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Soccer Sun Jun 13 2010

World Cup 2010 Preview: Group G

As soon as the groups were drawn, Group G was immediately tabbed the group of death. But in the build up, injuries took their toll and now Brazil are even more entrenched as favorites. Who will go through with them?

This Brazilian team is unlike most previous Canarinha squads in that its focus is more on organization and defense than the typical Brazilian toca-toca samba style. In fact, coach Dunga's preferred line-up includes two holding midfielders -- Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva -- and former stars are now calling it everything short of treason.

But Dunga would know. He himself was a growling holding midfielder, known as much for crunching tackles as for protecting his back line. Still, some of his selections have been strange. Why leave off a finally fit Ronaldinho, coming off a great season at Milan? Some say it's personal: When Ronaldinho was just coming up, he embarrassed Dunga -- maybe he's never been forgiven. And in 'dinho's place are not the unknown energetic Brazilian youngsters that always seem to make a name for themselves in these tournaments, but inconsistent veterans. Elano? Kleberson? Really?

Either way, and even with the odd selection (no Adriano either), this Brazilian side is the most defensively talented ever. Goalie Julio Cesar, center back Lucio and right back Maicon were each all forces on Inter Milan's treble winning side this year. Maicon is especially dangerous going forward (check out this candidate for goal of the year). Shoot, Brazil are so stacked at back that Barcelona star Dani Alves will have to start on the bench.

Going forward, Brazil will rely on Kaka and Robinho. The idea is that those two and another striker (Julio Baptista or Luis Fabiano) should be able to get a goal or two by themselves -- and the defense will lock it down. It's certainly not the full team flowing soccer that we're used to seeing, but results in qualifying and at the Confederations Cup (see above) last summer have proven that this Brazilian team is no less lethal than some of their famous predecessors. Actually, bolstered as they are at back, they're even scarier.

Euro 2004 finalists and Germany 2006 semifinalists, Portugal's "golden generation" has just about past and they still can't seem to get over the hump and win a major tournament. An injury that will keep star winger Nani out of the Cup doesn't help matters, and now it's really up to Christiano Ronaldo to carry this team.

Not that he's without help. Portugal's domestic league is still churning out dependable players and the Selecao das Quinas has some of the best creative attacking players in the world. No one will look forward to defending against any combination of Ronaldo, Deco, Simao Sabrosa, Hugo Almeida and Nani's quite capable replacement Danny. At back, too, coach Carlos Queiroz has the strong Chelsea duo of Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira along with Porto staple Bruno Alves.

Portugal have a balanced squad and should get out of the group with Brazil, but they went through some bumps in qualifying and had to beat Bosnia-Herzogovina to make the Cup. And then, even if they do get out of the group, they'll have to make a serious run if they're to prove they're anything more than perennial disappointments.

Ivory Coast
Isn't it ironic how some of the Cup's major injuries seem to fit the players? Germany's Michael Ballack got hurt on a tackle that looked more like something he would be perpetrator of than victim; Portugal's Nani, one of the flashiest players in the world, hurt his collarbone/shoulder on a needless bicycle kick in a qualifying match; and Ivory Coast's iconic captain Didier Drogba broke his elbow on one of his typically aggressive challenges.

And yet, Drogbamonster got surgery the day after the injury and is miraculously looking like he might be fit for at least some of the group stage. (Can you imagine Drogbamonster with one of those giant plaster arm casts/clubs? Good god.) If he does play, he'll augment what is the best African team even without him. His speedy Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou will support in attack, brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure along with Arthur Boka provide the spine in midfield and defense, and midfielders Didier Zakora and Emmanuel Eboue round out the impact players.

The Elephants cruised through qualifying, but got six goals in five qualifying matches from Drogba. Where will the goals come from if he's not fit? Even though they have the talent on paper to get out of the group, it's not clear they have the leadership or discipline to do so. Coach Sven Goran Eriksson was fired by Mexico after less than a year in charge and has only led Ivory Coast for a few months. Former coach Vahid Halilhodzic says that Ivory Coast has too many egotistical, selfish players to succeed. We shall see.

Korea DPR
Let's be real. North Korea will need nothing less than a miracle to make it out of the group stages, especially considering who they have to go against. Notwithstanding such a miracle, the Chollina will continue to be overshadowed by their women's team.

So far, Korea DPR build-up has been one part historical (the last time North Korea made the Cup was at England 1966, in which they beat Italy 1-0 en route to an unlikely run all the way to the quarter finals), one part nationalist (players maintain that the North Korean mindset is stronger than the other nations in the group, so that will inevitably lead to success) and one part ridiculous (coach Kim Jong-Hun tried to sneak an extra attacker on the team by claiming Kim Myong Won as the third goalie -- but World Cup rules state you must bring three goalies, so North Korea essentially wasted a roster spot).

Despite a surprising qualifying run, North Korea's players remain mostly a mystery. Only three play outside the country, so Jong Tae Se (Kawasaki Frontale), An Yong Hak (Omiya Ardija), and captain Hong Yong-Jo (Rostov) will have to be the ones who provide Kim Jong-il and the others back home the miracle they seek.

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