Analyzing and Predicting the 2010 World Cup

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Analyzing and Predicting the 2010 World Cup
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I wanted to write up a little preview and prediction for the World Cup directly after the draw.  I got to thinking though, a lot can change between now and June 11, 2010.  

With so many question marks surrounding teams between now and then, is it really worth taking the time to analyze the groups right now?

Of course it is.  

I'll come back to this in the week before the first match between South Africa and Mexico kicks off and do a final analysis.  But for right now, let's have a look at the winners and losers of today's draw.

Group A

Many pundits thought that being drawn into Group A with South Africa was going to be the desired draw.  It didn't evolve into one of the most difficult groups of the tournament, but it will be no cakewalk.

On paper, France looks to be the strongest of the group.  The French seem to be riding the luck of the Irish, but they will have their hands full if they continue to play as poorly as they have throughout qualifying.

Mexico is a team possessed at the moment.  The installment of Javier Aguirre has taken a Mexican side that looked like it could miss out on the World Cup altogether, to arguably the strongest team in CONCACAF.

Uruguay will look to parlay their playoff victory over Costa Rica into the finals.  If this team is going to progress, Diego Forlan will need to be in the form of his life.  His play for Atletico de Madrid suggests that he just might be able to push this team through.

The hosts will have a go at this group.  This is an improving national side, one that likely wouldn't make much of a fuss in this group of the tournament was held outside of South Africa.  But with the come crowd behind them, Bafana Bafana could surprise a team or two in the group.

Prediction: Mexico and France advance.

Group B

Argentina has looked altogether disappointing throughout their qualifying campaign.  Diego Maradona has done very little to ease tensions.  The amount of players called into the national side likely rivals that of this entire group put together.  

This team has too much talent to count out, but with Maradona at the helm it's entirely possible Argentina sputters through the group stages.

Greece has been one of the quieter European qualifiers.  No big names, no next-gen superstars, just organized, responsible play.  And it's done the Greeks wonders in the past, there's no reason this team can't progress in this group.

Nigeria is a team that doesn't lack bite in its midfield and forwards, but their aggressive nature could come back to hurt them playing against a team like Greece.  If they can remain calm, cool, and collected, they could well make it through.

Korea will have their hands full with this group.  Park Ji-Sung will be looking for performances from himself that landed him his job at Manchester United.  

But without a miracle worker like Guus Hiddink, Korea will struggle to break down Greece and weather the storm of the Argentines.

Prediction: Argentina and Nigeria advance.

Group C

England is a favorite to win the World Cup every time they qualify.  But this year, there is a different aura surrounding the Three Lions.  

In years past, it has been a three-ring circus.  WAGs, egos, images, they all took priority to the football.  Since the installation of Fabio Capello, that's all gone away.  

England has the strongest and deepest midfield in the world as well as an in-form and very dangerous Wayne Rooney.  So long as John Terry's partner in defense and whomever starts at goalkeeper minimize mistakes, this team will go deep.

The US had a disappointing World Cup in Germany, a strong display at the Confederations Cup, and a lackluster run to close out qualifying.  There are a couple of supersticious theories surrounding the US:

1) The US cannot play well in Europe.  

2) The US plays well at alternating World Cups.  

Coming off a poor World Cup in 2006 and preparing for a World Cup on the African continent, those theories would suggest that the US is due for a strong showing.

Injuries to Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies will hurt this team if they are unable to recover in time for the tournament.  The Yanks can progress without them, but if this team is to go any further than the first stage of the knockout rounds, they need a healthy Davies and Onyewu or suitable replacements.

Algeria won a historic playoff against Egypt, making them one of the hotter teams coming into the draw.  However a lack of depth means that the possibility of this team having much of an impact on the group is slim.

Similar to Algeria, Slovenia booked their ticket to South Africa by beating the Cinderellas of Euro 2008, Russia.  Their playoff victory shocked the soccer world and left teams wondering how good they really were.  

Results in qualifying suggest they're no slouches, but their win over Russia may be their highlight of the campaign.

Prediction: England and the US advance.

Group D

Although not the unanimous Group of Death, Group D is the strongest group from top to bottom.

Germany continues to play the way they do in every tournament: possessive and effective.  Nothing flashy about this team, which could be an issue down the road. 

The club form of Germany's attacking options cannot be comforting for Joachim Loew.  The Germans should make it out of this group, not easily, but it should be done.  What they do afterwards is the real question.

Australia qualified for their second consecutive World Cup and their golden generation is either peaking or coming down from the peak.  Mark Schwarzer, Tim Cahill and Lucas Neill continue to impress in England while Harry Kewell has rediscovered his form in Istanbul.  

The most experienced and talented side the Socceroos have fielded in a while, this team has more potential than in 2006 but with a strong group, may not make it as far.

Ghana is amongst the favorite African nations in the tournament, boasting arguably the strongest African midfield with Michael Essien.  There is a lot of potential for Ghana to progress, especially with the African fans behind them, but they must be careful not to rest on the laurels of their advancement in 2006.

