Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World Cup Group Stage Wrap-Up: Groups A and B

Recently, I get a praising comment from friend, hockey rumour expert, and fellow blogger Mark Boffo. He said I was pulling my weight with this blog. An enjoyable comment, no doubt. I followed that up by not blogging for 12 days. Oops. It's the World Cup's fault, I promise.

However, I shall redeem myself. The next four days present a good opportunity to pass along some thoughts. With the group stage wrapping up in South Africa, here are some brief thoughts on each team as they finish their three-game round robin.

Group A

Uruguay: The first of what should be five out of five South American teams to make it out of their group, Uruguay have impressed after years of failure on the world stage. Though their opening draw with France may well be the most boring of the 36 matches played so far, they bounced back with an emphatic 3-0 win over South Africa and capped it off with a 1-0 win over Mexico in an exciting affair. They are set to face South Korea in the Round of 16, and I expect them to handle the Asian squad with relative ease.

Mexico: Mexico is one of those in-between teams in comparison to the rest of the world, but they always find a way to make it out of their group. This is the fifth straight World Cup that Mexico has safely made it to the knockout stage. They've got some talent, but I think their defence is too unpredictable, especially keeper Oscar Perez. They get Argentina next, so I fully expect them to get eliminated at the Round of 16 for the fifth straight time.

South Africa: I don't think anyone should be ashamed at how South Africa finished. They only lost out on the group stage on goal differential, and it was really a lot closer than the scorelines suggest. If not for a hit post in the South Africa-France game, and a big save in the Mexico-Uruguay game, the goal diff. could have very well been even. So the South Africans are the first host team not to make it out of their group, but they are also the weakest host team ever. Good for them to get a win over an historically good team in France in their last game, even if France are a shell of their former glory. Read on for more.

France: Les Bleus overshadowed everything good in this group - and the whole tournament so far - with their embarrassing performances on and off the field. Firstly, the team never deserved to be there in the first place. Secondly, my boy from Chelsea Nic Anelka called outgoing coach Raymond Domenech a bunch of really bad names, and got himself sent home. Thirdly, led by team captain Patrice Evra, the squad refused to train in protest of Anelka's dismissal. Finally, they exit the tournament with no wins, a draw and two crappy losses. Ouch.

Group B

Argentina: Of all the World Cup favourites, Argentina are in the best shape so far. You'll find no shock losses, draws, or bust-ups here. Only wins and goals under the crazy Diego Maradona, who is actually turning into a likable figure which is absolutely terrifying. Three matches, three wins, and an absolutely stacked lineup. All of that, and Leo Messi hasn't even scored yet. The best is yet to come.

South Korea: Can't say I picked this team to make it through, but they lucked their way through to an improbable spot in the Round of 16. If Nigeria had converted one more goal in their 2-2 draw, then it would be the Africans going through. Instead, Yakubu missed the sitter of all sitters, and the rest is history. I like the tactical approach from Asian sides like South Korea, but I don't see them beating Uruguay in the next round.

Greece: Things looked grim for Greece after their opening 2-0 loss to South Korea. Sure, they could always stake claim to being the 2004 European Champs, but they've never had any success in the World Cup. But they bounced back nicely with a 2-1 win over Nigeria, giving them a fighting chance against Argentina to sneak into the knockout stage. They had their opportunities, and held the Argentines off the board for most of the match, but in the end Maradona's side was too good. A valiant effort for the Greeks, though their tourney is over.

Nigeria: Another African nation on the outs, Nigeria were so close to getting through as I just mentioned, but it wasn't to be. The loss to Argentina was expected, and at only 1-0 that was fine. But the turning point was Sani Kaita's stupid retaliatory red card in the 2-1 loss to Greece; the guy is now getting thousands of death threats back home. I guess they really did need my injured Chelsea boy John Obi Mikel, eh! (I'll try to avoid mentioning every Chelsea player involved in the World Cup... but it won't be easy).

I'll be back tomorrow with final thoughts on Group C and D, provided I survive the day.

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