Monday, June 07, 2010

World Cup Preview: Group B

Nickname: The Albicelestes, after their white and sky-blue shirts
FIFA ranking: 7
How they got here: Made hard work of things, including a humiliating 6-1 loss to Bolivia, but eventually qualified thanks to narrow wins in their last two games.
Record in previous tournaments: Have won twice before, in 1978 and 1986. Lost to Germany on penalties in the quarter-finals in 2006.
Manager: Diego Maradona, formerly known for being the Best Player in the WorldTM and scoring against England with his hand. Now known for having gastric bypass surgery and running over reporters with his car.
Players to watch: Leo Messi, aka the new Maradona and the reigning Best Player in the WorldTM, who can do absolutely ridiculous things with the ball at his feet. They've got plenty of other talent, too, with players like Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, and Diego Milito all fighting for a place in the lineup. Somewhat inexplicably, Juan Sebastian Veron is back in the quad, while Juan Roman Riquelme has been left at home, along with Champions League winners Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti. Captain Javier Mascherano will be spending the tournament trying not to get sent off for cursing at the referee.

Nickname: Traditionally known as the Galanoleyki (the blue and whites); they also picked up the nickname of "The Pirate Ship" in 2004, which is baffling, considering that their style is hardly what you'd call swashbuckling.
FIFA ranking: 13
How they got here: Finished second in their qualifying group and then beat Ukraine in the playoffs.
Record in previous tournaments: Have made it to the World Cup only once before, in 1994, when they lost all three group matches and failed to score a single goal. They did win the Euros in 2004, although it wasn't pretty.
Manager: Otto Rehhagel, who led them to their European title and coached in the Bundesliga before that.
Players to watch: Bayer Leverkusen striker Theo Gekas, the top scorer in UEFA qualifying.

Korea Republic (aka South Korea)
Nickname: The Taeguk Warriors. (The taeguk is apparently that yin-yang symbol in the middle of the Korean flag.)
FIFA ranking: 47
How they got here: Were undefeated in qualifying from their group in Asia.
Record in previous tournaments: Made it to the semi-finals at home in 2002, but were knocked out at the group stage in 2006.
Manager: Huh Jung-Moo. Who? Yeah, me neither.
Players to watch: Midfielder Park Ji-Sung, nicknamed "Three-Lung" by Manchester United fans for his indefatigable workrate.

Nickname: The Super Eagles
FIFA ranking: 21
How they got here: Squeaked into the tournament with a 3-2 win over Kenya in their final game of the qualification rounds.
Record in previous tournaments: Failed to qualify in 2006. Their best-ever finish was the round of 16, in 1994 and 1998.
Manager: Lars Lagerback, who previously managed Sweden but took over with Nigeria after the Swedes failed to qualify for this tournament.
Players to watch: Plenty of pace up front with Obafemi Martins and Aiyegbeni Yakubu. But they'll miss the strong presence of Chelsea's Jon Obi Mikel in midfield.

Verdict on the group
Maradona is constantly changing his tactics, has made some bizarre choices for the squad, and doesn't seem to know how to get the best from Messi.
The team is like a Ferrari being driven by a retarded, drug-addled monkey.
Despite that, I'd still expect them to top the group, because they've just got too many good players. How far they get beyond that depends on how well they can rise above Maradona's limitations as a manager and really play as a team.

As for the second team to come out of this group, I don't think South Korea will be able to reproduce their dark-horse form of 2002, which leaves Greece or Nigeria. I'm voting for Nigeria, partly because of their quasi-home field advantage and partly because watching Greece makes me want to poke my eyes out with a shish kebab.

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