Thursday, May 20, 2010

World Cup previews...Group B

Another day another group, as it's group B's turn. This is one of those tricky groups to handicap as all three teams are capable of moving on to the next round of the tournament. Argentina, Greece, Nigeria and South Korea have all been to the dance before and have Strong experienced teams, who can surprise us with a deep run.

South Korea:
After Co-hosting the 2002 World Cup and making a run into the semis, big things were expected from them. The growing strength of the Korean domestic league plus the spread of Korean players to top leagues in Europe indicated that a balance of power shift might be immanent. However 2006 was a disappointing tournament as they failed to make it out of their group. However they have had a strong qualifying campaign, and were the first nation to qualify for WC 2010. With largely the same group retuning for 2010, the question becomes will they be able to parlay their experience into another deep run?

The squad as a whole is strong going forward, their strength lies in playing a team game in which everyone plays for each other. Captain Park Ji-Sung is the key play maker and most of the offence will run through him. The Manchester United midfielder has gained the trust of Sir Alex to play in big matches and will be a difference maker for the Tigers. Striker Park Chu-Young will have to be a factor upfront for the Republic, the Monaco player has the technical ability to score plenty of goals and set up any of his strike partners.

The one area The Tigers will have to improve on is their tendency to give up late goals.In 2006 they gave up a late goals that cost them a place in the round of 16. This is an area that can be corrected with more experience and mental strength in the back four. The Tigers must over keep out late goals or they may miss out on another strong run.

The 2004 European champions enter this tournament much like they did the 04' tournament, under the radar. After an up and down qualifying campaign which saw them make the World Cup via playoff, will the is Greek team be able to pull of another miracle to make it out of this group stage?

Ok so miracle may be harsh considering a large part of this squad was apart of the Euro winning team 6 years ago. However this may also prove to be an issue as like then, they will struggle to score goals. National team manager Otto Rehhagel has built this squad from the back four out. Meaning they can stop most teams from scoring, but lack the quality to put that all important goal away to win. It's one thing to get away with it during qualifying, but it's near impossible to repeat the feat in the World Cup against so many quality sides.

The key players will be defenders Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Vasilis Torosidis and midfielder and captain Giorgos Karagounis. They will have to organize the team and make sure they play within the Greek system. Theofanis Gekas and Angelos Charisteas will have to bang in the goals for Greece in order for them to have a chance to battle for the second place slot. Both have been big game players for Greece when called upon.

Greece will rely on its veterans to get to the next round, however this may be a hill to large to climb for Hellas.

Like many other teams in this tournament The Super Eagles have a very strong team on paper, but like I said for France in yesterday's post the game is not played on paper and Nigeria is a bit of an unknown product. Yes I know the majority of the starting 11 will stay the same however with new manager Lars Lagerbäck, will the Super Eagles revert to a more defensive style as Lagerbäck likes?

Nigeria has been and African power for years on the world football scene, producing some of the best young talent in the world. The "Flying Eagles" U-20 teams have won 5 African youth championships and placed 2nd in world competitions on 2 occasions. This has greatly benefited the senior squad as these youth players have risen through the ranks to help strengthen the World Cup team. This has also helped the team do well in previous World Cups. However it can be said that for all it success at the youth level the Super Eagles have not been able to replicate this at the highest level.

This has at times been due to a lack of stability at the manager position. This World Cup is no different as the Nigerian Football Association fired former manager long term manager Shaibu Amodu after the African Cup in January. The hiring of Lagerbäck may represent a lack of faith in African born managers during major tournaments.

Key players for Nigeria will be Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, Mikel John Obi, Taye Taiwo and Joseph Yobo. Martins and Yakubu will have to be the offensive stars for Nigeria, as they will need to score plenty of goals in order to compete in the group. At the back Taiwo and Yobo will lead a strong arguably the strongest back four in the group, but they will have to stay away from committing silly fouls in order to be effective.

Simply put this is the strongest team in the group. The two time champions are easily the most experienced and, most exciting teams in the tournament. I have very little doubt that this team will qualify for the round of 16. The question will be can they take all 9 points or will it be dragged into a dog fight by the other teams in the group.

The press has tired to jump on the fact that Argentina had a poor qualifying campaign. They have also tried to pin all of this on manager Diego Maradona. However it has to be said that Maradona called up no less than 100 different players to the national team during qualifying. This to some this will look like a manager who has no idea of what is team should look like. However I think it is more of trying to find the right fit for this tournament. Look Maradona for all his faults is not stupid when it comes to football, he knows Argentinian talent and knows how to play this type of tournament. Now that he knows his best 11, you could see this team return to the powerhouse we've come to know over the past 30 years.

The Key players on this squad are Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez, Javier Mascherano, Ángel Di María and Walter Samuel. Now having the best player on planet earth on your team always helps in Leo Messi, and yes he can turn the balance of a game and indeed a whole tournament; But he will need help from the likes of Tévez, Di Maria, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín to score goals.

Front to back this team is stacked, especially upfront where Argentina could win this tournament alone (Hint, hint). The midfield can both create and defend, an the back four can do the same. I cannot see this team failing to make it out of the group stage in first place.

Overall this group is a race for that second place spot between Nigeria, Greece and South Korea.

Prediction: Argentina wins the group comfortably with...South Korea heading to the second round narrowly beating out Nigeria and Greece for 2nd place.

Coming soon...Group C!

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