Football Station


Powerhouse Party – Group G

Group G –

Brazil

North Korea

Ivory Coast

Portugal

You can’t help but feel kind of sorry for the North Koreans.  They finally come out of hiding, and we promptly stick them in the “Group of Death”.   That’ll teach them to try and socialize with the world.  Group D has been called the “Group of Death”, and I can understand the logic in that.  But come on…there’s just no way around the fact that this is easily the toughest group to advance from.  Brazil, the Ivory Coast and Portugal would normally be shoo-in’s to advance to the knockout round, but instead they are thrown into a pit and told to slug it out for the top two spots.  And that’s exactly what they’ll do…

Portugal –

Being seeded in the 4th pot, along with France, certainly created the potential for a Group of Death.  However, the stars aligned

How far can Ronaldo take Portugal in the "Group of Death"?

for a group like this.  When you look at all the teams in Pot 4, there are only two teams that could create a power group, and in Pot 3, the strongest team, without too much of an argument is the Ivory Coast.  Who are the two teams on everybodys’ lips when talking about the real potential to win?  Spain…and Brazil.  Portugal doesn’t come packing pea-shooters though.  They’ve obviously got the 2008 World Player of the Year, Simao & Nani running laps around outside backs on the wings, Deco pulling strings in the middle and Ricardo Carvalho snuffing things out in the back with Jose Bosingwa and Bruno Alves for company.  They certainly have the talent to take them out of the group, however, there is a serious disliking of the manager Carlos Quieroz.  According to the players, he acts like a “teacher” and forces them to watch hours of game footage, and suddenly, the chipper atmosphere left by Scolari is all but gone.  In his formation, however, Ronaldo is played in a free role behind the striker (likely Hugo Almeida), and that, for any team, is a major concern.  Explosive and dangerous, Ronaldo could single handedly carry the Portuguese to the next round.

Ivory Coast –

Losing Didier Drogba is a huge blow to the Elephants, despite reports he still might make the World Cup.  The Ivory Coast’s international website issued a statement, “He’s not at all out of the World Cup. He can still play. We don’t know if he will be able to play the first game — that depends on the verdict of the medical team. But he’s definitely not out [of the tournament].”  Well that’s great news, as they are arguably the most talented African side at the World Cup, and had a serious chance of making some noise in the later rounds.  That said, without Drogba, the Elephants still have some stomping power.  With Salomon Kalou (no Drogba, obviously, but up to snuff), the young Gervinho, The Toure brothers, Sevilla’s Didier Zokora and Emmanuel Eboue there is more than enough potential for them to rough up the Portuguese maybe even the Brazilians.  They have good attacking flair ont he wings in Gervinho and Abdul Kader Keita (of Galatasaray), and should be able to supply Kalou and whoever partners him up top.  However, it will be hard for him to create an aerial threat against the sound Brazilian back line.  If Drogba has any chance of playing in the World Cup, The Elephants will need to find a way to progress into the later rounds.

North Korea

There isn’t a lot of info on North Korea, which I guess is explained by the fact that Kim Jong-Il has shut them off from the world.  What we do know is that they are very paranoid and are hardly answering any questions at press conferences.  Jong-Il also told the nation that they will only get word of the team’s results if they win…it’s going to be a quiet summer.  They haven’t appeared at a World Cup in 44 years since they debuted in England.  However, it turns out that they stormed into the quarterfinals amidst low expectations.  Can they emulate that kind of form and motivation?  Time will tell.  They do play a relatively tight defense, allowing only 7 goals in 16 games, which isn’t too shabby at all.  Tae-Se Jong is their leading scorer and plays his game in Japan with Kawasaki Frontale, and their captain Yong-Jo Hong plays professionally in Russia at FC Rostov.  Their best bet at getting any points will be to outmaneuver the Ivory Coast, out-jinx the Portuguese and…forget Brazil.  These guys are just happy to be here.

