Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Group H Preview

Finally we get to Group H, home of the European Champions and World Cup favourites Spain, along with Chile, Switzerland, and Montreal's favourite team, Honduras. Each team in the group has had injuries: Chile and Honduras have lost star players in Humberto Suazo & Wilson Palacios. Switzerland have had unlucky striker Frei injured again; Frei also missed Euro 2008 through injury. Spain have a number of slightly injured players: Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, and Torres.

Here is how the teams' travel, elevation and preparations look:

Spain get going in Durban at sea level, next they travel 569km north to Jo'burg and gain 1753m, and lastly they have the short 62km trip to Pretoria and drop 539m. By way of preparation, Spain played Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Poland. They played Saudi Arabia and South Korea in Austria, winning 3-2 & 1-0 respectively. They wrapped up their preparations with an easy 6-0 win over Poland in Spain.

Chile start in Nelspruit at 660m, followed by a 1410km move to Port Elizabeth and drop to sea level, and finally they head north to Pretoria and gain 1214m along the 1123km journey. Chile had five warm up matches, beating Trinidad & Tobago, Zambia, Northern Ireland, and Israel all in Chile. They also travelled up to Mexico and suffered a 1-0 loss.

Switzerland kick off at sea level in Durban, stay at sea level as they move to Port Elizabeth 950km away, and then they go 664km north to Bloemfontein and gain 1400m. The Swiss played two matches both at home, losing to Costa Rica 1-0 and drawing with Italy 1-1.

Honduras start at 660m in Nelspruit, travel to Jo'burg 345km away and 1093m higher, and wrap up in Bloemfontein 353m lower and 397km east. Honduras have had a disastrous build up, drawing Belarus and Azerbaijan, plus losing to Romania 3-0.

Here is how I think the matches will go:

Honduras - Chile
Chile are too strong for Honduras and get off to a good start with all 3 points.

Spain - Switzerland
Spain don't have many problems breaking down the Swiss and win comfortably.

Chile - Switzerland
Draw. Both teams are going to fight hard but they will split the spoils in this one.

Spain - Honduras
Spain enjoy another easy win and eliminate the Hondurans.

Chile - Spain
Chile reap the rewards of Spain giving their A team a rest and manage a draw against the European Champions.

Switzerland - Honduras
The Swiss complete the sweep of the Hondurans with a 1-0 victory.

Here is how the table will look:

Spain 7 points
Chile 5 points
Switzerland 4 points
Honduras 0 points

Group G Preview

In Group G we find the Confederations Cup winners and perennial favourites Brasil, along with Portugal, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). There have been some big injuries in this group, with Portugal's Nani & Ivory Coast's Drogba both getting hurt before the tournament starts.

Here is how the teams' travel, elevation and preparations look:

Brasil start in Jo'burg at 1753m, then just like Argentina they stay there for their second match, before moving down to Durban 569km away at sea level. Brasil opted to make some money and played Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Neither of these sides made it to the African Cup of Nations, but I think that Brasilian Football did make $5M from the encounters...both of which Brasil won comfortably.

Portugal are the only team in the tournament to play all of their matches at sea level. They start off in Port Elizabeth, then travel 748km to Cape Town, finishing off 1638km away in Durban. At home, Portugal were held 0-0 by Cape Verde, then beat Cameroon 3-1 before heading to South Africa where they beat Mozambique 3-0 at 1753m in Jo'burg.

Ivory Coast start at sea level in Port Elizabeth, then go 1062km to Jo'burg and gain 1753m, and finally head 345km to Nelspruit and drop 1093m. Ivory Coast drew 2-2 with Paraguay in France, and beat Japan 2-0 in Switzerland.

North Korea kick off in Jo'burg at 1753m, next they travel to Cape Town 1398km away at sea level, and then have the longest journey in the tournament: 1747km to Nelspruit and up 660m. DPRK lost 1-0 to Paraguay in Switzerland, drew 2-2 with Greece in Austria, and lost 3-1 to Nigeria in Jo'burg.

Here is how I think the matches will go:

Ivory Coast - Portugal
Without Drogba, the Ivory Coast are missing their main weapon, but they are still a very strong team and should get the win here.

