June 9, 2010

World Cup groups E & F

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Group E is headlined by the Netherlands, who breezed through qualifying and are looking to do the same at the World Cup. The problem with that is the final isn’t nearly as weak as their group was. Their backline is questionable, but their midfield and forwards are sublime. Be sure to check any Dutch game you can, they’ll be exciting to say the least.

Cameroon looks like Africa’s best chance to do some damage in the knockout stages after Didier Drogba’s injury staggered Ivory Coast. Behind an attack led by Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon should be feared and will be getting some local support as well. Their game against the Dutch will no doubt be the biggest barn burner in the whole tournament.

Denmark is a popular darkhorse pick and it’s easy to see why. A good coach, solid defence and a young forward on the verge of a breakout helped them surprise many during qualifying, winning their group – which also featured Portugal and Sweden and Hungary – outright. If Nicklas Bendtner can pot a few in the back of the net, and the defence can hold steady against the two above teams, the Danes could make a nice run.

Being one of the first teams to qualify doesn’t mean that Japan is primed for a long run. It was a virtue of Asian qualifying’s earlier schedule that helped them out. The Blue Samurai will be overlooked in this group and rightfully so. They are simply in a lower class than their competitors and lack the marquee players that could put a country on their shoulders.

Group F may be the weakest group from top to bottom. The defending World Cup champions come in with a roster that looks eerily familiar to the one they won with in 2006. The problem with that is the 2006 squad wasn’t exactly full of spring chickens then, and is only older now. The Azzuri had better hope that experience pays off or they’ll be headed home quite early.

New Zealand made the Cup final by luck. If Australia hadn’t opted to qualify out of Asia, the All Whites would be sitting at home right now. Don’t expect much from the rough and tough Kiwis, simply scoring one goal will be a huge achievement for them.

The squad from Paraguay suffered a huge loss before the tournament even started. A few months ago, their leading goal scorer from qualifying, Salvador Cabanas, was shot in the head at a bar in Mexico. While he is recovering, there’s no way he’ll be playing, leaving most of the offensive burden on Roque Santa Cruz, who is big on potential but poor on living up to it. If this squad has to rely on a counterattacking game, it’s been drawn into the wrong group with strong defensive sides.

Slovakia’s Marek Hamsek could be the breakout player of the tournament if the team can make a run. This squad is hoping to fare better than the Czech Republic did last World Cup when they came in ranked fourth in the world and couldn’t make the knock out stages. Their defence is strong, behind Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel and shouldn’t have a problem advancing, possibly taking the top of the group if Italy falters.

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