Group Previews - [A] / [B] / [C] / [D] / [E] / [F]
Brazil [BRA] – Rankings (1 FIFA / SPI)
Qualification – CONEMBOL – First Place
Recent Matches – W 3-0 vs. Zimbabwe; W 5-1 vs. Tanzania
The normally dominant Brazil and Joga Bonita style of play were significantly absent during the 2010 qualification campaign in CONEMBOL. While Brazil did top the group, both Chile and Paraguay had more wins (10) than Brazil (9) but Brazil had the fewest losses in the group with two and had the most goals scored (33) and fewest allowed (11). Despite a weak warm-up schedule, this team does seem to lack the creativeness known around the world for Brazilian teams, but it still should be a favorite to lift their sixth World Cup.
Ivory Coast [CIV] – Rankings (27 FIFA / 14 SPI)
Qualification – CAF (Africa) – Won Group E
Recent Matches – T 2-2 vs. Paraguay, W 2-0 vs. Japan
The Ivory Coast comes into the World Cup in good form, but injury bug has bitten perhaps the best player for the Elephants in Didier Drogba, who suffered a broken arm just eleven days before the start of the World Cup questions are abound on whether he will be available and whether this African team in just their second World Cup appearance can carry the hope of a continent in the most talented group draw.
North Korea [PRK] – Rankings (105 FIFA / 78 SPI)
Qualification – AFC (Asia) – Finished 2nd Group B
Recent Matches – L 0-1 vs. Paraguay, T 2-2 vs. Greece, L 1-3 vs. Nigeria
In the happy to be here files, North Korea makes their second World Cup appearance, hoping to channel the magic of their first appearance. In 1966, North Korea shocked Italy 1-0 and led Portugal in the quarters 3-0 before losing 5-3. This team is the great unknown in this tournament and I would expect a staunch defense from this side with almost all of their attack generated on the counter. Their tournament got off to a rocky start with a roster error, forcing striker Kim Myong-Won to play as a goalkeeper. Plus, isn't it good to talk about North Korea and not have it be awkward for the next two weeks?
Portugal [POR] – Rankings (3 FIFA / 8 SPI)
Qualification – UEFA – Finished 2nd Group A, Won Playoff 2-0 (agg.) vs. Boznia-Herz.
Recent Matches – T 0-0 vs. Cape Verde Is.; W 3-1 vs. Cameroon, W 3-0 vs. Mozambique
While their warm-up matches got off to a rocky start, tying African minnows Cape Verde, the Portuguese finished strong against two solid opponents. Cristiano Ronaldo has not been scoring, but his presence will be instrumental for this side who are quickly establishing themselves as one of the world’s best teams, despite their young soccer history on the international stage.
IMPORTANT MATCHDAY – June 15, 2010 – CIV vs. POR; BRA vs. PRK
Basically, these games (yes, they already took place…) will set the stage for the rest of the group matches. Brazil wants a strong start against the weakest team in the group and the Ivory Coast-Portugal match could be a defacto elimination game in someone wins, which will force the loser to beat Brazil to advance to the knockout stages.
BRA 3-1PRK BRA 2-0-1, 7 pts, +4 GD
CIV 1-2 POR POR 2-0-1, 7 pts, +3 GD
BRA 2-0 CIV CIV 1-2-0, 3 pts, -2 GD
POR 3-1 PRK PRK 0-3-0, 0 pts, -5 GD
PRK 1-2 CIV
POR 1-1 BRA
Brazil [G1] and Portugal [G2] advance to play [H2] and [H1] respectively.
I like Brazil and Portugal to come out of the group and both teams should have everything wrapped up when they meet in their final match, making that game an irrelevant contest between the second teams. I don’t think North Korea will win a match, but they’re going to put up a heck of fight doing so. There are too many questions about the Ivory Coast for me to pick them to advance, even if they have home continent advantage.