Posted by: mdegeorge | May 18, 2010

World Cup Diagnosis, Group A: The group of boredom?

The 2010 World Cup is just 24 days away and the anticipation is reaching a fever pitch. To commemorate one of the greatest happenings in all of sport, I’ll be breaking down the tournament group by group over the next three weeks. There are four teams per group, so the Doctor will be in for the four big questions concerning the group.

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The teams (FIFA World Rankings in parenthesis):

France (10): 6-1-3 in UEFA qualification Group 7; won playoff over Ireland 2-1 after extra time

Mexico (17): 9-5-2 in CONCACAF qualification

Uruguay (18): 6-6-6 in CONMEBOL qualification; won playoff over Costa Rica 2-1

South Africa (90): qualified as hosts

Forget the group of death; could this be the group of boredom?

On paper, Group A is the third easiest in terms of the FIFA World Rankings (troublesome and misleading though they may be), but they’re the only group to have three of the top 18 in the world rankings. While the fight to progress from the group stage may be vicious, the style of play in Group A could be pretty bland and defensive.

Mexico netted a respectable 27 goals in 16 qualifying matches, but three of their top six goalscorers from qualification (Fernando Arce, the ageless Jared Borgetti, and Omar Bravo) won’t be traveling to South Africa. Coupled with the fact that there are only four recognized midfielders in the side, there are legitimate concerns about offensive creativity. France managed just 20 goals in 12 games (including the two-leg playoff against Ireland); the fact that they conceded just 10 times over that spans means fans should be in for some low-scoring affairs. And South Africa, thanks to a largely unproven midfield, struggled to come up with goals at last summer’s Confederations’ Cup (two goals in four games).

Is there a surprise in store from the hosts?

Only twice in World Cup history has a host team not advanced to at least the quarterfinals (Japan in 2002, the US in 1994). Bafana Bafana are undefeated in their last five outings, though they have drawn the last three, including stalemates in Paraguay and against North Korea. But the 90th ranked team in the world is the third-worst according to FIFA and will need a lot of help from the home fans to progress.

This is a team that is short on experience, making only the nation’s second World Cup Finals appearance, and they lack a proven goalkeeper (Rowen Fernandez, the likely starter, has just 23 caps despite being 32 years old). It will be up to a quartet of English-based players—all-time appearances leader Aaron Mokoena in defense, Steven Pineaar and Kagisho Dikgacoi in midfield, and all-time leading scorer Benni McCarthy. They’ll be underdogs, but the low-scoring nature of this group makes the few goals the goals they do come up with more valuable.

Will the Sky Blues soar into the group championship?

La Celeste have two World Cup wins to their credits, though no one on the team was alive when they last triumphed in 1950 (and manager Oscar Tabarez was only three years old). This version of the Uruguay squad was very much feast or famine in qualification, twice scoring five or more goals while also being shut out on five occasions. They stumbled down the stretch, getting blanked in four of their last six qualifiers, but recovered to dispatch Costa Rica in the two-leg playoff. They’ve since won against fellow World Cup participant Switzerland in St. Gallen.

They are the most offensively explosive team in the group, and a few timely goals could easily see them into the knockout rounds. They lack some depth in defense and midfield, but boast three in-form strikers—Palermo’s Edison Cavani, Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan, and Ajax’s Luis Suarez—and a fourth striker, Sebastian Abreu, is just three goals away from becoming the national team’s all-time leading scorer. With the ability of Forlan and Suarez to take over games, the group could well be decided by a single moment of brilliance.

Which France will show up?

Raymond Domenech has miraculously remained at the helm of Les Blues despite a tumultuous run of form lately. They struggled through qualification, needed the infamous “Hand of Henry” goal to top Ireland in the qualifying playoff, unimpressively beat in Turkey in a friendly, and were recently defeated by Nigeria in France as part of their finals tune up. And all that after a putrid outing at Euro 2008 that yielded just one goal in three scintillating games. Former Bordeaux head man Laurent Blanc is already tabbed as Domenech’s successor after the Finals, and adds even more upheaval to a squad that is already unstable.

To make matters worse, there is uncertainty over the effectiveness and mere inclusion of the once unmovable William Gallas in the final squad, and stars Thierry Henry and Franck Ribery are in limbo over their club contracts for next season. Domenech’s team selection hasn’t aided in the unrest, as three uncapped players make the squad at the expense of more established names like Karim Benzema, Patrick Vieira, Louis Saha, and Jean-Alain Boumsong (though Djibril Cisse has somehow come in out of the woods).

Neither Hugo Lloris nor Steve Mandanda has established themselves as the top goalkeeper in the post-Fabian Barthez/Gregory Coupet era. The uncertainty over Gallas robs the defense of depth. Mathieu Valbuena is making his debut to play the role of ineffective newcomer played by Bafetimbi Gomis at Euro 2008. The midfield may be one of the deeper corps in the tournament, but the ability of the forwards to finish will remain an open question until someone steps up with a consistent answer. The team sheet is one of a team that will progress from the group, but the team that’s shown up since the retirement of Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Claude Makelele, and company has been anything but.

The final diagnosis:

I can admit that I see this group going about six different ways. The winner of France-Uruguay on day one has the inside track on the group title. France would be more likely to recover from a defeat, but they’re proclivity for slow starts will cost them this time. The two Day 1 winner, Uruguay and Mexico, advance out of this group with Uruguay carrying the standard for the Americas and Domenech ending his stint with France with his tail between his legs.

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World Cup Diagnosis, Group A: The group of boredom?

