South Africa 2010 is less than 24 hours away and with teams making final preparations for their opening matches, it is a perfect time to determine which nations can advance past the group stage of the World’s most prestigious sporting event.
Even though it is every nation’s goal to ultimately win the World Cup, only seven nations in history have achieved this glory. This shows how difficult it is to be crowned Champions of the World.
The 32-team tournament definitely has some noticeable minnows, but the talent and depth of this qualified field of nations is deep and one that can provide numerous surprising runs, especially with the tournament being played on the continent of Africa for the first time ever.
So let's get to my Group Stage Analysis and Predictions
FRANCE, MEXICO, URUGUAY and SOUTH AFRICA
In what can be labeled as the most open group in the 2010 FIFA World Cup all four nations from this group have legitimate chances to reach the knockout stage.
France will advance... If they get off to a quick successful start with a fine attacking performance while defeating a skilled Uruguayan side. If France manages to gain the early three points this will certainly give them the confidence needed to hold on for a top two finish in the group. This early success will be a necessity for this France squad that has struggled to gel as a side and perform to their potential despite boasting individual talent with the likes of Ribery and Gourcuff. Without an inspiring opener France is likely to crash out in disappointing fashion à la 2002.
Mexico will advance… If they continue to improve as they have throughout their stacked friendly schedule leading up to the tournament. The Mexicans have the hefty task of playing against the host in the World Cup opener, but this Mexican squad has the form and confidence not to be overwhelmed on such a huge stage. Their technical abilities and agility will stand out in this group and their attack will provide the remedy in a huge victory over France behind the experienced Marquez anchoring the defense and a youthful injection to the Mexican attack with Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela
Uruguay will advance… If they are able to perform in a positively consistent manner throughout the group stage. Uruguay certainly has some talented individuals in veteran leaders (Lugano, Forlan) mixed with some gifted youth (Muslera, Caceres, Gargano, Cavani), but can they handle the pressure of performing on the highest level of competition? Despite being two time World Cup Champions the Celeste hasn’t advanced past the group stage since 1990 and something says despite the talent they will fall just short again this time around.
South Africa will advance… If they bring the spirit and fight of a host nation at the World Cup. It has always proven to be a difficult task to tame a host nation at the FIFA World Cup so don’t expect that to change this time around even if South Africa is ranked 83rd in the FIFA rankings. South Africa has the defence to survive in this group and with a spark from their skilled midfielder Steven Pienaar they will push all of their opponents for a full 90 minutes.
Advancing- Mexico and South Africa
The Mexicans will prove to be the class of Group A by claiming the top spot after a huge victory over France. If the tournament was taking place anywhere other than South Africa, Bafana Bafana would have no chance at surviving this group, but South Africa is the site and South Africa will keep the streak alive, as the host nation will also advance to the 2nd round of the FIFA World Cup. Bafana Bafana will ride the emotion and support of the crowd to some surprising results and claim the second spot of Group A.
ARGENTINA, NIGERIA, GREECE and KOREA REPUBLIC
This group provides diversity with each nation representing a different continent. Argentina and Nigeria are no strangers in this competition as this is the third time they have been grouped together in the past five World Cups.
Argentina will advance… If they merely show up and field any eleven off their roster for all three group stage matches. Argentina may have had their share of struggles throughout qualification, but their overall collection of world-class talent will be enough for them to prance through this group. They may get an early scare from Nigeria, but after claiming a late victory over the Africans they will easily smash and dismantle Korea Republic and Greece on way to the 2nd round behind the scary attacking of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, and Diego Milito.
Nigeria will advance… If they manage to finish their opportunities at a semi respectable rate. Nigeria has the defence and midfield to control their oppositions from the group other then the Argentines. Add to that the continental advantage and all Nigeria needs is to take advantage of their scoring chances and they will surely have enough to outlast Greece and Korea Republic. Obi Mikel’s absence will hurt Nigeria’s already lacking creative front, but look for the Nigerians to overcome it.
Greece will advance… If they resort back to their 2004 European Championships form, where they were able to defend with the best and score multiple crucial set piece goals. Manager Otto Rehhagel may not have as talented a squad as in 2004, but the team spirit is back and if Greece is able to shutout Korea Republic and out leap them in the scoring area to get an early result then they would be more than capable of stymieing the Nigerians to put themselves in position to qualify for the 2nd round.
Korea Republic will advance… If they are able to convert their stamina, pace and determination directly into a major goal scoring attack to make up for their clear deficiencies in the defence. Led by their captain, Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung, Korea Republic looks to once again make another Cinderella-like run deep into the World Cup like in 2002, but this time they won’t have home field advantage or the referees by their side.
