The 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off in just two weeks today, which is so exciting the hair on my legs keeps on spontaneously erupting into flames. By this time next week – when your correspondent Dotmund (to use his Brazilian footballer nickname) completes his guide to the groups – all the final squads will be announced and we’ll be good to go. This is especially useful for him, as he’s just realised he’s not written the preview for Group H yet. Group G, however, is in the can. Let’s suckle at the teat of knowledge and learn about the fortunes of Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast and Portugal.
Qualification 1st place in COMNEBOL FIFA Ranking 1 Best World Cup Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 & 2002)Last World Cup Quarter final (P5 W4 D0 L1 F10 A2 (2006)) Head coach Dunga (since July 2006) Most capped player Cafu 142 (1990-2006) Top goalscorer Pelé 77 (1957-1971).
Controversial though this opinion may be, but Brazil are pretty bloody good at football. Even a poor Brazil team are a match for anybody, whilst a good one are almost completely insuperable. Much has been made of the current-era Brazil, managed by their former defensive midfielder Dunga. Too much organisation, too defensive, they say. However, the fact remains that they waltzed to the 2009 Confederations Cup title and qualified at a canter from the CONMEBOL group, as eventual champions. If Dunga has added European-style organisation to the Brazil team, it’s been very much to their advantage so far.
The squad hoping to win their sixth world title this summer will be of a familiar make-up: handfuls of world-famous stars, the majority of whom play their club football in Europe. Between the sticks, Inter’s Julio Cesar has comprehensively displaced the more unpredictable Dida as number one – in fact, Dida is yet to make any of Dunga’s squads. Julio Cesar’s understudies are instead Roma’s Doni and Tottenham Hotspur’s Heurelho Gomes, whose initial wobbles at the start of his spell in England seem to have well and truly passed. However, it’s unlikely anyone else will get a look in: Julio Cesar was ever-present in qualifying, and is considered to be one of the very best goalkeepers active in world football.
In defence, an oddity, as the 2010 Brazil World Cup team is led by someone other than Cafu for the first time in one hundred million years. Captain now is Inter’s rock-solid centre-back Lucio. He will be joined by fellow Italy-based centre-half Juan of Roma, but the flying full-backs identities are a little more up in the air. Right-sided duties look most likely to fall to Inter’s Maicon, with Barcelona’s Dani Alves providing the competition; whilst on the left it will probably be Gilberto of Cruzerio with Lyon’s young Michel Bastos another option. Back-up for the established quartet will come from Benfica’s Luisão and Milan’s Thiago Silva.
The midfield, as ever, has enough quality to strike fear into the hearts of any opponent. Tactically speaking, however, it is pretty familiar: the “Magic Square” of two defensive players sitting behind two creative attacking players. It is typically anchored Felipe Melo of Juventus, with Josué of Wolfsburg his likely partner. PAO’s former Arsenal man Gilberto Silva is another possibility – now approaching veteran status but still an exceptional performer – as is Flamengo’s Kleberson. Manchester City’s Elano was also a regular throughout the qualifiers, and despite injury troubles has made the cut. Ahead of them will be the robust Julio Baptista of Roma and the elegant Kaka of Real Madrid, yet to really capture his best form since his huge money transfer from Milan but still one of the world’s best players. Benfica’s Ramires completes the selection.
In attack, it was a question of who to leave out. In the COMNEBOL group, Manchester City’s much-maligned Robinho played the most games, whilst Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano was the top scorer. They are joined by Villarreal’s Nilmar and Wolfsburg’s Grafite, scorer of perhaps the single most outrageous goal of the 2008/09 season. However, this means Milan’s exciting Alexandre Pato and his teammate, the enigmatic Ronaldinho both miss out. Coach Dunga is an avowed enthusiast for trying new players instead of slavishly sticking with familiar faces, with Flamengo’s Adriano also missing the cut.
Qualification 2nd place in AFC Round 4 Group B FIFA Ranking 106 Only World Cup Quarter final (P4 W1 D1 L2 F5 A9 (1966)) Head coach Kim Jong-Hun (since 2008).
Who really knows anything much about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea? The world’s most mysterious state qualified for their second ever World Cup finals by finishing second to their bitter rivals from the South. Beyond that, it’s hard to know anything much for sure. And in a football world where World Cups feature less and less unknown players – to the sport’s detriment, in my opinion – having a team of mystery men in the tournament’s hottest group can only be to entertainment’s advantage. A repeat of their 1966 heroics is staggeringly unlikely, but trying to second-guess Korea DPR would still be deeply unwise.
