Thursday, June 10, 2010

Group H preview

The final group for South Africa 2010 is an interesting group to preview as it has the overwhelming favorites not just to win the group, but the whole tournament in Spain; plus three teams on the rise in Honduras, Chile and Switzerland. I won't even bother to gloss over the fact that baring a massive collapse Spain will take maximum points in this group. The real intrigue is the race for 2nd place between Honduras, Chile and Switzerland. Picking between the 3 is a real toss up as either of the teams could make it through.

I'll get the obvious one out of the way first. Spain is a class apart in this tournament, only Brazil and Argentina can match the talent on this team, and I'll even be as bold as saying that this is the most talented team from the front to the back. Put it this way when a world class player like Cesc Fàbregas sits on the bench because the two guys in front of him are 5 times better than him; you are blessed with an embarrassment of riches. The defending European champions come into the tournament having only lost once in the past 17 matches. Until their defeat at the hand of the Americans at the Confederations Cup last summer, they had gone 35 matches unbeaten with 32 of those wins. The sheer power of Spanish football is at a level only matched by the Brazilians, which leads many to believe that this will be the final on July 11th.

With all due respect to strikers David Villa and Fernando Torres, the key player that makes this machine work in Xavi (Hernández). The Barcelona midfielder is probably the best passer of the ball in the world, he keeps the team in line and distributes to the right players at just the right time. His vision of the pitch is second to none, as time and time again it's his passes that play in Villa and Torres for the goals they score. Xavi also plays a key role in linking the wing backs into the action as well, and because he makes so few mistakes with the ball it allows his fellow midfielders the push further upfield.

The most important thing for Spain is to get out of this group games without major injury. As players like Torres, Iniesta and Xavi himself are not at 100%. It is also worth noting the past two European champions have not fared that well in their quest for the world title. France won it in 2000 and had a poor showing at World Cup 2002, and Greece won in 2004 and didn't even qualify for 2006. I doubt Spin will have the same fate as France in 2010, but stranger things have happened.

After a difficult 2009 in which the country had it mind far from football due to the Military coup, the country can unite behind their World Cup bound national team. The country could end up having a lot to cheer about in the end as this team could shock some people with a longer than predicted run. As CONCACAF's third representative team (at Canada's expense) Honduras has a fairly strong team with a decent midfield and very good strikers upfront.

The keys for Honduras will be to control said midfield as their back four is their biggest weakness. The two players that will have to accomplish this are Wilson Palacios and captain and former Toronto FC player Amado Guevara. Palacios will provide the steel in the midfield, winning the ball with strong tackles while getting the ball forward to the playmakers. Guevara will provide the cut and thrust for the team going forward. He will have to set up the wingers and the strikers with his excellent passing ability. When going forward he will have two excellent strikers to choose from in David Suazo and the ageless Carlos Pavón.

Honduras will provide a stern test for any team in this group, even Spain, however I believe their back four could let them down in the end. However if the defence can pick up their play, this team could be the Turkey of 2010.

The Swiss are becoming a mainstay team at the World Cup, each year producing better talent which is increasing the possibilities of a second round birth. The squad this time around is a mix of long term veterans and some young taken who will be well served by getting the World Cup experience. On paper you would think this team would just fall short of having enough to make it out of the first round, and frankly I would have to agree.

However if the Swiss are to get through they will need to score a lot of goals; something they are not exactly known for. If you need proof of this check out highlights of their 2006 round of 16 game against Ukraine, possibly the worst World Cup game ever. The squad will rely on vet Alexander Frei to bang in the goals upfront, however since he plays alone up top at times he could get isolated which will lead to a lack of the offence they need. This means that a lot of the pressure will be on the defence as was the case in 2006. They must keep other teams from executing their attack in order to progress, they do this by playing a high offside trap which if they are not in sync with each other could leave them exposed at the back.

I believe that the Swiss will just miss out on the round of 16 due to a lack of offensive ability and pace which this team sorely lacks. They will be in every game however the skill of the three other teams leads me to to say that the Swiss will finish at the bottom of this group.

The South American runners ups in qualifying are another team coming into the tournament on a good stretch of form. Having won its past 7 matches in a row the team is playing some of the best football in the world you probably didn`t know about. Although the squad does not come into the tournament with a ton of star names on the roster, the team collectively is one of the strongest dark horse teams in the field.

The biggest name on the team is striker Humberto Suazo who plays in Spain for Real Zaragoza. Outside of him you have a good nucleus of players who have alot of experience playing with each other on the pitch. This was key during qualifying as they kept the same lineup for basically the entire run, unlike Argentina which changed its squad every game and almost didn`t get in. The key to success for Chile is its team play, when playing as a collective unit this is a very hard team to beat. When compared to the other teams in the group is see Chile having an edge against Honduras and Switzerland, while giving Spain all it can handle.

The only issue Chile could have is in controlling the midfield, especially against Honduras and Spain. Chile have great play makers, however they lack that player in the centre of the park who can influence the game by making the hard tackle to win the ball. This could end up being key in the group. With that said though I see Chile moving on to the round of 16.

Predictions: Spain top the group, with Chile edging out Honduras and the Swiss for second place.

Wow it`s been a long month taking a look at these groups and throwing in my two cents. It`ll be a relief to finally stop talking and watch how the 2010 World Cup shakes down. Knowing my luck none of the teams i picked will go through and we`ll have a North Korea v Slovakia final.

Cheers and lets the madness begin!

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