Advancing- Argentina and Nigeria
Argentina will have no issues early in the tournament, as no nation from the group has the defence to hold off the Argentine attack for a complete 90 minutes. Nigeria will claim the second advancing place by outperforming Greece and Korea Republic in their head to head fixtures.
ENGLAND, USA, SLOVENIA and ALGERIA
This group gets right to it with the most anticipated match being the opener when the United States squares off with group favourites England.
England will advance… If they don’t crash and burn from an early string of serious injuries to their collection of star players and defensive replacements, and if the inexperienced starting goalkeeper doesn’t make a complete fool of themselves. The English have a far too advanced squad not to place in this group that many would label as rather easy. Under Italian manager Fabio Capello look for England to make the most of their talented squad this time around in South Africa 2010. Capello brings some organization and a master tactician’s technique to a side that has the ingredients to win it all if the cards fall in place. Rooney will provide the majority of the scoring, but Lampard and Gerrard will finally succeed on the pitch together.
USA will advance… If they are able to get a point out of the massively anticipated match against England. Without that point they may be put in an immediate three-point hole that they might not be able to overcome, while being labeled favorites against Slovenia and Algeria. USA thrives under the underdog role and that is why the Slovenia and Algeria fixtures may wreak havoc on the Americans, who will be expected to defeat them both in order to secure a definite place in the 2nd round. USA has the personality and work ethic to compete with the world’s finest on any given night, but what they lack in technical abilities and reading of the game can cost them just as crucially. USA will need a much better defensive display if they plan on advancing and they must counterattack with effectiveness to top their group oppositions. Keeper Tim Howard is sure to be tested a lot in front of a shaky and out of form backline that will need Onyewu to be on the top of his game to compete. Bradley will solidify the core of the midfield and link up to the attacking and playmaking Donovan and Dempsey, which leads to the young, full-of-potential striker Jozy Altidore who must be scoring goals for the Americans to live on.
Slovenia will advance… If their late qualification magic continues into this summer’s tournament. After defeating the favored Russians in the playoff Slovenia has shown they have the potential to surprise many capable nations. Slovenia is disciplined and labors hard throughout the pitch. If they don’t lose their shape in defence and get off to a quick start with a result against Algeria there is no reason to doubt the Slovenians from advancing to the 2nd round.
Algeria will advance… If they convert their strong beliefs and spirit off the pitch towards their performance on the pitch. This North African nation is a scrappy squad that will fight and compete for a full 90 minutes as long as they avoid the inconsistent ways that have plagued them throughout the African Cup of Nations. Since not much will be expected in the England matchup, Algeria’s hopes will be decided in their opener against Slovenia and their final group stage match against the hated Americans, which sniffs similarly to the Iran-USA battle back in 98.
Advancing- England and Slovenia
The English will prove to be too talented for their competition in Group C, as they will be runaway group winners. The second place team will be much harder to decide and likely come down to the last minutes of the third fixtures with Slovenia just fighting their way past a tough group stage obstacle by goal differential or playing an England reserve side in the final match.
GERMANY, GHANA, SERBIA and AUSTRIALIA
This group has been overlooked as a potential Group of Death. It can easily be labeled the most competitive group with four legitimate quarterfinal threats.
Germany will advance... If they get just one of their frontmen in scoring form. Big named attackers Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, and Mario Gomez desperately need to regain shape, while Thomas Muller lacks experience on the grandest stage. If one of these attackers starts hitting the back of the net at a reasonable rate this will surely be enough to make up for the question mark in-between the posts, where the Germans will field an inexperienced major tournament keeper, as the three keepers on the roster combine for eight caps. The defense will be lead by newly appointed captain Phillip Lahm and central defender Per Mertesacker. Germany will need Bastian Schweinsteiger to step up and account for lack a punch in the midfield do to the Ballack deficiency. History informs us that the Germans are no strangers to success at the World Cup. The three time World Cup Champions are as sure of a bet as there is to advance at the World’s most prestigious tournament. They have advanced past the first round in all but one of their World Cup showings including 14 straight 2nd round appearances.
Ghana will advance… If their youthful squad isn’t afraid of the big stage and they are able to get at least a point in their opening match against Serbia. The Black Stars will be without their captain Michael Essien for the World Cup, but they have experienced a major tournament without him in the most recent Cup of Nations. Muntari and Appiah will pickup the load in the midfield and a pack of Ghana’s U20 World Cup champions from 2009 will reinforce this complete squad and their mission to improve upon their initial World Cup performance in 2006 where they were eliminated in the 2nd round.
