PAUL BENJAMIN gives his thoughts on the World Cup draw...and makes some foolhardy predictions.
If we ever needed proof that God is not a Communist then we now have it.
With the 2010 World Cup draw squarely behind us, everything is now ready for the greatest spectacle in sport to take place in South Africa next year.
And what a shame that the ‘Democratic’ People’s Republic of Korea, who make their first appearance at a World Cup for around fifty years, have landed in the ‘group of death’.
Of course, the real tragedy as far as DPR Korea’s World Cup goes is that their people will not be able to watch it: after working so hard to get there in the first place, their games will only be broadcast at home if the team wins, and even then only in highlight form with all the advertising and opposition fans blurred out. Some democracy.
In a group with Brazil, the Ivory Coast and Portugal their prospects of getting anything other than three well-rounded thrashings look very bleak indeed.
England have got as good a draw as could possibly have been hoped for (give or take) and we have avoided some real headaches in France and the Ivory Coast.
The old Imperialist in us all would surely have liked to see us put Australia to the sword nice and early, but we shall have to settle for the USA.
Below are the groups in order and my predictions for who will qualify for the last 16 (the winners and runners-up in each group will advance).
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France.
France have rather conveniently parachuted into a nice group. Since they seem incapable of winning without an array of illegal appendages to call on, it’s probably good for Raymond Domenech’s men that their group is, on balance, quite simple. Mexico may give them some stick, but South Africa and Uruguay will be dispatched easily. Sadly for South Africa, it seems their World Cup will comprise of three games only. They are the lowest ranked team in the tournament and there are two teams in their group who are far better than they are (France and Mexico). I expect all the African teams to get a boon from the tournament being in Africa, but my head tells me that South Africa should be thankful they don’t have a long flight home.
Prediction: France and Mexico to qualify.
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece.
Qualified by the skin of their teeth perhaps, but Argentina should have no problems here. It looks ever more likely that Diego ‘that cheating filthy scumbag’ Maradona will have been given his marching orders by next summer, and they have such a wealth of talent that will put the rest of this group to shame. Nigeria aren’t the force they used to be, and may come unstuck by the tenacity and guile of the Koreans, Greece are hopeless and will finish bottom.
Prediction: Argentina and South Korea to qualify.
Group C: ENGLAND, USA, Algeria, Slovenia.
This is the stuff dreams are made of for England. The USA could give us some trouble on their very best day, but only if we were having an utter mare that day too. What this does represent however is a guilt edged opportunity for the USA to get to the last 16. Algeria, though African, aren’t that good, and Slovenia will probably do what they always do at big tournaments: sweet FA. Fabio Capello will be furious with anything less than three wins, and I can’t say I blame him.
Prediction: England and USA to qualify.
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana.
This is a tough group. There are no truly bad teams in it, even if none of them are exceptional either. I fancy this group to throw up a few surprises along the way, but with Germany’s experience and the fact that they could play eleven pub players and they would still find their way to the final somehow I’m sure they will make it. Among the rest, it’s up for grabs. I doubt Serbia have what it takes, and I would expect Ghana, who have more world class players than Australia ever have or will, to capitalize on the tournament being in Africa and make the next step, perhaps even winning the group along the way.
Prediction: Germany and Ghana to qualify.
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon.
Simple enough: The Netherlands will win this one and Cameroon will come runners up. Japan aren’t very good at the World Cup, and will be taken apart by the Dutch whilst Cameroon will just batter them into submission. Denmark are a spent force by and large: they may get a cheeky draw from Holland or Cameroon and will probably beat Japan, but I doubt they will emerge from this one.
Prediction: Netherlands and Cameroon to qualify.
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia.
There is not a single thing in this group that should worry Italy. The other three teams are this side of crap, and it is entirely likely that this group will be an utter bore. Italy, never famous for expansive football, will win all their games one-nil, and the other teams will fight for the most irrelevant second place in the whole tournament since none of them can win it.
Prediction: Italy and Slovakia to qualify.
Group G: Brazil, DPR Korea, Cote d’Ivoire, Portugal.
Group of death. The Koreans are done: they will fly home with the worst goal difference in World Cup history. From here it’s anyone’s guess. Carlos Queiroz has taken Portugal backwards, and they look ever more like a one-man team. Having said that they are capable of an upset. However, Brazil will be too strong for all the teams in this group (and possibly the whole tournament) whilst the Ivory Coast are the best African team represented, brutally strong and they have Didier Drogba.
Prediction: Brazil and Cote d’Ivoire to qualify.
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile.
Spain will win this at a canter, but I doubt they will win the trophy at the end. They may be the favourites but in reality their defenders are vulnerable when pushed by world-class opposition (i.e. A Drogba or an Eto’o), and injuries in key places will weaken them dramatically. But beyond this, they have the most rotten luck at the World Cup, and I expect will succumb to nerves when challenged by well-drilled opposition. Switzerland are so dull they will probably send the other two teams in this group to sleep long enough to sneak out of it.
Prediction: Spain and Switzerland to qualify.
Post your objections, counter-predictions and fair minded opprobrium below.