Sunday, June 6, 2010

Group F Preview

Group F should be a straight forward group, as the overwhelming favorites are the defending champions Italy and South American powers Paraguay. Both teams are gifted at all parts of the games and should over power group members New Zealand and Slovakia.

The reigning champions enter the tournament with the difficult job of trying to defend their trophy in a stacked field for this year's tournament. Manager Marcello Lippi brings a very strong side with him to South Africa with will emphasize the strength of Italian football, solid defence with a blazing counter attack. It should be noted that the only country to ever repeat as champions of the world are the Italians back in the 1930's.

Lippi has had his team selections criticized in the past, it's been said that he sticks to his favorites who tend to be on the older side. However looking over the squad for 2010 he cannot be faulted for this. From the back 4 to the strikers, Lippi has an embarrassment of riches from which to choose his starting 11. Even if you take into account the fact that Italy will be fielding one of the oldest teams on average for this world cup, the players selected are all still world class and are capable of reaching the final for a second consecutive year.

It helps Italy's chances when who field arguably the world's best goalkeeper in Gianluigi Buffon. Coming into his fourth and more than likely final world cup Buffon can win any match on his own, and if Italy get ahead by one goal it normally is game over for the opposition. Fabio Cannavaro leads the back line for the Azzurri and at age 36 this will also be his last world cup. The 2006 world player of the year and world cup man of the tournament will have to pull out one more incredible tournament if Italy hope to win a 5th world cup and tie Brazil.

As said earlier this should be a fairly easy group stage for Italy, however the test for them will lie in the knock out stage as this veteran team will have to show how truly fit they are in order to make a deep run.

Consistently in the top three in terms of ranking in South America, Paraguay will be expecting to move to the round of 16 for the 4th time in it's world cup history. The team is strong in all aspects pf the game, although its greatest strength is in the midfield build up and service to the forwards. They will also be playing with extra motivation as they will want to honour compatriot forward Salvador Cabañas who will miss the world cup after being shot in Mexico back in January of this year.

Leading the way for Paraguay will be forward Roque Santa Cruz who has been a leading scorer since his international debut as a 19 year old. He along with strike partner Óscar Cardozo will have to put away their chances in order for Paraguay to advance. Aside form Italy the other two teams in the group should pose little challenge to them. If Paraguay have a weakness it is in their defencive organization, the midfielders must be aware of a potential counterattack should their build up breakdown. If they can do that they should take the 2nd spot in the group pretty comfortably.

New Zealand:
The All Whites are entering their second ever world cup as massive underdogs to advance to the second round, in fact more experts have the All Whites going winless during the group stage. The fact of the matter is New Zealand qualified for the world cup in probably the weakest qualifying zone in the world. The team lacks any real creativity in their attack, plus they also lack a true striker that will make defences respect them. This usually equals a three and done team in the world cup.

The traditional rugby powerhouse will be out to show well against the world's leading football nations. The All Whites have a great fighting spirit which could serve them well in their group games. They also have a bit of momentum coming into the tournament after beating Serbia in their final warm up match. If New Zealand are to have any chances of progressing to the round of 16, they will have to continue to play the way they did against Serbia. The All Whites played an organized style with one striker upfront to hold up play until the midfield could join the attack. However as I have mentioned in earlier posts, this can only work if your striker is an excellent hold up player and you midfield is quick enough to transition form defence to offence.

Shane Smeltz will have to be the key for the All Whites. If they hope to generate any offence Smeltz must find space to get open a score when he gets service. This might be difficult as he'll in all likely hood be up front on his own. Which could become a lonely thankless job if the midfield cannot grab a foothold in the game.

For the first time since Independence Slovakia will be appearing in the world cup and bring with them a decent squad with some good young players that will develop through this tournament. The Slovaks are coming off a good qualifying campaign in which they showed some flashes of being potentially a team that could make a surprise run in the tournament.

Slovakia's keys to success will be to play solid defence by playing the high offside trap they like to play, also they will need to be an effective counter attacking team similar to the Italians. Marek Hamšík and Vladimír Weiss will be the players who will carry the brunt of the counter attacking play. Hamšík especially will be the catalyst for any forward play for Slovakia. Once they can get the ball to the forwards Róbert Vittek and Stanislav Šesták will have to be strong in front of goal as they have the ability to break a game open at anytime.

In terms of group match ups the Slovaks must win their game against Paraguay in order to stand a chance of advancing to the round of 16. This will be the game of the group as the same will apply to Paraguay.

I see Italy winning this group though it might be a bit closer than they would like, and I think Paraguay will be just a bit better than Slovakia to progress into the round of 16.

Two more groups to go! Group G next.


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