Despite defending champion Italy being part of Group F this is arguably the weakest group in the World Cup.
Italy has the best chances to advance from Group F as the winner, but Paraguay could challenge them for the top spot.
The Squadra Azzura has gone a little silent after winning it all four years ago in Germany, and they hope to recover in time to make another deep run. The four-time World Champions drew with the Republic of Ireland in the qualification stage and barely beat Cyprus 3-2.
They also drew with the Netherlands and Cameroon in friendlies and lost to Mexico on June 3 in their second-to-last match before the World Cup.
While it looks like Italy might have a hard time repeating their run of 2006 the Azzuri have proven to be a force to reckon with at every World Cup. They haven’t failed to advance from the group stage since 1974 and finished among the top three in three of their last five appearances.
Italy’s aging lineup might be a shot for Parguay to surprise the defending champion. The two sides meet in the first match of the group on June 15, and Paraguay might be able to catch the Azzuri off-guard.
Paraguay will play its passive style and hope for a mistake by the Italians. They come into the tournament with a third-place finish in their qualifying group, but they have shown that they can beat the world’s top teams.
Paraguay defeated heavy favorite Argentina in a qualifier in 2009 to clinch a spot in the final tournament. They drew with the Ivory Coast and beat Greece in their final two friendlies before the World Cup. They rely heavily on a strong defensive effort, as Roque Santa Cruz is their only dangerous striker.
Slovakia and New Zealand will form the bottom half of the group and their goal will be not to finish last. While Slovakia will be fun to watch, they don’t have anything to show for in past competitions. This is the first time they have qualified for the World Cup. They did so in impressive fashion, winning seven of their ten matches, but they have gone 3-9-1 in their last friendlies.
They lack true talent as most of their players play for lower-tier clubs in Europe.
New Zealand are the bottom-feeders of the group. They participate in the World Cup for the second time after losing three straight games in the group stage of the 1982 World Cup.
They finished atop their qualifying group with a 5-0-1 record, but the other teams in the group can hardly be called competition. The All Whites – as opposed to New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team – have lost to inferior teams such as Fiji, Tanzania and Thailand.
I don’t see them having any shot at winning a match and I think they will finish last in the group without even recording a draw.
Pinnacle has Italy as the heavy favorite to win the group at -206. Paraguay’s line at +320 looks like an interesting wager to me. They definitely have a chance of surprising the Italians and could end up at the top of the group.
I can’t see Slovakia or New Zealand going anywhere, and the odds of Slovakia advancing at +130 are too low to even consider.