Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Group B preview

Argentina

Strengths: Argentina have a star studded line-up of exciting quality players. Messi is arguably the best footballer in the world, capable of regularly turning on sublime displays. Very creative, he provides good opportunities for others and scores plenty himself. With the likes of Higuain and Di Maria in their first eleven, and having the superb duo of Tevez and Diego Milito on the best bench in international football, they certainly have a lot of flair and potential for goals. They also boast the excellent Mascherano who can be the linchpin for their side and the experienced tough-tackling Samuel in defence. Goalkeeper Romero is a great talent and one to watch out for. Argentina have a clear idea of their World Cup starting line-up which will be of great help to them.

Weaknesses: Argentina's defence is probably their weakest aspect. They have a couple of strong names at the back in Samuel and Demichelis but it is an area that has been quite suspect in recent times, conceding a few too many goals. Maradona also made the strange decision not to pick the brilliant Zanetti who has been an amazing full-back for Inter Milan this season as well as leaving behind the outstanding defensive midfielder Cambiasso. The argument in favour of Maradona is that neither have done particularly well in the few games they played for their national side in qualifying. However Argentina may yet rue these decisions. Also, although Messi is possibly the biggest football genius since, well, Maradona, he has played a lot better for Barcelona than he has for his country.

Formation: Argentina should line up in a 4-4-2 type of arrangement. Maradona has expressed his wish that the fullbacks do not pass the halfway line which is unusual in an era where rampaging full-backs are all the rage. So it will be a fairly static backline allowing him to play just the one holding midfielder, Mascherano, who will need to cover the full width of the pitch. Veron will also be fairly deep lying looking to spray long precise passes to team-mates in more attacking positions. Gutierrez and Di Maria will be the wingers and Messi will play just off Higuain. Having resisted the temptation of producing a formation that could include all their attacking stars one would suggest the bench might be used a fair amount but with the formation tweaked rather than radically altered during games.

Manager: Diego Maradona is a former national football hero for Argentina. He has also been a controversial figure. The 1986 quarter-final against England typifies his combination of the sublime and the cheat. He equalised with the infamous 'Hand of God' goal before scoring possibly the best goal ever only 3 minutes later. In 1994 he was sent home from the World Cup in disgrace after failing a drugs test. He is both loved and loathed throughout the football world. His position as the very colourful manager of Argentina means no match they play can possibly be considered dull. He lacks managerial experience and has been accused of being both a drug and alcohol addict but he is a national icon. He has promised to run naked through Buenos Aires if Argentina win the World Cup. An unpredictable figure it is hard to gauge how well he will do as manager of Argentina at this World Cup - he could certainly surprise a few people.

Qualification: Argentina finished 4th in the South America qualifying group - the last automatic qualifying position - although they were in serious trouble at various stages throughout qualification. After a patchy 10 rounds in which Argentina had managed 4 wins, 4 draws and 2 losses manager Basile resigned, a few days later Maradona was named manager. In his second qualifying match as manager he oversaw an abysmal 6-1 loss to Bolivia. In general their patchy form continued scoring some wins but also some poor losses including Brazil's first win against Argentina in Argentina. But with 2 wins in their final 2 games Argentina qualified, leaving Uruguay requiring a play-off against Costa Rica.

World Cup pedigree: Argentina have an excellent World Cup pedigree. This is their 15th tournament. They have won twice (1978 and 1986) and finished second twice (1930 and 1990). They have never lost a semi-final but have been knocked out in the quarters on three occasions (1966, 1998 and 2006).

Chance of progression from Group B: 90%, probably in first place.

Greece

Strengths: Greece are a hardworking, organised unit who pay great attention to their defence. It was this outstanding defence that fired them to victory in the Euro 2004 Championships although they lost all 3 games at Euro 2008. They have one player of great goalscoring prowess: Gekas who scored ten goals in ten games during qualifying (top goalscorer in the Europe section) and who in general averages better than a goal every 2.5 games for Greece. They have an experienced squad with some of their most valuable players in their victorious 2004 side still around - such as Seitaridis, Karagounis, Katsouranis and Charisteas. They also work well together as a team.

Weaknesses: Greece lack creativity and flair and their type of game is well documented. Teams well understand that they need to break Greece down and will have practised ways to do so. Their experienced squad members are also aging and will be less effective than they were. Other veterans have retired and been replaced with youth and inexperience. Greece rely on moments of inspiration from their strikers or set pieces. They may be strong at holding onto a lead but they struggle to chase a game effectively. Aside from Gekas only four other players scored in their qualifying campaign. And 9/10 of Gekas' goals were scored against Moldova, Latvia and Luxembourg.

Formation: Greece will likely line-up 4-3-3 although this may change to 3-4-3 depending on the formation of the opposition. Rehaggel is a very tactically aware manager and will prefer 3 at the back when up against two strikers and 4 at the back when up against 3. He will employ 3 up front himself in order to keep the opposition full-backs busy.

