Dec 4, 2009

Ranking the 2010 World Cup groups by degree of difficulty

The biggest sporting event on the planet, the soccer World Cup, will be held in South Africa next June. Today, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body of soccer (which some parts of the world still call football) staged, er, held its draw to decide the makeup of the eight groups. Charlize Theron led the ceremony, though ties between her and South Africa are nebulous at best. The actress does not appear to be capable of even mimicking a South African accent, if today's show is to be believed. Apparently Matt Damon wasn't available.

Anyway, our ranking of these groups by degree of difficulty, from most difficult to least difficult, follows:

1. Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
The most challenging group, no question. Three of these teams are potential semifinalists. Brazil is fierce, but the matchups with the Ivory Coast and its former colonial masters Portugal are very intriguing. The African side appear deeper than Portugal: with Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou it has one of the most formidable striker pairings anywhere. Barcelona man Yaya Toure anchors a midfield that also includes Arsenal's Emmanuel Eboue and Didier Zokora, while Kolo Toure heads up the defense. If there's a weak link, it's at goalkeeper. In fact, I couldn't even tell you who they have for the spot. Brazil, by contrast, has two Serie A tested goalies who could start for any number of other teams, including England (though frankly MLS has some goalkeepers who would be an improvement to England's options. But I digress). This group is going to be awesome. Except for the games involving North Korea, that is. Which is fine, because nobody fom North Korea will be watching them.

Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
If Group G is the group of death, Group D is the group of hospice. Unlike Group G, there is no weak link, at least not to the degree of North Korea. You know the Germans are going to be a force because, well, they always are. Serbia are very strong and can play with anybody. Australia are underrated. Mark Bresciano and Scott McDonald can cause problems for opposing teams' defenses and you know the Aussies will work harder than just about anybody. Ghana were runners-up in the inaugural African Nations Championship. Their midfield, with Mickael Essien and Sulley Ali Muntari, is superb. The two European sides are probable favorites to advance, but Australia and particularly Ghana could give them a run for their money. Should be a fun group. In the end, the Germans win. Expect more of the same here.

Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
A clear favorite (Argentina) with three teams that will challenge each other for second place. Unless, that is, Argentina lose their opening game against Nigeria (could easily happen). South Korea appear a little thin but if 2002 taught us anything it's that they are more than capable of surprises. Greece too could go either way. But all in all a pretty easy group for Argentina.

Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Another group that could go either way. The Netherlands kicked arse in qualifying but had lousy competition. Other than Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben this team appears to lack star power, at least judging by its own very high standards. The current generation of Dutch players simply aren't as compelling as past ones. There does not appear to be a Johan Cruyff or Marco van Basten or Ruud Gullit or even Patrick Kluivert. The Dutch could advance pretty far, but they're unlikely to captivate us much. Denmark are an efficient little team. Christian Poulsen of Juventus is likely their best player. I'm honestly more intrigued by Denmark than Holland at this point. Cameroon? Well, you got Eto'o and, um, right. Japan will likely finish last.

Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile
The most intriguing team here is Chile. Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa has put together a squad that finished second in CONMEBOL qualifying. They do not appear to have any superstars (yet. Though look out for Matias Fernandez, a 23-year old midfielder who plays for Sporting Lisbon) but also no obvious weak links. We fully expect them to advance out of this group with European champions Spain. The other two teams are crap. Honduras aren't even supposed to be here and Switzerland were pathetic in the Euro 2008 tournament held on their home turf. Both clubs have a few intriguing players, but Spain and Chile should rule the group with relative ease.

Group A: South Africa, Uruguay, Mexico, France
Another very mediocre group. South Africa may be the worst host country since the U.S. in 1994. Mexico had a horrific start to their qualifying campaign but eventually got their stuff together under new coach Javier Aguirre. We liked Mexico's 2006 team a great deal. Their round of 16 match against Argentina was probably the best game of the entire tournament, but several key players from that club are in the twilight of their careers and the younger guys who replaced them have not impressed. Giovanni dos Santos has been a disappointment and may not even make the team. France? Don't get me started. Talk about teams that aren't supposed to be here. Uruguay may win the group with ease. Diego Forlan is awesome, but may be past his prime at this point. Ajax man Luis Suarez has not yet hit his; the 22-year old has scored 17 times in 15 Eredivisie matches this season (not a typo). This World Cup could very well be his coming out party. Uruguay are actually very deep at the forward position: Edinson Cavani and Jorge Martinez are two other guys who can score; they currently do so for Serie A sides Palermo and Catania, respectively and has some talent in defense as well. They could make a run to the quarterfinals. But don't expect much more than that. Remember this is a team that had to qualify through a playoff against Costa Rica.

