Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
This is a group that has to go only one way—and that is the Argentines finishing top. Anything else would be a massive disappointment as this group features three other squads that otherwise lack the pedigree to challenge Argentina. There is simply no excuse.
With a glut of attacking talent including Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Diego Milito, Kun Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina should not struggle to score goals. It’s in the midfield and at the back that there are question marks, never mind the difficulties that come about having a mad man in the form of Maradona coaching.
Failing to pick players likes Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, the same players that were instrumental within the treble-winners Inter Milan, could easily prove to be major mistakes over time.
Maradona needs to find a way to release Lionel Messi in the same way that Barcelona do, with Xavi and Iniesta protecting him, but I fear that Javier Mascherano and Juan Sebastian Veron will not do the trick and they were sorely miss Cambiaso in the middle.
Even if Argentina do not perform to the best of their ability and even labor at times, they should dominate this group.
Greece is a shade of their former selves and will seek to break their World Cup duck of both goals scored and points. Coach Rehhagel can work magic, but their fairy dust may have just run out by now.
Nigeria’s squad has just about as much cohesion as their country right now as witnessed by the mess they made of qualifying for the tournament and then dumped their coach. Their superstar is John Obi Mikel, but he is a player that does not have the creative spark that is necessary to kickstart this team.
I hope Nigeria do well, but I just can’t see it happening considering they are still are still relying on over the hill, but recently named captain, Kanu to provide the goal scoring touch. Yes, they do have Yakubu, Oba Martins and Peter Odemwingie, but these players are injury-prone and haven’t exactly lit up their respective leagues recently.
South Korea is a squad that was unlucky to not advance out of their group last World Cup and has looked strong over the past few years. While this team is young, expect the usual characters to pull the strings for them. In Park Ji-Sung, Korea have a world-class player with plenty of experience.
A squad that does not necessarily do anything special or make you go ‘wow’, one can simply say they are consistently average. Yet, average should be just enough to sneak out of a group featuring two over the hill squads that should not be able to handle Korea’s athleticism.
X-Factor: Maradona. Could it really be anyone else? The eccentric coach of Argentina has consistently made himself the center of attention during his stint as top boss. Maradona’s quality on the field cannot be questioned, but his tenure as coach has been blighted by consistent battles with the press and a revolving door on his lineup card.
Yet, the task of getting the best out of Messi, a player who has consistently under whelmed with the national team, falls to him. Never mind trying to work in the four other world-class strikers on his team. If he can get it right, there is no reason this team cannot lift the cup. If he gets it wrong, you won’t want to be around for the ensuing chaos.
Group Winner: Argentina
Runners Up: South Korea