Brasil - North Korea
It is Brasil - North Korea...really only one winner possible here. That said, if Brasil get overconfident they could be in for a shock. Still, 3 points to the Brasilians.

Brasil - Ivory Coast
Brasil don't have to travel at all and the Ivorians gain 1753m in altitude; this equals a comfortable win for the Brasilians.

Portugal - North Korea
North Korea may have a shot at a point here, but I think the Portugese are too strong and take all three, eliminating "Our Dear Team".

Portugal - Brasil
Portugal need a win here to have a chance to advance; unfortunately for them Brasil is a rival and would love to get a win over the Portugese and eliminate them, which is exactly what the Brasilians will do.

North Korea - Ivory Coast
Unfortunately for "Our Dear Team", the Ivorians also need a win to ensure they advance and they will get it.

Here is how the table will look:

Brasil 9 points
Ivory Coast 6 points
Portugal 3 points
North Korea 0 points

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Group F Preview

Group F is home to the defending champions Italy, as well as Slovakia, New Zealand, and Paraguay. The All Whites of New Zealand are definitely the minnows in this group. Italy aren't attracting a lot of attention to repeat as Champs, and the injury to Pirlo puts more pressure on them just to make it out of the group. Slovakia are my surprise team of the tournament, I think that they have a decent chance to make the Quarterfinals. Paraguay nearly topped the South American qualifying but top scorer Cabañas if out of the tournament as he recovers from being shot in the head in Mexico City. That said the Paraguayans still have a wealth of attacking options including new Paraguayan Lucios Barrios.

Here is how the teams travel, elevation and lead up look.

Italy kick off in Cape Town at sea level. They then have the longest journey in the tournament to Nelspruit 1747km away and 660m higher. The Italians then gain 1093m as they make the short journey 345km journey to Jo'burg. Italy had two warm up matches, both against other teams in the World Cup. They lost 2-1 to Mexico in Brussels, and drew 1-1 with Switzerland in Geneva.

Slovakia start in Rustenburg at 1500m, then they move 502km to Bloemfontein and drop 100m, lastly they travel 397km to Jo'burg and gain 353m. Slovakia also had two warm up matches against World Cup opponents. They drew 1-1 with Cameroon in Austria, and then beat Costa Rica 3-0 in Slovakia.

New Zealand begin their second World Cup campaign at 1500m in Rustenburg. Next the All Whites move to Nelspurit, 436km away and 840m lower. They wrap up the group stage in Polokwane after traveling for 345km also gaining 650m. New Zealand played three warm up matches all against World Cup opposition. They lost 2-1 to Australia in Melbourne, to an injury time goal. They shocked Serbia 1-0 in Austria and put the World on notice. Slovenia paid attention and beat the Kiwis 3-1 in Slovenia.

Paraguay get underway in Cape Town at Sea Level, afterwards they travel up to Bloemfontein and gain 1400m over 1002km journey, finally Paraguay travel to Polokwane 717km away and 90m lower. Paraguay played four warm up matches. They beat North Korea 1-0 in Switzerland, they lost 2-1 to Ireland in Dublin, they drew 2-2 with Ivory Coast in France, and beat Greece 2-0 in Switzerland.

Here is how I think the matches in Group F will play out:

Italy - Paraguay
The strong Italian defense and the strong Paraguayan attack. I see this playing out as a draw, and as both teams see this as a match up between the strongest teams in the group I think they will both be happy with the result.

New Zealand - Slovakia
The All Whites and the Slovaks are both up for this one, and the Kiwis don't get embarrassed but they do lose.

Slovakia - Paraguay
The change in altitude helps the Slovaks and hurts the Paraguayans. Slovakia takes the game in the second half and books their place in the next round.

Italy - New Zealand
The shocks continue as the All Whites fight the Azzuri the entire way and hold on for a draw, securing the Kiwis their first World Cup point.

Slovakia - Italy
The Italians need victory to get them a place in the knock out stages, but find it difficult in the high air of Jo'burg, Slovakia sits back and gets a draw.

Paraguay - New Zealand
Both teams need to win to give themselves a chance of progressing, resulting in a blow out as Paraguay win big and advance behind Slovakia.