The 2010 World Cup is just 24 days away and the anticipation is reaching a fever pitch. To commemorate one of the greatest happenings in all of sport, I’ll be breaking down the tournament group by group over the next three weeks. There are four teams per group, so the Doctor will be in for the four big questions concerning the group.

The teams (FIFA World Rankings in parenthesis):

France (10): 6-1-3 in UEFA qualification Group 7; won playoff over Ireland 2-1 after extra time

Mexico (17): 9-5-2 in CONCACAF qualification

Uruguay (18): 6-6-6 in CONMEBOL qualification; won playoff over Costa Rica 2-1

South Africa (90): qualified as hosts

Forget the group of death; could this be the group of boredom?

On paper, Group A is the third easiest in terms of the FIFA World Rankings (troublesome and misleading though they may be), but they’re the only group to have three of the top 18 in the world rankings. While the fight to progress from the group stage may be vicious, the style of play in Group A could be pretty bland and defensive.

Mexico netted a respectable 27 goals in 16 qualifying matches, but three of their top six goalscorers from qualification (Fernando Arce, the ageless Jared Borgetti, and Omar Bravo) won’t be traveling to South Africa. Coupled with the fact that there are only four recognized midfielders in the side, there are legitimate concerns about offensive creativity. France managed just 20 goals in 12 games (including the two-leg playoff against Ireland); the fact that they conceded just 10 times over that spans means fans should be in for some low-scoring affairs. And South Africa, thanks to a largely unproven midfield, struggled to come up with goals at last summer’s Confederations’ Cup (two goals in four games).

Is there a surprise in store from the hosts?

Only twice in World Cup history has a host team not advanced to at least the quarterfinals (Japan in 2002, the US in 1994). Bafana Bafana are undefeated in their last five outings, though they have drawn the last three, including stalemates in Paraguay and against North Korea. But the 90th ranked team in the world is the third-worst according to FIFA and will need a lot of help from the home fans to progress.

This is a team that is short on experience, making only the nation’s second World Cup Finals appearance, and they lack a proven goalkeeper (Rowen Fernandez, the likely starter, has just 23 caps despite being 32 years old). It will be up to a quartet of English-based players—all-time appearances leader Aaron Mokoena in defense, Steven Pineaar and Kagisho Dikgacoi in midfield, and all-time leading scorer Benni McCarthy. They’ll be underdogs, but the low-scoring nature of this group makes the few goals the goals they do come up with more valuable.

Will the Sky Blues soar into the group championship?

La Celeste have two World Cup wins to their credits, though no one on the team was alive when they last triumphed in 1950 (and manager Oscar Tabarez was only three years old). This version of the Uruguay squad was very much feast or famine in qualification, twice scoring five or more goals while also being shut out on five occasions. They stumbled down the stretch, getting blanked in four of their last six qualifiers, but recovered to dispatch Costa Rica in the two-leg playoff. They’ve since won against fellow World Cup participant Switzerland in St. Gallen.

They are the most offensively explosive team in the group, and a few timely goals could easily see them into the knockout rounds. They lack some depth in defense and midfield, but boast three in-form strikers—Palermo’s Edison Cavani, Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan, and Ajax’s Luis Suarez—and a fourth striker, Sebastian Abreu, is just three goals away from becoming the national team’s all-time leading scorer. With the ability of Forlan and Suarez to take over games, the group could well be decided by a single moment of brilliance.

Which France will show up?

Raymond Domenech has miraculously remained at the helm of Les Blues despite a tumultuous run of form lately. They struggled through qualification, needed the infamous “Hand of Henry” goal to top Ireland in the qualifying playoff, unimpressively beat in Turkey in a friendly, and were recently defeated by Nigeria in France as part of their finals tune up. And all that after a putrid outing at Euro 2008 that yielded just one goal in three scintillating games. Former Bordeaux head man Laurent Blanc is already tabbed as Domenech’s successor after the Finals, and adds even more upheaval to a squad that is already unstable.

To make matters worse, there is uncertainty over the effectiveness and mere inclusion of the once unmovable William Gallas in the final squad, and stars Thierry Henry and Franck Ribery are in limbo over their club contracts for next season. Domenech’s team selection hasn’t aided in the unrest, as three uncapped players make the squad at the expense of more established names like Karim Benzema, Patrick Vieira, Louis Saha, and Jean-Alain Boumsong (though Djibril Cisse has somehow come in out of the woods).

Neither Hugo Lloris nor Steve Mandanda has established themselves as the top goalkeeper in the post-Fabian Barthez/Gregory Coupet era. The uncertainty over Gallas robs the defense of depth. Mathieu Valbuena is making his debut to play the role of ineffective newcomer played by Bafatimbi Gomis at Euro 2008. The midfield may be one of the deeper corps in the tournament, but the ability of the forwards to finish will remain an open question until someone steps up with a consistent answer. The team sheet is one of a team that will progress from the group, but the team that’s shown up since the retirement of Zinedine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Claude Makelele, and company has been anything but.

The final diagnosis:

I can admit that I see this group going about six different ways. The winner of France-Uruguay on day one has the inside track on the group title. France would be more likely to recover from a defeat, but they’re proclivity for slow starts will cost them this time. The two Day 1 winner, Uruguay and Mexico, advance out of this group with Uruguay carrying the standard for the Americas and Domenech ending his stint with France with his tail between his legs.

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Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Sports Doctor, The Sports Doctor. The Sports Doctor said: Goin group by group previewing the World Cup; let's start with Group A where goals will be in short supply http://tinyurl.com/3xsbd6r […]


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