This is my final preview of the eight groups. After the tournament begins on Friday, I’ll try to have daily recaps of the day’s events and my analysis here at Popdose. This is also a final shout out to you to join the Yahoo World Cup Fantasy Group for Popdose readers. The password is “popdose.”
Group G (world ranking in parentheses):
Brazil (1): There’s no way to preview Brazil without resorting to cliche or overwrought poetry. So instead, I’ll suggest that you take any similar profile about them from the past 50 years, change the names to reflect the current squad, and it would most likely work. There’s every reason to believe they’ll prove that their quarterfinal exit in 2006, the first time since 1990 that they didn’t reach the Final, was an aberration. Look for them to be playing for it all on July 11.
Ivory Coast (27): The loss of Didier Drogba, arguably Africa’s best player right now, to injury is a crucial blow to the Ivory Coast. With him, they could compete with any team in the world. Without him, they’re a strong starting lineup without a lot of depth, which you need when playing a lot of games in such a short spell. That’s too bad because their best players are all in their prime. There’s still a chance they can qualify for the knockout rounds, but it would depend on how Portugal plays.
North Korea (105): In a normal group, North Korea would merely be fighting New Zealand for the title of Worst Team in the tournament. But stuck with three very good attacking teams, North Korea, who qualified for the first time since 1966, can be renamed Target Practice for the next few weeks. Looking for any advantage, they tried to subvert a FIFA rule by naming a sixth striker as a reserve goalkeeper. FIFA, who mandates that teams carry three netminders on their roster, ruled that the player could only appear in goal. That’s an apt harbinger for North Korea’s chances.
Portugal (3): Which Portugal team will show up, the one that dazzled its way to the 2006 semifinals or the one that often crashes out of major tournaments in a sea of missed chances and red cards? The question should be answered by playmaker Deco, who has been inconsistent as he enters the downside of his career. Whichever one does, however, they promise to not be boring. But as celebrated as they are for their offense, especially preening diver Christiano Ronaldo, their defense is equally strong and could cause handfuls for Brazil and the Ivory Coast.
Predicted order of finish: Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast, North Korea
Chile (18): I don’t think I’ve seen Chile play since a friendly with the U.S. in early 2000. They had fallen down towards the bottom of South American qualifying as teams like Ecuador and Venezuela challenged for the final spot in the past decade. So I was shocked to see that they not only qualified, but actually finished in second place ahead of Argentina. We’ll see if they can carry that momentum into the second round. With this group that’s a strong possibility, but I don’t really know anything about them.
Honduras (38): American defender Jonathan Bornstein is more loved in Honduras than he is in his home country. His late equalizer against Costa Rica on the final day of qualifying gave Honduras an automatic berth into the tournament. But everybody who follows Major League Soccer know that stalwarts Amado Guevara and Carlos Pavon are hardly the players they were at the beginning of the 21st century, and Honduras will need world-class performances from both of them if they are to have a shot at getting out of the group.
Spain (2): Like Holland, they’re favorites every year but have never delivered on their promise. But if the current European champions are ever going to seriously contend for the Jules Rimet trophy, this is the time. There’s not a weak link on this team, and having a central midfield of Xavi and Xabi Alonso is an embarrassment of riches. Now throw Fernando Torres and David Villa up top, sit back and enjoy the ride to face Brazil for the whole shooting match on July 11.
Switzerland (24): I’m somewhat neutral on the Swiss. That joke never gets old. Or maybe it does, I’m not sure. Then again, I don’t know what to think of Switzerland’s chances because they’re so damn boring that I am falling asleep just typing this. Take the smart, solid play of the Scandinavian teams and remove all the personality and you’ll have the Swiss. There’s a possibility they can advance to the second round, as they did in 2006, but it will likely be if their uniforms come attached with corkscrew, nail file, and scissors. Yeah, I’ve used that joke lots of times, too.
Predicted order of finish: Spain, Chile, Switzerland, Honduras