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