Manager: Otto Rehhagel - one of Greece's strengths. He was at the helm when Greece won Euro 2004 and is very tactically astute.

Qualification: Greece finished 2nd behind Switzerland in a fairly easy qualifying group (Israel was the only other tough match). They then faced an aging Ukraine side in the playoffs winning 1-0 on aggregate.

World Cup pedigree: Greece have only made the World Cup finals once before - in 1994. In their Group they faced two teams they will be facing in 2010 - Argentina and Nigeria.

Chance of progression from Group B: 50%, will likely miss out.

Nigeria

Strengths: Nigeria have a solid defensive line-up. The likes of Yobo, Shittu and Etuhu will ensure they are a tough nut to crack. They also have talented attackers in the likes of Kanu, Yakubu and Martins with Odemwingie contributing from midfield. Fullback Taye Taiwo is a quick counter-attacking defender with a ferocious shot.

Weaknesses: Nigeria will really miss their best player Mikel who has been ruled out of the tournament. Mikel is an excellent player, particularly protecting the back four but also going forward. Nigeria do not have the strength of squad that they had in the mid to late nineties when they proved to be a force in world football - thus expectations will not be so high in 2010. Nigeria have received valid criticism for the slow cumbersome way they link defence and attack meaning that they are too predictable moving forward and so are easier to defend against. In other words at times they lack creativity and put the onus for providing such flair on too few shoulders. They have also been criticised for not selecting Anichebe or Ike Uche up front meaning that they instead rely on some old heads which some people fear may not cut it anymore.

Formation: No real indications have been given but 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 are the most likely formations.

Manager: Swede Lars Lagerback was handed the reigns only months ago (26 Feb 2010). He had resigned as Sweden's manager after their failure to qualify for World Cup 2010 - he had been at their helm for around a decade. Albeit hampered by only a short time in the job Lagerback brings experience and the potential for greater organisation. He also has the experience of beating Argentina as a manger - at the group stages of the 2002 World Cup (they won 2-1 and progressed to the 2nd round, Argentina were eliminated).

Qualification: This was far from easy for Nigeria. Going into the last round of games Tunisia were 2 points ahead of Nigeria. However they suffered a 1-0 loss to Mozambique and Nigeria came from behind to defeat Kenya 3-2 and pipped Tunisia in their group by 1 point. Hardly inspiring.

World Cup pedigree: Nigeria have competed in 3 previous world cups (94, 98 and 2002). In both 94 and 98 they qualified for the 2nd round and in their inaugural appearance in 94 almost made the quarters. Leading 1-0 against Italy Baggio equalised with only a couple of minutes remaining and Italy went on to win in extra-time.

Chance of progression from Group B: 60% probably in 2nd.

South Korea

Strengths: South Korea play with good pace and technique and have some good, experienced and influential players who can make a difference in South Africa. The 37 year old veteran keeper Lee Woon-Jae should get the nod and is still an excellent goalkeeper despite his advancing years. Park Ji-Sung is clearly the biggest star, plying his trade at Manchester Utd and a very good attacking threat from midfield. His work rate is undeniable and his service is spot on. Park Chu-Young of Monaco is expected to score the goals. In defence Lee Young-Pyo (33) has amassed 113 caps but it is 25 year old Oh Beom-Seok who is most important having played more qualifying games than any other defender. They defend well as a whole team, proved by conceding a meagre 4 goals from 8 games in their final qualifying group.

Weaknesses: South Korea are not a strong team in the physical sense. There is a danger of them underperforming against more physically dominant opposition and they may be vulnerable at set-pieces. They do not appear to have the individual brilliance that some teams possess. Reports suggest they will have difficulty playing at altitude, if so their game against Argentina will be interesting! It is thought that the more difficult opposititon they will face in South Africa will expose their defence to be weaker than their qualification campaign suggests.

Formation: South Korea traditionally enjoy playing a 4-4-2. Some reports suggest they will play 3-5-2 at the World Cup, I think it would be a mistake if they did.

Manager: Huh Jung-Moo. He has been manager since December 2007. He has revitalised some careers and made his team hard to beat.

Qualification: South Korea comfortably qualified for the World Cup and finished top of their final qualifying group ahead of North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

World Cup pedigree: South Korea have qualified for their 7th consecutive World Cup finals, an Asian record. They had never qualified before this. On each occasion they have been knocked out at the Group Stage, except when as hosts they finished fourth in 2002. This achievement was marred by controversy as very suspect refereeing decisions, particularly against Italy and Spain, helped them to the semi-finals.

Chance of progression from Group B: 50%, will probably miss out.

2 comments:

William Fussey said...

Suggestions coming out of Argentina indicate I might have the Argentina team slightly wrong: Gutierrez may play in an unfamiliar right-back role allowing a spot for Tevez in the starting lineup. In this scenario Messi will play a little deeper - in the hole behind the front two.

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