Brazil –

Coach and former player Dunga has fashioned El Selecao into quite the machine.  They flow effortlessly from defense into attack

Julio Cesar has been one of the best 'keepers in the world this year and is coming off of a Champions League Final win.

and their counterattacks are clean, crisp and awesome.  Their passing is creative and can cut open defenses before they know where the ball is.  Need proof? Glad you asked… I won’t gush about Brazil, but their chances of winning are pretty decent if they can keep themselves healthy mentally and physically.  With stars dropping like flies and being rushed into our Sick Ward, Dunga will want to take extra special care of his boys.  The spine of the team lies: Julio Cesar, Lucio, Kaká, Luis Fabiano.  All four are masters at their craft and will need an off day to be caught out by a better opponent.  The only ones who look likely to do it could be Nani and Ronaldo of Portugal and Drogba (if he gets fit) of the Ivory Coast.  In midfield, despite the fact that Felipe Melo is having a drab season at Juventus, he has been pretty consistent on international duty.  On attack, it’s almost silly to start, because they attack from all over.  Melo holds down the center of midfield while Kaká, Robinho and Elano all try to feed the ball to Luis Fabiano.  All this to say, they aren’t untouchable.  They lost to Bolivia and Paraguay on the road in qualification and may struggle playing in the colder temperatures of South Africa, as it is winter.  Other than that though, they finished 9-7-2 with a goal difference of +22, meaning when they won, they won big.  Can they claim another World Cup in South Africa?  I wouldn’t bet against it.

Prediction

1.  Brazil

2. Ivory Coast

3. Portugal

4. North Korea

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Sick Ward…

As it stands, there has already been as many as 5 world class injuries for South Africa.  What do these mean for their respective teams?  Managers and teams alike make names for themselves with how well they cope without their talismanic players.  It is time to take a walk through the sick ward.

1.  Michael Ballack – The iconic midfielder injured his ankle in the FA Cup Final against Portsmouth and saw his last World Cup dream dashed.  What do the Germans have in reserve?  Suprisingly, not as much as they typically do.  Squad depth could be a problem for them in South Africa, especially if they pick up any other serious injuries to key players.  In replacing Ballack there is Toni Kroos, the Werder Bremen attacking midfielder, or maybe the largely untested Stuttgart central midfielder Sami Kheidra.  Either way, it will be interesting to see what the Germans will come up with.  Will this stop them from advancing into the later stages?  Not a chance, they still ooze talent and are always a threat.

South Africa will be without one of the continent's greatest talents in decades

2. Michael Essien – Unlike Ballack, Michael Essien is much more grave injury to his national team.  The Black Stars revolve around the former African Player of the Year, and will struggle to find somebody to fill his overly sized boots.  Sulley Muntari may be brought in from the left to try and steady the ship in the middle of the park to partner Stephen Appiah.  Another option could be young Anthony Annan of FC Copenhagen who could be a legitimate player on the big stage, but only time will tell.  Unlike Ballack again, however, Essien most likely has another World Cup in him.

3. Rio Ferdinand – Woe is England.  Just when everybody thought they were taking a flawless squad to South Africa, Ferdinand

The longtime trusted stopper will have to watch from home.

loses his last chance a World Cup.  Tragic for such a decorated player and seasoned veteran.  Now the question becomes, who will partner John Terry?  Long absent Jamie Carragher?  Injury stricken Ledley King?  Or the recently called up Michael Dawson?  All are capable players but all will be hard pressed to emulate the form of Rio Ferdinand.  Carragher is probably the most experienced, but may be a step behind quicker players in South Africa.  Regardless, England still has plenty of quality all over the pitch and should be able to see their way easily out of their group and past the first round or two of the knockout stages.

4. Didier Drogba – What a shame for the Ivory Coast.  The Elephants are bringing one of the strongest African squads ever to a World Cup and are now without their savior.  Drogba is, without a doubt, one of the top striking talents in the world.  He is big, physical, and deadly.  Still, the Ivory Coast will be able to find some quality backup.  Left in the striking department is Salomon Kalou, Aruna Dindane, and Gervinho.  To say the least, they won’t be toothless, however they’ll be missing their fangs without “Drog”.  Advancing out of the group a possibility?  You bet.  Is it going to be easy?  Not a chance.