As one might expect, the majority of North Korea’s likely 23-man squad are home-based, although there are likely inclusions who play as far afield as Japan, Russia and even Switzerland. In goal will probably be Pyongyang City’s Ri Myong-Guk: he played in all but one qualifying game and is his team’s most capped current goalkeeper despite being the relatively tender age of 23. Ahead of him in defence will be the only player to see more of the qualifying action than Ri M-G, Sobaeksu’s Ri Jun-Il. Ri Kwang-Chon and Nam Song-Chol of April 25 and Cha Jong-Hyok of Amrokgang are his most likely partners in a defence comprised of young but relatively experienced campaigners: indeed, only a handful of North Korea’s likely squad are over the age of 30, whilst their oldest regular defender during the qualifiers was just 28.
Their midfield is much more cosmopolitan, mixing players of different ages and different club careers in a way the defence does not. Providing the old heads are the April 25 duo Mun In-Guk and Ji Yun-Nam. Kim Jong-Jun of Chinese club Chengdu Blades offers the most experience, with over 50 caps. The player to watch, however, is perhaps Kim Kuk-Jin. Just 21 years old, his 2 international caps have already brought him 2 goals, and he is the Chollima player to play his club football the furthest afield, at FC Wil of the Swiss Challenge League. Ahn Young-Hak of Japan’s Omiya Ardija was another regular during the qualifiers.
In attack, the team captain was also their top-scorer on the road to South Africa, Hong Yong-Jo of FC Rostov. However, other forward options boast better goalscoring records. Particularly notable here is Kawasaki Frontale’s Jong Tae-Se, a player who was born in Japan and raised in South Korea. A player with an impressive goalscoring record for his country, the only thing holding him back from further achievement seems to be the confused status of his nationality. Meanwhile, April 25’s Choe Chol-Man and An Chol-Hyok of Rimyongsu can both point to international records of one goal per two games or better.
Deciding the team, and no doubt knowing more about its strengths and weaknesses than me, is Kim Jong-Hun.
Qualification 1st place in CAF Round 3 Group E FIFA Ranking 27 Only World Cup First round (P3 W1 D0 L2 F5 A6 (2006)) Head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson (since March 2010) Most capped player Didier Zokora 78 (2000-present) Top goalscorer Didier Drogba 43 (2002-present).
Ivory Coast head into their second World Cup finals wondering quite who they must have wronged in a previous life. Having been drawn against Holland and Argentina in 2006, they now face Brazil and Portugal. In qualifying they were suitably impressive, blasting 19 goals in their 6 final group games for the loss of just four. Ivory Coast look set to be a stern test for anyone again in 2010. With an easier draw, they would be a shoo-in for the second round.
The squad is fairly familiar looking, with all but one of the original 33-man longlist playing their club football in Europe. In goal will be Boubacar Barry of KSC Lokeren. Short for a ‘keeper – 5’11” – 2010 will be Barry’s second World Cup. His understudy will probably be Aristide Zogbo of Israel’s Maccabi Netanya. He sits behind a defence containing the England-based duo of Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboué and Manchester City’s Kolo Touré. Eboué played more of the qualifiers than any defensive player, whilst Touré is just two caps shy of equaling his national record for appearances. Stuttgart’s explosive attacking left-back Arthur Boka and West Brom centre-half Abdoulaye Méïté will also prove valuable. HSV’s right-back Guy Demel – once on the books at Arsenal – could also feature. He was a regular fixture throughout qualification, although he missed out on the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Steve Gohouri of Wigan – a defender with a notable eye for goal – and the versatile and experienced Siaka Tiéné of Valenciennes also make the trip.
The midfield is built around Didier Zokora of Sevilla, who sits back and lets his more extravagant teammates do their thing. Perhaps the best-known of these is Yaya Touré of Barcelona, a player who is giving increasing work to his defensive play. Another Spain-based player, Sevilla playmaker Romaric (aka Christian Koffi Ndri) is a regular in the squad. Young Boys’ Gilles Yapi-Yapo provides defensive back-up, whilst attacking duties may fall to Abdul Kader Keïta of Galatasaray, who can play either wide or through the centre.
Up front will be Ivory Coast’s most famous player and top-scorer, team captain Didier Drogba of Chelsea, one of the best strikers in Europe and winner of the English Golden Boot this season. His Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou will certainly join him on the plane, but he is nowhere near as prolific as Drogba. Other important figures in attack are Marseille’s diminutive Bakari Koné and Lens striker, on loan at Portsmouth during 2010, Aruna Dindane. Dindane is Drogba’s closest rival in terms of goal tally in the 23-man squad, but it’s not exactly a close-run thing. Youngster Seydou Doumbia of Young Boys has also been included, but Feyenoord’s Sekou Cissé misses out in favour of a fourth goalkeeper.
