Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Group F preview


Strengths: Italy are, as always, strong at the back with quality going forward. With famous highly skilled players like Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Gattusso, Pirlo, De Rossi and Gilardino Italy are always capable of winning football matches, regardless of who they play. Pirlo in particular has always been a wonderfully  creative player with an ability to make precise searching long field passes. He is their key playmaker. Italy are historically an excellent defending team - history provides us with Nesta and Maldini to prove this point. On paper it is still defence which is where their best capabilities lie. This probably stems from Seria A being a traditionally strong defensive league. Cannavaro is their leader from the back but their top defender is probably Chiellini, who at 25 should serve Italy well for many years to come. Buffon of course is one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

Weaknesses: There are fairly valid criticisms that Italy are an aging squad with a number on decline rather than at the peak of their powers. They lack a world class striker up front. While Gilardino, Iaquinta and Di Natale are good players they do not quite have the qualities of the best strikers in the world. Gilardino has the best strike rate of their strikers. Pirlo, who is potentially key, is struggling with an injury which may rule him out of some of the early games of the tournament.

Formation: It appears Lippi is still pondering whether to employ a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. He certainly tried both in their last friendly against the Guateng All Stars.

Manager: Marcelo Lippi has won many titles in his 25 year managerial career and has a fantastic reputation. To his name, domestically, he has five Serie A titles, four Italian Supercup, one Champions League, one UEFA Supercup and one Intercontinental Cup. He also won the World Cup in 2006 and was reappointed in 2008 after Donadoni led Italy to a poor Euro 2008 campaign.

Qualification: Italy won their European qualifying group with the minimum of fuss.

World Cup pedigree: Italy are the second most successful national side with 4 World Cup titles (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006). They have competed in every tournament except two, finished second twice (1970 and 1994), third once (1990) and fourth once (1978)

Chance of progression from Group F: 80%, could manage first place.

New Zealand

Strengths: New Zealand's strengths lie in central defence and attack. Ryan Nelsen is the key player and plays at the highest level of them domestically, playing for Blackburn Rovers week in and week out. He is the inspirational captain. Fellow centre-backs Tommy Smith and Winston Reid are young and have barely played internationally but they are also very talented. Smith is at Ipswich Town and Reid plays in the Danish premier league. They are composed on the ball and look a real talent. Up front Fallon is strong in the air and physically dominant, Smeltz has scored a number of goals for clubs in the Australian A League and Killen is useful. The Kiwis are also a committed bunch with a close team spirit who can play better than the sum of their parts.

Weaknesses: New Zealand are weakest in midfield. Elliott and Brown are a reasonable centre-mid pairing but in general the midfield gives the ball away too easily and lacks creativity. Brown is also under an injury cloud after surgery on a fractured upper arm. Bertos can be an exciting winger but in the position he plays in the All Whites chosen formation he spends too much time defending to show off much attacking prowess. Defending down the flanks is a definite weakness for the All Whites. Also, the players I have outlined as their strengths are a relative strength - when comparing like with like with the vast majority of the teams at the World Cup they would be seen unfavourably.

Formation: Should be a 3-4-3/5-4-1. In other words NZ play 3 centre-backs, 2 wing-backs, 2 central midfielders and 3 strikers. As is the nature of a wing-back the wing-backs are fullbacks on defence and wingers on attack. In defence 2 of the strikers will usually drop back to midfield to help out.

Manager: Ricki Herbert - former NZ international who played at the 1982 World Cup. He combines his international management with domestic management for Wellington Phoenix who play in the Australian A League.

Qualification: NZ won Oceania comfortably before facing Bahrain in a playoff for SouthAfrica. The Kiwis held Bahrain to a 0-0 draw in Bahrain and then fashioned out a magnificent 1-0 home victory at Wellington's Westpac Trust Stadium. I went to that game and it was one of the nights of my life.

World Cup pedigree: NZ have only had one previous World Cup appearance, in 1982 in which they lost all 3 games, scoring twice and conceding 12.

Chance of progression from Group F: 20%, could easily finish last but I'm going to be positive and predict third place!


Strengths: Paraguay play an exciting brand of football - they can be lethal on the counter-attack. They are well equipped defensively having only conceded 16 goals from 18 qualifying games. Their key players will be the brave predatory Valdez up front and the creative hard working Riveros in midfield. And of course Roque Santa Cruz who with 69 caps, 21 goals and experience in the Premier League could be crucial to the cause.

Weaknesses: Paraguay will really miss Cabanas who was their top scorer in qualifying. An excellent goalscorer, he was shot in the head in January and whilst recovering nicely is not fit to take part in the World Cup. Paraguay tend not to enjoy possession play and so will be vulnerable to teams who pass well.

Formation: Probably a 4-4-2 although they may switch to a 4-3-3 if it suits.

Manager: Argentinian Gerardo Martino. He had about 8 years experience of coaching Paraguayan clubs domestically before being appointed international manager.

Qualification: Paraguay finished 3rd in South America - one point behind Brazil and on equal points (with an inferior goal difference) with Chile.

World Cup pedigree: This is Paraguay's eighth world cup. They have reached the second round on three occasions (1986, 1998 and 2002) but have never progressed further.

Chance of progression from Group F: 65%, probably in 2nd place but should give Italy a run for their money for top spot.


Strengths: Slovakia have a strong defence led by the imposing and very good player (particularly in the air), Martin Skrtel. Hamsik is a technically gifted midfielder who has earnt rave reviews at Napoli. Sestak is an exciting player in the forward line. Their biggest strength is defence although they scored a lot of goals in qualifying. All of their players play outside Slovakia for reasonable European sides.

Weaknesses: They only have a limited number of star quality players who, if they were injured, would leave a big hole in the side. Skrtel has just managed to battle back from injury to be fit. They also lack creative guile at times in the midfield although the likes of Stoch, Hamsik and Weiss will play with good skill and pace. Slovakia also lack a prolific goalscorer and will hope for goals throughout the team.

Formation: Probably 4-4-2.

Manager: Vladimir Weiss - on his first international assignment.

Qualification: Finished top of a group also containing Slovenia, Czech Republic and Poland.

World Cup pedigree: Slovakia was a part of Czechoslovakia from 1918 until 1992. The Czech national team qualified for eight World Cups finishing second on two occasions (1934 and 1962). The last World Cup that Czechoslovakia participated in was Italia '90. The team progressed to the quarter-finals and lost to eventual champions Germany 1-0. From the 17 national team players, eight were Slovakian. Slovakia turned into an independent Republic in 1993. This is their first World Cup participation as an independent nation.

Chance of progression from Group F: 50%, may miss out.

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