The groups are set for the first ever World Cup to be staged on the African continent. Here is a look at the match ups and group standings predictions.
Group A – South Africa, Mexico, France, Uruguay
The opening match of the tournament represent the host’s best chance for points, against Mexico, if they can sustain the pressure and maximize on the home field advantages. Mexico is a better team and cannot afford to lose its opening match, but will have handle difficult, unfamiliar elements. France is an immensely talented team led by an inept manager who is likely to squander a precious opportunity. The Ireland return match provided the French federation plenty of evidence to change Domenech before, not after, the World Cup. The question is why was he left in charge? In contrast, Uruguay is a very united team led by the country’s most experienced and respected manager, Oscar Washington Tabarez. Uruguay will surprise with its quality and will edge out Mexico for a spot in the final 16, led by Diego Forlan, Martin Caceres, Diego Lugano, Pablo Pintos, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani. Prediction: 1. France, 2. Uruguay, 3. Mexico, 4. South Africa.
Group B – Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Argentina should not encounter difficulties winning the group, as widely expected, but will this side full of individual stars take shape into a team under Maradona, or will it rely on individual efforts and Messi to muddle through the tournament as was the case in the qualifiers? Nigeria is not as strong as in the past, but will be supported by the South African public. South Korea brings great spirit to the World Cup, while Greece is a solid defensive team, but lacks the firepower to advance. Prediction: 1. Argentina, 2. Nigeria, 3. Greece, 4. South Korea.
Group C – England, Algeria, USA, Slovenia
England will win the group, but the battle for second is wide open. Algeria, though little known, performed impressively in the crucial ties against Egypt. Algeria is a fit and technical team and its presence at the World Cup is no fluke. Slovenia is a fantastic team whose greatest fortes are cohesiveness and experience. Eliminating Guus Hiddink’s Russia was no small feat. Slovenia plays with great team effort and concentration. USA’s prospects are as appealing as ever, but will everything come together at the right time or was last summer’s magical Confederations Cup run a year too soon? The pressure will be on England. Prediction: 1. England, 2. Slovenia, 3. USA, 4. Algeria.
Group D – Germany, Serbia, Ghana, Australia
This is a tight group with many possibilities. Germany is favorite but does not intimidate. Australia will put on a spirited display led by its international players and, given any chance, will contend for second place. The question for Ghana: is there enough quality around its mercurial, exceptional captain Michael Essien to advance? The neutral crowd will gravitate toward the African team, Ghana will play with strong support. The key team in the group is Serbia. After a disastrous 2006 World Cup, Serbia returns strong led by Man Utd’s Nemanja Vidic and Inter’s Dejan Stankovic, as well as highly experienced manager Radomir Antic. Serbia will not lose to Germany, but its match against Ghana will determine both teams’ fate. Prediction: 1. Serbia, 2. Germany, 3. Ghana, 4. Australia.
Group E – Holland, Japan, Denmark, Cameroon
As always Holland brings a talented side into the tournament and should be able to get to at least the last 8, with van Bommel anchoring a team that features van Persie, Huntelaar, Snejder, Robben, Babel, Drenthe and Van der Saar, among others. Team cohesiveness will be key and Holland will be well supported. Japan lacks the punch to advance, but will put up a nice display. Denmark, usually “happy to be here” will jump on any opportunity to take second in the group, but that should go to Cameroon and their African super star Samuel Eto’o. For the Indomitable Lions the questions surround Eto’o’s supporting cast. The African Nations Cup in Janury should provide some indication. Prediction: 1. Holland, 2. Cameroon, 3. Denmark, 4. Japan.
Group F – Italy, Slovakia, Paraguay, New Zealand
This group can end up with three teams even on six points, with the standings determined by goals difference or head to head. This is how Italy usually progresses in big tournaments, but Lippi’s men will not win the group. A very talented and tough Paraguay team will, if the potent strike force of Oscar Cardozo and Roque Santa Cruz delivers. On a given night, Slovakia can play with both Italy and Paraguay, led by the electrifying Marek Hamsik. Prediction: 1. Paraguay, 2. Italy, 3. Slovakia, 4. New Zealand.
Group G – Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal, North Korea
Marked as the group of death, one key contender will not make it past the first round. Brazil is not unbeatable, but will be too strong for Portugal. The most exciting African team in the tournament is Ivory coast, which brings enormous talent, confidence and experience into the tournament. Most of the Ivorian stars return from a tough 2006 World Cup. With Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou up front, Barcelona’s Ya Ya Toure, Arsenal’s Eboue, Man City’s Kolo Toure and the rest of Europe based players, Ivory Coast will enjoy massive support in South Africa. Without a healthy and effective Cristiano Ronaldo, the Lusitans are a very mediocre team, as demonstrated in the play-off against Bosnia. It will not be enough this time. Prediction: 1. Brazil, 2. Ivory Coast, 3. Portugal, 4. North Korea.
Group H – Spain, Chile, Switzerland, Honduras
Spain is the best team in the world because it has the best midfield and the best system, driven by the magisterial Xavi and Iniesta, with Xabi Alonso and Fabregas. Spain will contend for the tournament title and should not have any problems in the group. Second place will be a decided between Chile and Switzerland, most likely in the direct clash. Any misstep against Honduras would be costly for Chile, but the South Americans have the advantage of playing Spain last. Spain should be qualified by then and possibly resting some key players. Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. Chile, 3. Switzerland, 4. Honduras.