if Ghana were able to best either Australia or, dare I say, Germany. Germany will likely advance, but Australia despite their scrappy play may just turn up slightly short, which is a minor tragedy since they’re a talented squad.
With a group of the always-powerful Dutch, I expect them to come out on top. They got a friendlier draw this year, compared with their Group of Death draw in 2006. The real fight will come for that second spot, and I hope that Cameroon enjoys home field-like advantages that propel it to the top of that stack. Having such an incredible striker as in Eto’o cannot hurt that cause.
Italy in theory should have no trouble moving forward, and I expect to see a lot of Italian defense after they score once or twice early in each game. I suppose Paraguay are the logical next pick, but honestly, so long as Italy advance, it doesn’t matter a whole lot to me.
This group contains North Korea, who are making their first World Cup Finals appearance since 1966, when they famously beat the Italian powerhouses 1-0 and managed to give up a 3-0 advantage to Portugal. Expect Brasil and Portugal to easily take this group, though I suspect that Cote d’Ivoire will not go silently into the night, and I also will make the not-so-bold prediction that Cote d’Ivoire will come close to beating Brasil, a team who show up in big games but seem to only manage to barely arrive in early round play. This is in contrast to Portugal, who start strong in tournaments but traditionally fade late. I expect Portugal/Brasil to go 1/2 in that order.
In the group containing Spain, Switzerland, the Honduras, and Chile, I suspect most are thinking Spain and Switzerland. But really in my mind, that second place berth into the Round of 16 is probably a crapshoot at this point. I think the Honduras have the ability to surprise at the world’s biggest stage; they could be an interesting dark horse team in 2010.
I honestly don’t see a crystal clear Group of Death in 2010. There are a lot of quality sides however vying for Round of 16 spots in some form or fashion, and this may be either one of the most entertaining finals ever … or one of the dullest.