Here is how the table would look

Slovakia - 7 points
Paraguay - 4 points
Italy - 3 points
New Zealand - 1 point

Group E Preview

In Group E we find Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, and Cameroon. I have picked the Dutch to win the whole tournament and I don't think that they will have many problems topping this group. Japan has been poor in their warm up matches, Cameroon has plenty of off field drama, and Denmark is battling injuries. It is all about the fight for second in this group.

Here is how the teams travel stacks up:

Netherlands start in Jo'burg at 1753m, next it is on to Durban 569km away at sea level, finally they move to Cape Town 1638km along the coast and still on sea level. As for warm up matches the Dutch have faced Mexico & Ghana, both of whom I predicted to win their groups, and won 2-1 & 4-1 respectively.

Denmark start in Jo'burg at 1753m, then they travel 62km to Pretoria and drop 539m, and they wrap up the group stage in Rustenburg only 104km away and 286m higher. The Danes beat Senegal and lost to Australia in their warm up matches with one more against South Africa still to come. The injury to Simon Kjaer has been the most serious of the many niggles on the Danish team.

Japan begin in Bloemfontein at 1400m, next they drop to sea level as they go the 637km south to Durban. Japan finish the stage in Rustenburg 693km away at 1500m. Japan's World Cup preparations began with a 2-0 loss to South Korea in Japan. They followed that up with losses to England & Ivory Coast in Europe.

Cameroon begin in Bloemfontein at 1400m, secondly they play in Pretoria a drop of 186m but 459km away, then they go to sea level and Cape Town, a journey of 1471km. Cameroon have had draws against Georgia and Slovakia as well as a loss to Portugal. They have one friendly remaining against Serbia. The off field war of words between former great Roger Milla and current star Samuel Eto'o has grabbed the most headlines in their lead up.

Here is how I see the matches going:

Netherlands - Denmark
The Dutch send a message to the rest of the teams in the tournament with a convincing win and a Robin van Persie hat trick.

Japan - Cameroon
Draw. Neither side has been playing well lately and neither look like finding much form before the tournament starts.

Netherlands - Japan
The Oranje continue their domination of this group with an easy win over the Blue Samurai.

Cameroon - Denmark
The Danes rebound from their loss to the Dutch with a solid win over Cameroon.

Denmark - Japan
The Danes only need a draw to advance if the Dutch beat Cameroon, and they put in a solid defensive performance and grab the second spot.

Cameroon - Netherlands
Another Dutch win, to wrap up the group with all 9 points.

Here is how the table will look:

Netherlands 9 points
Denmark 4 points
Japan 2 points
Cameroon 1 point

Friday, June 4, 2010

Group C Preview

In Group C we have England, Algeria, USA, and Slovenia. England have just lost their captain Rio Ferdinand to injury in South Africa, they have replaced him with Spurs defender Michael Dawson. While this may affect them in the later stages I don't think it will have a large impact in the group stage. Slovenia are a little bit of a surprise team here, they had an excellent qualifying but were drawn against Guus Hiddink and Russia in the playoff, and they impressed again. USA put a lot of teams on notice with their strong performances in last year's Confederation Cup. Algeria emerged from a difficult group battling it out with African Champions Egypt. I suspect that had Russia & Egypt qualified instead of Algeria and Slovenia this would have been labeled the group of death.

Here is how the elevation, travel and preparations break down for each team:

England start off in Rustenburg at 1500m above sea level. From their they travel the 1423km to Cape Town and drop to sea level. For their last match they go to Port Elizabeth 748km away and also at sea level. In terms of preparations England played Mexico and Japan, they won both matches but didn't really impress in either.

Algeria start in Polokwane at 1310m. They then make a long 1719km trip to Cape Town and drop to sea level. Algeria make their way back across the country with a 1471km journey and an increase in elevation to 1214m. Algeria lost 3-0 to Ireland in their 1st warm up match and will face UAE before the tournament kicks off.

USA begin in Rustenburg 1500m up. The States then have a short 121km trip to Jo'burg and gain 253m. USA wrap up the group stage in Pretoria 539m lower and 62km away from Jo'burg. USA lost badly to the Czech Republic before beating Turkey in their warm up matches in the US, they will face Australia in South Africa before the tournament.

Slovenia start in Polokwane at 1310m. They move 322km to Jo'burg and gain 443m. Finishing things off in Port Elizabeth 1062km at sea level. Slovenia had a comfortable win over New Zealand in their only warm up match.

