Wow. Probably the finest first round World Cup group ever assembled, it
features three of the top 10 in the betting, and the only thing for certain is
that North Korea will be exiting at the group stage.
The one country to have contested every World Cup, Brazil sauntered to South
Africa in style by topping South American qualifying, they haven’t always been
the best in the preliminaries, and the five-time winners must be feared once
Only European Champions Spain head Brazil in the outright betting, the pair
could clash as early as round two, but while the Group H side should have no
problems advancing this is just about as tough as it could have got for Dunga
and his men.
With North Korea up first, Brazil know that anything other than the perfect
start simply won’t do and they haven’t been plunged into a group as fearsome as
this for quite some time. They are favourites, of course, to top it but you just
wonder whether, like Italy, early on in a tournament is the time to catch them
and the Samba Boys can afford no slip-ups.
A best-priced 4/6 with Paddy Power to win group G, I’m sure Brazil would be
happy to advance any which way but, having said that, I see few weaknesses and
fully expect them to be survive.
Brazil have an embarrassment of riches in attack but Seville striker Luis
Fabiano looks like leading the line in advance of Kaka and Robinho and it’s a
sign of their strength in depth that the Serie A based duo of Pato and Diego are
far from assured of a starting place.
Villarreal striker Nilmar is also knocking on the door, it will be interesting
to see what formation Dunga deploys, but Brazil look solid at the back too these
days and getting the ball back is always likely to prove problematic for
With fullbacks of the quality of Dani Alves and Maicon to compliment the talent
further forward Brazil can wreak havoc from just about every position and even
captain Lucio is a threat from set-pieces. The evergreen Gilberto Silva still
plays the anchor role in midfield superbly and I cannot wait to see them in
action when it really matters.
UPDATE: Dunga dropped a bombshell when he left out stars Ronaldinho and Adriano from his squad. The former continues to claim he will lead Brazil to victory, but how that will happen is a mystery.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s side faced a real battle to even make the European playoffs
for South Africa but they finished qualifying with purpose and did extremely
well to be beat a talented Bosnia team in both legs to line up at the finals.
It would have been a travesty had the best player in the world failed to line up
in South Africa but Portugal ultimately got the job done without their talisman,
the Real Madrid star was injured for the climax of their campaign, and their
recent record when it comes to the crunch is second to none.
No worse than semi-finalists in three of the last five major tournaments,
Portugal were the team everybody wanted to avoid in Pot D, France included, and
they are not ranked fifth in the world for nothing. Portugal have quality
throughout and in Ronaldo a man who is capable of literally anything.
The very top players often fail to impress at the World Cup, for whatever
reason, but you get the feeling with Ronaldo, and Argentina’s Lionel Messi, that
they are built for the big arena and CR9 will already be licking his lips a the
prospect of the clash with Brazil.
With Ronaldo now a proven goal scorer, gone are Portugal’s worries about lack of
firepower in the final third and the former Manchester United hero should be
joined by the ever-impressive Simao Sabrosa and Nuno Gomes in a front three.
They will be backed up by a midfield likely to consist of Deco, the highly-rated
Miguel Veloso of Sporting Lisbon and his club teammate Joao Moutinho and there
is talent everywhere you look.
If Carlos Queiros can find the right balance going forward then Portugal should
make life very tough for the South Americans and Ivory Coast and their recent
tournament experience suggests to me they should be favoured to qualify.
Ricardo Carvalho and the excellent Pepe are the perfect paring to cope with
Didier Drogba and that should go a long way to seeing them into round two.
Portugal are 10/11 with totesport to do so and that looks very fair.
The hype surrounding Ivory Coast subsided somewhat following the draw but Didier
Drogba’s side still warrant respect and the bookmakers find it hard to split
their chances and Portugal’s.
Ivory Coast qualified with ease for the finals, winning all but one match and
scoring more than three goals per game along the way, and while the challenges
that lie ahead will be much tougher they are clearly a talented bunch.
Drogba spearheads the attack, the Chelsea man has 41 international goals to his
name to date, but there is plenty of quality in behind and the core of their
side is impressive. Manchester City defender Kolo Toure marshals the defence
well while brother Yaya, the Barcelona player, keeps things ticking over in the
In addition to that illustrious trio The Elephants can also call upon the likes
of Drogba’s club teammate Salomon Kalou and Marseille’s Bakari Kone and Bosnian
coach Vahid Halilhodzic will be expecting them to deliver. A 3-2 win over Serbia
four years ago was an indication of just what Ivory Coast are capable of and
they thoroughly deserve their current world ranking inside the top 20.
I think Portugal’s greater strength in depth may just prove the difference
between the pair but the African side are not dismissed lightly and if they can
escape the ‘Group of Death’ then anything is possible.
Competing in their first World Cup finals since 1966, when they reached the
quarterfinals, North Korea could not possibly have been handed a tougher
assignment and they are all but assured of an early exit.
North Korea edged out Saudi Arabia to claim their place in South Africa and
under coach Kim Jong-Hun they have certainly progressed in recent seasons.
However, they are still light years behind their more illustrious opponents in
Group G and odds of 14/1 with Expekt about them qualifying sums up their
North Korea will look to captain Hong Yong-Jo for inspiration but he is just one
of very few of the current squad based away from the domestic league and the FC
Rostov man won’t be able to do it all on his own.
Braced for three hammerings already, anything other than that will be seen as a
bonus and it is surely just a damage limitation exercise for North Korea.