Every World Cup has a so-called Group of Death. And this is definitely it this year.
Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast are all strong teams and will battle each other to advance. While Ivory Coast is the least likely out of the three to win it all, they have the best chance of any African team to end up World Champions. Portugal – if they are on their game – and Brazil are legitimate contenders for the Cup, so this should be a great group. North Korea will probably end up with zero points out of the matches against the big three.
Brazil, the only team to have won the World Cup five times, comes into the tournament as the winner of their qualifying group. They had a few minor glitches on the way, but they don’t always field their top XI against inferior teams. They get the job done when it matters though. The Selecao is 23-3-3 against World Cup teams since the last tournament in 2006.
The Brazilians have gone away from their “joga bonita” – the typical Brazilian beautiful way to play with short passes and lots of offense. They play a more defensive style under manager Dunga, which will help them against the fast-paced Portuguese side.
The Samba Kings have won 21 of their last 25 matches and go into the tournament knowing that they beat soccer powerhouses England, Argentina, and Italy in their last meetings. They have one of the best – if not the best – midfielders on their side in Kaka. The 28-year-old, who plays for Barcelona, can control the game, spark the attack with his passes, and score. Strikers Luis Fabiano and Robinho complete a dangerous attack that will cause problems for many defenses.
Portugal finished in fourth place at the World Cup in Germany and came in second at Euro 2004. They match up well against the Brazilians posting a 2-1-1 record in their last four meetings. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most dangerous goal-scorers in the Cup. The 25-year-old team captain has scored 22 goals in 71 caps for the Portuguese team.
The Portuguese will rely heavily on Ronaldo and hope he can improve on his scoring from four years ago, when he scored only once at the World Cup in Germany. Portugal are prone to slip-ups and they hope to avoid any problems in South Africa. They recently drew with Cape Verde – a far inferior side – despite fielding an almost complete lineup of their top players. They also drew with Finland, Estonia and Denmark in friendlies.
The Ivory Coast are the best African team in the tournament. They are considered one of the greatest hopes for the African continent to win a World Cup, but they will most likely have to replace their best player and one of the top five players in the tournament in Didier Drogba. The 32-year-old broke his elbow in the side’s final warm-up for the Cup Friday against Japan.
Drogba told his teammates he wouldn’t be able to participate in the cup, but coach Sven-Goran Eriksson didn’t rule Drogba out completely. However, even if the striker plays, it remains to be seen how effective he can be with a broken arm.
The Elephants play an electrifying style of soccer, but rely heavily on their scoring. Their defense is mediocre at best and without Drogba they will have to find other players to make up for what they lose in his scoring ability. Even before Drogba’s injury, Eriksson was asking from his players to spread the scoring out more and involve everybody in the attack. Now they might be forced to do so.
North Korea got unlucky in the drawing for this year’s World Cup and ended up in a group that won’t leave them any chances of advancing. Most likely, they will end up without a single win. Even a draw against one of the big teams would be an unexpected success.
They play a passive style of soccer and will try to focus on defense in their group matches. Their best chance of landing a draw against Portugal or Ivory Coast is to focus on not giving up a goal. I can’t see them scoring on any of their three opponents.
Pinnacle has reacted to the news about Drogba, and they offer the odds for Ivory Coast to win the group at +521. There is very little value outside of this risky bet, since Brazil is the clear cut favorite and Ivory Coast and Portugal are in a tight clinch for second place.
Portugal winning the group at +369 is worth a look, but Brazil look like they should end up atop the group. The Brazilians won’t take the group stage lightly, as a second-place finish could lead to a potential matchup with Spain in the Round of 16. I don’t see Ivory Coast or Portugal beating a focused Selecao.