Here is how I see the matches going.

England - USA
USA come out strong eager to make a good start in the tournament, unfortunately for them England have a lot more talent and are also keen to grab all three points. England wins.

Slovenia - Algeria
Algeria are carrying a few suspensions into their first few matches and haven't been known for their consistency, Slovenia have done nothing but impress. Slovenia wins comfortably.

Slovenia - USA
Both teams have a short distance to travel and have a hard fought battle with neither yielding. I see this one as a draw all the way.

England - Algeria
England need to careful to not get overconfident ahead of this one, Algeria do not travel well and England should win this easily, which I think they will.

Slovenia - England
Slovenia need a point to ensure they advance, England need a point to guarantee top spot, a draw suits both teams, however I think that Slovenia will push for the win. England's reserves will feature in this match and will take their chance to shine, I see this as a scoring draw.

USA - Algeria
USA have a short journey and Algeria have another long one. I see the travel taking its toll and the USA getting the win they need in case the Slovenes slip up.

Here is how the group will finish:

England 7 points
Slovenia 5 points
USA 4 points
Algeria 0 points

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Group B Preview

Argentina, Greece, Nigeria, & South Korea. Argentina are now led by Diego Maradona, who took over last year, and how shall we put it... is crazy. Greece are still lead by the same man that guided them to victory in Euro 2004. Swede Lars Lagerbeck took over the Super Eagles in Feb of this year, while South Korea are on their 7th boss since they hosted the World Cup, but lucky #7 has been in charge since 2007. Argentina are big favourites to win this group, in spite of their manager such is their talent. It is second place in this group that is up for grabs, who will get it? Defensively resolute Greece? The inconsistent Nigerians? The organised Koreans? Lets have a look at the travel, elevation, and preparations of the teams and find out.

Argentina begin the tournament in Jo'burg at 1753m, and stay in Jo'burg for their second match as well. They have to travel the 322km to Polokwane and drop in elevation 190m. By way of warm up matches Argentina played Canada and won easily 5 -0. While it wasn't the strongest side Canada has ever fielded we weren't going to do much damage to Argentina, especially not at their 200th birthday party.

Greece start in Port Elizabeth at sea level, then they head north to Bloemfontein a distance of 664km and an elevation gain of 1400m. Next they make their way north east to Polokwane 717km away and a drop of 90m. Greece played North Korea to a 2-2 draw in May, before losing to Paraguay 2-0 yesterday. Not really the sort of results that inspire confidence in the Greeks progressing.

Nigeria kick things off in Jo'burg at 1753m before going to Bloemfontein a drop of 353m and a distance of 397km. Nigeria wrap things up in Durban at sea level 637km away and 1400m lower. Nigeria were held to draws by Saudi Arabia and Colombia in their two warm up matches and have one remaining against North Korea. The draw against Colombia was particularly shocking, given that the match was in the UK and Colombia had played against South Africa in South Africa only 3 days earlier.

South Korea begin in Port Elizabeth at sea level, then it is off to Jo'burg 1062 km away and a gain of 1753m. South Korea finish the group stage in Durban at sea level 569km down the road from Jo'burg. South Korea's warm up includes victories over Ecuador in Korea, Japan in Japan, as well as a loss to Belarus in Austria. The Taegeuk Warriors have one match remaining against Spain, also in Austria.

Here is how I see the matches in this group going.

South Korea - Greece
The Taegeuk Warriors will break down the stalwart Greek defense and earn a hard fought victory.

Argentina - Nigeria
Argentina cruise to victory but Nigeria get on the score sheet.

Argentina - South Korea
With only having to switch stadiums in Jo'burg, Argentina are well rested and ready, and have little difficulty dispatching South Korea.

Greece - Nigeria
Both teams recovering from opening losses, they will battle back and forth, and nobody will score.

Nigeria - South Korea
With both teams knowing that a win will likely see them advance, there is a good game here and the nobody will take it. I think it will be a scoring draw.

Greece - Argentina
Argentina having already secured first place will field a weaker side, unfortunately for Greece their weaker side is still too strong.