Group C: England, U.S.A, Algeria, Slovenia
They've done better under Fabio Capello but England shouldn't really scare anybody. Wayne Rooney, admittedly, is terrific and John Terry is a fine defender. Other than that they appear to be built on over-hyped players who never really accomplished anything in their national team careers. We're not even talking about David Beckham here, who has absolutely no business on this team and, if there is any justice in this world, will be left off. (Instead the finger points directly at Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard). Theo Walcott is potentially intriguing but will he even make the team? Aaron Lennon may be worth watching as well, but with Frankie and Stevie calling the shots in midfield, how many balls will he really see? Slovenia is smaller than about 48 of the 50 U.S. states but watch them beat us. Could happen, especially the way people here are talking about the group. Ditto Algeria, who appear to be strong in midfield and defense, which could create all kinds of problems for Bob Bradley's side. The U.S. has been maddeningly inconsistent this year; not just from one match to the next, but within individual games as well. The team simply appears to tune out and fade from stretches of games for no apparent reason. Without Charlie Davies, there are not enough weapons in attack. The defense is stong in the center but weak on the flanks. There is very little creativity in midfield and that is virtually all supplied by Landon Donovan. Other players (Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey) need to step up. Is Jermaine Jones the answer? Probably not, but there could be somebody else to emerge much the way Davies did this year. Bottom line: This group is not England's or America's by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, neither team could qualify. What a field day we'd have with that one.
By the way: What do people think of my idea, floated on Twitter, for a friendly wager for the game: If the U.S. wins, England agrees to adopt "soccer" as the definitive word for the sport. If England win, Americans do the same for "football." If you're serious about this we should get other media involved. But then what happens if it's a tie? Well, then the status quo can prevail. What do you say?

Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Is it me or does Italy never get drawn into a difficult group? Italy never gets drawn into a difficult group. I don't know how much money, pasta, or prostitutes Italy has sent Sepp Blatter's way over the years, but it's obviously enough to earn some pretty nice favors. I mean, how can you even begin to take this group seriously? New Zealand is by far the worst team in the entire field. They're so bad they have a guy from the New York Red Bulls starting at left back. (True story) That spot in the tournament really should go to the defending champion or something. Give it to Ireland. Hell, give it to Canada. Anyway, you also have highly mediocre teams from South America and Slovakia to make sure Italy don't get off to one of their customary bad starts. It may not help. I can see Italy losing their first game against Paraguay, beating New Zealand 1-0 and maybe playing Slovakia to a scoreless draw and end up advancing as the second placed team. To make things even less fair, Italy will likely face another mediocre club in the round of 16. What a joke.

Photo taken from without permission.


  1. Italy got drawn into a pretty difficult group at the 2006 World Cup, if you'll recall. The 2009 Confederations Cup, too. Oh, and Euro 2008...

  2. True. But then they were gifted a point against the U.S. (phantom offside call on what would have been the winning U.S. goal) and more egregiously against Australia in a game they absolutely should have lost.

    Confederations Cup are just two groups and it's kind of a secondary tournament. The Euro is run by UEFA, which is less corrupt than FIFA. Then again, so is Afghanistan.

  3. Good analysis, particularly for group A and the U.S.

    Just as an fyi, Portugal was never in the Ivory Coast, they were a French colony.

  4. Mexico and Uruguay
    Nigeria Argentina
    England USA
    Ghana Germany
    Cameroon Denmark
    Brazil and Portugal
    Italy Slovakia
    Spain and Switzerland.

    Ivory caost as you have said will
    be victim of its gaolie,may be
    England too.
    Cameroon and Ghana will go far.
    France will crash courtesy of
    Portugal with a fit Cristiano
    Ronaldo and Carvallo are
    still very strong.
    Lippi and Capello are dangerous
    Its England that confuses me the
    most, great coach horrible goalie
    It may be time for Lampard and
    Gerrard to do something for
    England, like Cannavaro and co.
    did for Italy after they
    dissapointed in 2002 and 2004. No
    team ever reached the World cup
    or Euro final with a bad goalie.
    Its the opposite that often
    happens, remeber Kahn,
    Casilas and not
    Seaman,Robinson,Lehmann or
    or Abbondazieri.

  5. Yes I actually knew that about Ivory Coast. The former Portuguese colony I was referring to was Brazil.

  6. I don't think Cameroon is that good this year, mate. Ghana has a very tough group.

    I think it's a tossup on the goalie. There are many examples of teams that have won without superb goalkeeping; Argentina in '86, Brazil in '94, France in '98 (Barthez was easily the worst player on that team but it didn't cost them because he didn't make any glaring mistakes).

  7. I'm retarded, my bad. (Says the guy who posted the Ivory Coast comment.)

  8. Group B looks very strong, all teams will be challenge for each others

  9. Italy had the toughest group in 2006 genius. Euro 2008 and euro 2004 weren't too shabby either. Another tough group in wc 2002 with Mexico and Croatia. Seriously do you know much about the game??? Not to mention that it was a foul vs Australia in 06. Clear as day. YouTube that suit genius. Left elbow to grossos knee, every time I see it.

  10. I've never seen Italy ever even have an easy group in my life! What are you talking about??? Wc '06 was the toughest group of all, and '02 had Mexico and Croatia. Euro 2008 was ridiculous, and euro2004 was very tough as well.

    Plus, Grosso was definitely fouled against Australia. It's clear as day. YouTube it. Watch it asnmuch as you can. You have been mislead my sheep friend. If you watch it close, the Aussie defender elbows Grossos knee on purpose. Completely a foul. 100% a foul I can't understand how anybody can say it's not. Just give it a shot and YouTube it. I promise you as long as you have an open mind you will see it was a foul.

  11. First of all, Italy's group was NOT the toughest at the 2006 World Cup. That honor goes to Group C (Argentina, the Netherlands, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro).

    Second, I don't need to watch a YouTube video of the play in question because I remember it clear as day: There was incidental contact, the Italian player made a huge meal out of it and the referee, obviously on the dole, whistled for the penalty, which Totti converted.