After winning their qualifying group, one that included France and Romania, Serbia has established quite a reputation for themselves.  With one of the best central defenders in the world in Nemanja Vidic, as well as rising stars Branislav Ivanovic and Neven Subotic, Serbia's back line is one of the most promising of the tournament.

Prediction: Germany and Serbia advance.

Group E

The Dutch were surprise seeds when the pots were announced last week.  But being one of just two teams to win every game in qualifying, the Dutch have proved they are a world powerhouse once again.  

The Oranje looked like one of the best sides in Euro '08 but an exposed defense dashed their hopes of European glory.  If they can play disciplined at the back, the Dutch could well be in line for world domination.

Denmark is another quiet European side with a lot to prove.  Daniel Agger and Christian Poulsen are the glamour names of an otherwise quiet side.  

But the success of this team could hinge on the mercurial form of Niklas Bendtner.  A favorite of Arsene Wenger and managers across Europe, Bendtner has been either brilliant or nowhere for Arsenal.  

If Bendtner can catch fire, Denmark could be a very dangerous team.

Cameroon boasts one of the top strikers in the world in Samuel Eto'o, making them dangerous regardless of their opponent.  Along with a solid midfield, the team may rely too heavily on Eto'o and getting caught forward in this group.  

When they face another high-scoring squad, like the Netherlands, this style of play could prove to be a losing proposition.

The Japanese have one of the best dead ball specialists in the world in Shunsuke Nakamura but it will take more than bending free kicks to progress in this group.  Truly a team's team, Japan will make a valiant effort but advancing looks unlikely.

Prediction: Netherlands and Cameroon advance.

Group F

Italy should be thanking whatever deity they choose to pray to.  

The holders have a great manager and loads of talent but age is not on their side.  Many players in the side are on the wrong side of 30 and have looked unimpressive in the past year.  

Watching a budding Giuseppe Rossi and Daniele De Rossi in his prime should prove entertaining enough to warrant watching Italy comfortably advance.

New Zealand entered the fray via a playoff win over Bahrain.  The All Whites looked quite outmatched in their showings at Confederations Cup in the summer and not much will change in 2010.  

The good news for the Kiwis is that in such a weak group, there is a great chance they could sneak in behind Italy.

Paraguay continued to impress throughout their qualifying in CONMEBOL, finishing just one point behind Brazil.  If they can get around the physicality of the Slovakians, Paraguay has a great chance to advance.

The likely candidate to progress with Italy is Slovakia.  Organized at the back, built around one of the most ferocious center backs in England, Martin Skrtel, Slovakia can be a very frustrating side to break down.  Young winger Miroslav Stoch could well be on his way to a breakout World Cup.

Prediction: Italy and Slovakia advance.

Group G

Brazil heads the unanimous Group of Death and unless they have a serious breakdown, should navigate safely through.  The performances of Dunga's Brazil have been rock steady, if not over-the-top, classic, Samba flashy.  

A Confederations Cup trophy and convincing friendly wins over England and Italy in the past year, has proved Brazil is at their consistent best.

Ivory Coast features arguably the best and strongest pure striker in the world in Didier Drogba.  The Toure brothers, Emmanuel Eboue, and Saloman Kalou make the Ivorians the most versatile of the African group.  

It will be a tough ask to come out of this group, especially after the mental lashing they must be getting after being drawn into the Group of Death for the second World Cup in a row.  But this is a dark horse to win the Cup, and Drogba is just the man to ride that horse.

Portugal qualified for the World Cup by the slimmest or margins.  There has been a lack of consistency in this team since the 2004 European Championships.  

The in-and-out status of Cristiano Ronaldo can't help the cause, but the team doesn't seem to be drastically affected by his absence.  There is too much talent in the Portuguese side to ignore, but if Carlos Quieroz can't get his players to work for him, they won't make it out of this group.

North Korea is at the bottom team in this group, if not the entire tournament.  Their first appearance since 1966, and they'll be lucky to get on the scoresheet.

Prediction: Brazil and Ivory Coast advance.

Group H

The defending European Champions Spain have fluctuated some from their No. 1 ranking from FIFA to a brief appearance as the world's No. 2.  

But the Spaniards are back in the top spot and no team in the tournament looks as talented and as deep as Spain.  The only thing that could stop Spain from winning the whole thing could be their own tendency to misstep on the big stages.

Switzerland didn't win many style points at Euro '08 but the joint hosts held their own.  A surprisingly strong midfield allows the Swiss to keep possession near 50/50, a trait they will need to get the most from when they play Spain.

Chile took a surprising second in CONMEBOL to get to South Africa.  Playing in a group with Switzerland and Honduras give the Chileans a great opportunity to advance.

Honduras has US defender Jonathan Bornstein to thank for their qualification.  If it wasn't for his stoppage-time winner against Costa Rica in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, Costa Rica would be arriving in South Africa in the Hondurans places.  A fateful header has turned to a fateful draw and gives Honduras a real chances at progression.

Prediction: Spain and Switzerland progress.

There you have it, a group by group analysis and prediction of the 2010 World Cup.  Check back in early June to read up on all the revisions and read about knockout round predictions.

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