The team were coached to the finals by Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, but he paid the price for the team’s poor African Nations’ Cup performance at the start of this year. His replacement is another familiar name, Sven-Göran Eriksson. This will be Eriksson’s third consecutive World Cup as a coach, in the previous two he has reached the quarter finals. Bafflingly maligned in Britain as being somehow incompetent for failing to win anything with England, Eriksson’s record of success across European football should speak for itself. However, it remains to be seen whether or not 4 months will prove long enough to settle in to such an important job.
Qualification Winner of UEFA play-off versus Bosnia and Herzegovina (2nd place in UEFA Group 1) FIFA Ranking 3 Best World Cup Third place (1966) Last World Cup Fourth place (P7 W4 D1 L2 F7 A5 (2006)) Head coach Carlos Queiroz (since July 2008 (also 1991-93) Most capped playerTop goalscorer Pauleta 47 (1997-2006). Luis Figo 127 (1991-2006)
Given the rich history of footballing skill which emanates from Portugal, it’s perhaps surprising to note that 2010 will be only the team’s fifth World Cup finals. Fourth-placed finishers in Germany four years ago, Portugal lost their way a little after Luis Felipe Scolari left the manager’s chair to join Chelsea after Euro 2008. Qualifying was a real struggle: at times it looked as though the Seleção were going to miss out. Eventually, the snuck through, one point ahead of Sweden, before beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0 home and away in a play-off to secure their passage. On recent form, however, Portugal are relying more and more on the solidity of their defence rather than the flamboyance of their attack.
That defence begins with Braga’s Eduardo, who assumed the number one spot from Ricardo after Euro 2008. His understudies should be Chelsea’s Hilario and, possibly, Benfica’s Quim – although the latter fell out of favour having started the World Cup campaign as first choice. The defensive line should consist of influential Chelsea full-back Paulo Ferreria, plus his West London teammate Ricardo Carvalho. A third Chelsea man, Bosingwa, was a fixture throughout qualifying but will miss out in 2010 due to injury. Carvalho, too, is touch and go, which would leave Portugal relying on more inexperienced players such as Porto pair Rolando and Bruno Alves, or relying on the versatility of others: Malaga winger Duda may well feature at left-back.
The midfield is similarly ravaged by injury. Real Madrid’s Pepe is struggling to recover from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, whilst old stager Maniche of Cologne has seemingly fallen from favour. Players who should make the cut include Chelsea’s Deco – retiring from international football after the tournament – Juventus’ skilful Tiago Mendes and Porto holding player Raul Meireles. More attack-minded possibilities are offered by Sporting’s versatile João Moutinho, whilst his clubmate Pedro Mendes has recently come back into international contention at just the right time.
The attack is based around the world’s most expensive player, team captain Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid. Ronaldo has had a quiet season following his move from Manchester United, but can’t ever be underestimated. Fellow Spain-domiciled forward Simão of Atletico Madrid was the top scorer during qualifying, whilst Manchester United’s improving Nani should also feature. Hugo Almeida of Werder Bremen will provide back-up should a target man be required, and Sporting’s Brazil-born star Liédson should also make the trip, a skilful and explosively talented goalscorer, Liédson has found the net 111 times in less than 200 games for Sporting, and three times in seven for Portugal.
The coach is Carlos Queiroz, erstwhile assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. 2010 will be his first World Cup finals as a manager, having been sacked by South Africa shortly before the 2002 competition. Under Queiroz, the Seleção are yet to capture anything like their best form, so a strong World Cup could prove vital to his prospects of seeing out his four year contract.
MY (useless) PREDICTION
This group was widely-heralded as The Group of Death when Charlize Theron and chums drew it from the bucket. In fact, it’s probably more straightforward than it looks. Brazil will almost certainly top it and North Korea will probably finish bottom. The issue is whether Portugal can find form at the right time after a lousy qualifying, and if Ivory Coast manage to gel with their new managerial team. If this was 2006, I’d plump for Portugal at the drop of a hat. However, I fancy that the Ivory Coast will just edge it in 2010.
2. Ivory Coast
4. North Korea
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In other, loosely-related Dotmund/World Cup news, today sees the release of Send Them Victorious: England’s Path to Glory 2006-2010 by David Stubbs, a collection of Stubbs’ football writing with illustrations by your correspondent. It is published by Zero Books and costs £8.99. You can purchase it from Amazon here.