Serbia will advance… If they are able to hold it together mentally throughout their initial matches. Serbia clearly has talent amongst their squad and plenty of players that play their club football for some of the best Europe have to offer like captain Dejan Stankovic and defenders Nemanja Vidic and Branislov Ivanovic. But an early defeat could see Serbia implode and lose team spirit on the way to another disappointing elimination from a tough group like in 2006 when they competed as Serbia and Montenegro. A big win against Ghana to start off the competition would be exactly what the doctor ordered for Serbia and a potential Croatia 98 like run deep into the 2010 World Cup.
Australia will advance... If they can find a consistent source of goals to help them grab results in this tough group. The Socceroos open with group favourites Germany and if they don’t hit the net or at least get a draw in that opening match it may be a blow that they won’t have time to recover for in this highly competitive group. The Aussies will need Tim Cahill to be in top form and for a lot of draws to be the results of the other group matches between their oppositions.
Advancing- Germany and Ghana
Though Germany wasn’t done any favors with this tough group, they will still live up to their normal tournament reputation by topping the group and advancing. The second spot will be hugely affected in the massive opening match between Serbia and Ghana. Look for Ghana to take benefit of the continental home field advantage and better order of matches to narrowly top Serbia in the group and advance to the second round.
NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, CAMEROON and JAPAN
The Netherlands will advance... If the injury bug doesn’t dismantle them. Heck, even if they are struck by a long list of injuries they will probably still advance. The Dutch will simply have too much attacking firepower to be contained in the group stage by this sort of competition. A tough Denmark squad could hold them to a draw at worst-case scenario, but Holland would still overpower Japan and Cameroon if it came down to that. The Netherlands may be without star winger Arjen Robben early on, but with a healthy Robin Van Persie, a primed Wesley Sneijder, and a hardworking Dirk Kuyt the Dutch will still have the tools for the group stage mission.
Denmark will advance.. If they defeat the Japanese in their final group play match. This unselfish Denmark squad battles together as one, and despite not having the flashy individual names, they have the toughness to stifle some of the best nations on the planet to earn a result. Niklas Bendtner will be depended on to provide the finishing, while Agger and Sorensten can be counted on to provide Denmark with a strong last line of defence.
Cameroon will advance... If they defeat Denmark and develop some form of creative attack that provides Samuel Eto’o with service and off the ball options when he is in possession. It is no secret that Eto’o is Cameroon’s finest player and only real dependable scoring option, so defences are certain to focus on the Inter Milan attacker. His native teammates must be certain to make penetrating runs off the ball to take advantage of this space he will create for them in order for Cameroon to develop any sort of stable attack.
Japan will advance... If Cameroon and Denmark are complete no shows to the summer’s tournament. No disrespect to the Blue Samurai, but the challenge that lies ahead for the Japanese is too steep. A powerhouse Dutch squad is sure to punish Japan and a hungry Cameroon side will be eager to start off their tournament in a positive fashion in front of their African supporters. Japan will go out fighting and with their heads held high after moments of hope early in some matches, but in the end finishing at the bottom of the group is the likely outcome.
Advancing- Netherlands and Denmark
The Netherlands will top their group and advance rather easily thanks to their lethal attack. While Denmark will outwork an ordinary Cameroon squad that will struggle to score, for the second advancing spot from Group E.
ITALY, PARAGUAY, SLOVAKIA and NEW ZEALAND
Group F fields the defending and four time World Cup Champion Italians, along with a strong South American squad that finished third in the CONMEBOL qualification zone in Paraguay. The other two nations are Slovakia who qualified for the first time as an independent nation and a weak New Zealand side that is making just their second World Cup appearance and first since 1982.
Italy will advance... If they remain as the confident and composed squad they are. The Italians might start slow with a draw against Paraguay to begin the competition, but this would be nothing that an experienced Italian side couldn’t recover from and build on as the competition proceeds. Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Danielle De Rossi, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Mauro Camoranesi, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino all return from the 2006 World Cup Champion squad along with manager Marcello Lippi. Experience plus their technical and tactical skills will be too much for their Group F opponents.
Paraguay will advance... If they are able to settle down quickly and get right to their early qualification form. Paraguay boasts an experienced side in defence and a legit goal scoring attack with names like Roque Santa Cruz, Salvador Cabanas and Oscar Cardozo up front to compete with the world’s best in this upcoming tournament. La Albirroja impressed in the CONMEBOL qualification zone by defeating each of the other four nations that qualified from their zone (including Brazil and Argentina) and look to ride that confidence into South Africa this summer.