Here is how the table will look at the end of the group stage:

Argentina 9 points
South Korea 4 points
Nigeria 2 points
Greece 1 point

Group A - Preview

Might as well go back and start with Group A, which is of course made up with the hosts South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, and France. As you are aware no host nation has ever failed to make it out of their group. However no host nation has ever been as weak a side as the Bafana Bafana. With other host nations people have wondered if they had to qualify would they have made it? With South Africa we know that they wouldn't. That is because African Cup of Nations qualifying was tied in with World Cup Qualifying and South Africa didn't make the Cup of Nations.

There have been a few selection surprises with the squads in this group, South Africa left top scorer Benni McCarthy out of the squad, and Mexico dropped Jonathon Dos Santos. With McCarthy he obviously isn't in the best shape of his career, however he was viewed as someone that had to be on form for Bafana Bafana to get something out of this group. Jonathon Dos Santos wasn't expected to start any matches as far as I know, but what was surprising about his omission was that his brother Gio Dos Santos is know talking about quitting the squad. Gio Dos Santos is a starter on the Mexican side and they need to have him if they are going to progress deep into the tournament.

As I mentioned in the Group of Death Preview, I have been looking at the distance that teams have to travel, the elevation that they play their matches at and their build up to the World Cup. Here is how the teams of Group A break down.

South Africa start off in Jo'burg at 1753m. They then travel 62km to Pretoria and drop 539m in elevation. For their final match they move to Bloemfontain which is 459km away and 186m higher. In their buildup a lot has been made of South Africa's unbeaten run. They have had a few good games, particularly the one against Colombia, however a large number of the matches have been against poor teams. I think that the streak has helped with the confidence of the side, but it hasn't really sharpen their match skills.

Mexico start off in Jo'burg at 1753m. Next El Tri are off to Polokwane a distance of 322km and an elevation drop of 443m. Lastly Mexico head to Rustenburg which is 355km away and 190m higher than Polokwane. I really appreciate the matches that Mexico have arranged for their World Cup preparations, they took on England and Holland, and their last match before the tournament is against Italy. While they lost against both England and Holland they put in solid performances and both the English and the Dutch are stronger than any team in their group.

Uruguay begin in Cape Town at sea level. Next they are off to Pretoria which is 1471km away and 1214m higher. They wrap up in Rustenburg a short 104km away and 186m higher. Uruguay have only scheduled one warm up match against Israel which they won by a comfortable 4-1 margin.

France begin in Cape Town at sea level, then they go to Polokwane 1719km away and 1310m above sea level. Afterwards they go back across the country to Bloemfontain 717km away and 90m higher. France's build up has been atrocious they had to come from behind to beat Costa Rica, and then were held to a draw by Tunisia.

Here is how I see the matches in this group happening.

South Africa - Mexico
South Africa will have home field advantage and the crowd will be buzzing, literally. However they just don't have the quality to deal with the Mexicans. Short of food poisoning or dubious refereeing Mexico wins this easily.

Uruguay - France
Uruguay are hungry and have a lot of talented players that are looking for big money moves after the World Cup and need to prove themselves on a bigger stage. Luis Suarez is a perfect example. France have buckets of talent but have been underachieving since the World Cup in Germany. Last place in their group in Euro 08, second in their WCQ group and needed a handball to advance to South Africa. Looking at the teams in a vacuum France is better, looking at them in the real world, Uruguay win.

South Africa - Uruguay

Bafana Bafana take advantage of a much shorter commute and put in a solid performance, however Uruguay cruise to victory. Not a blowout, but a match that could only have one winner.

France - Mexico
Mexico are feeling good after their win over the hosts and now face France who have just made one of the longest commutes in the tournament. I think that after Mexico take the lead the French players will start thinking about Blanc's reign and Mexico win the group.

Mexico - Uruguay
Neither team had to travel a great distance for this match, and both are feeling good having already qualified. Normally you would expect them to field weaker sides in this match, however with the likely opponent in the next round for the second place team Argentina I think this will be one of the matches of the tournament. I have it as a 2-2 draw.

South Africa - France
This is South Africa's best chance of a point. A demoralised French team travelling back across the country and eliminated from the tournament, unfortunately for Bafana Bafana the gap in quality is too great and France win a close one.

So the group finishes thus:

Mexico - 7 points
Uruguay - 7 points
France - 3 points
South Africa - 0 points