Slovakia will advance... If they are able to take advantage of Paraguay in the midfield mismatch and get a crucial result in the second match of their tournament. Slovakia is likely to get off to a quick successful start with a win over New Zealand. But then Paraguay will be waiting in the biggest match in recent Slovakian football history. Much of the load will have to be carried by young and talented star Marek Hamsik.
New Zealand will advance... If they expand the second round to 32 teams. No offense to the All Whites, who are certain to play their hearts out in the minnows role that they have obtained after qualifying for just their second World Cup ever, but they just don’t have the talent to compete with the Group F competition. It would be a great accomplishment for New Zealand to grab a point and avoid a dead last finish.
Advancing- Italy and Paraguay
The Italians will top the group in a less than impressive fashion that demands a result out of them in their final match against Slovakia, which they will obtain. While Paraguay will edge out Slovakia for the second spot by soundly defeating New Zealand in their final group stage match behind a lively attack.
BRAZIL, PORTUGAL, IVORY COAST and KOREA DPR
Labeled the Group of Death this group is bound to provide the world with the most exciting action the group stage has to offer with Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast fighting for the two advancing spots.
Brazil will advance... If the squad accepts manager Dunga’s personality and strategic choice. Though Brazil will be without famous names like Ronaldhino, Pato, Adriano and Ronaldo this time around, they are still ranked first in the FIFA World Rankings for a reason. The Samba Kings may not storm the tournament with style, flair and open attack this time around, but that could be the key in their run for a sixth World Cup title. Brazil now boasts a strong backline (Lucio, Juan, Maicon) and a tough-minded midfield (Gilberto Silva, Melo) to go with a world-class keeper in Julio Cesar. The Brazilians will expect their attack to be in immediate top form with Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano set to dismantle a Korea DPR defence.
Portugal will advance... If they jump to a successful start and defeat Ivory Coast in their opening match. If the Portuguese get the early three points they will likely be sitting a top the table with six points after defeating a weak Korea DPR side in their second match. Cristiano Ronaldo will have the pressure of the spotlight, but Deco’s playmaking ability will be just as important for Portugal in attempting to beat the Group G defences.
Ivory Coast will advance... If they have Didier Drogba in playing shape. With Drogba able to play this will provide Ivory Coast with the exact boost needed to overcome this fierce group. The squad is filled up and down with talent and this nation is clearly the biggest threat of an African side lifting the trophy in July. Up front they are led by the goal scoring force of Didier Drogba. While the Toure brothers will provide the fight in the midfield and defence. Other big names that fill the roster are Eboue, Zakora, Keita and Kalou.
Korea DPR will advance... If two teams from Group G drop from the competition before it begins. It is not to say that Korea DPR does not deserve to be there, but being drawn into Group G was a death sentence for the North Koreans. They may have a fight in them, but it looks to be asking too much for them even to earn a single point or score a goal on top of that.
Advancing- Brazil and Ivory Coast
Though it will be anything but easy or breathtaking Brazil will win the group in much closer fashion than expected. The Ivory Coast will be motivated by the tough return of their leader and best player Didier Drogba and they will ride that wave past Portugal by smashing Korea DPR in their third and final group fixture.
SPAIN, CHILE, SWITZERLAND and HONDURAS
This group is sure to provide spectators with some high scoring matches and battles of contrasting styles of play.
Spain will advance... If well, you can just drop the "if" from this sentence because Spain will most definitely advance from Group H. They field what looks to be a world all star squad and it is blessed with cohesion and unity. They will pass around each and every one of their opponents and fill the score sheet with almost a dozen goals (most being from Villa and Torres) en route to a full nine points and ticket to the second round.
Chile will advance... If they take the pitch with confidence and finish their early opportunities. Chile will send it all in attack and the more times they score first the easier it will be for Chile. The risk/reward style of play will entertain spectators, but it will either be the life or death of Chile in the end.
Switzerland will advance... If they are able to keep the organization from the last World Cup while adding just a pinch more of finishing. After not conceding a goal in the 2006 tournament the Swiss have proven behind Ottmar Hitzfeld that they are a tough nut to crack. Though it may be nearly impossible for Switzerland to blank the Spanish, if they shutout Chile and Honduras that should suffice.
Honduras will advance... If they are able to get off to a quick start against Chile and gain some sort of confidence do to the fact that they are known to dismantle once they face a deficit. Hate to write a squad off so early, but a loss in the initial match would end all Honduran hopes.
Advancing- Spain and Chile
Spain will cruise through the group and likely gather a full nine points and add plenty of goals while at it. Second place will come down to Chile and Switzerland with Chile just outperforming the Swiss thanks to goal differential from a free flowing attack.