The much awaited draw to decide groups of World Cup 2010 took place in Cape Town, South Africa on December 4, 2009. The coverage of this event was viewed by an estimated 134.5 million viewers in 137 countries throughout the world. These enormous numbers for just the draw are a reminder of the popularity of the beautiful game around the world. The groups are as follows:
In the round of 16, the winners and runners-up of Group A will meet the runners-up and winners of Group B, respectively. This pair-wise matching is the same for Groups C&D, E&F, and G&H.
Italy has been drawn in a relatively easy group comprising of Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. None of these teams have much of a World Cup history. In the 2006 World Cup, Paraguay were eliminated in the first round. The 2002 edition of the competition was much more memorable as the exploits of a certain Nelson Cuevas in the final group match helped Paraguay secure a 3-1 victory over Slovenia and advance to the next round. New Zealand is featuring in the World Cup for the second time, their previous appearance coming in 1982. The Azzurri faithful will certainly remember the 4-3 victory over the All Whites in a friendly before this year’s Confederations Cup. Slovakia is featuring in its first World Cup since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Italy has faced Slovakia on only one occasion in 1998, when golden boys Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti scored for a comfortable 3-0 win.
FIGC president Giancarlo Abete was pleased with the draw and is hoping to win the group. However, Coach Marcello Lippi has quickly moved to dismiss the significance of the draw. The Azzurri boss noticed that Paraguay have been at the top of the CONMEBOL qualifiers for quite some time. With attacking talent comprising of Roque Santa Cruz and Salvador Cabañas, they are a potent team. According to Lippi, he was “neither satisfied nor disappointed” with the outcome. In any case, on the basis of history and pure quality alone, the Azzurri should sail through this group. In spite of receiving criticism for many of their performances, Lippi’s squad collected all but six points in the entire qualification campaign. Since Netherlands are favourites to win Group E, Italy will want to secure top spot to avoid the Oranje in the round of 16.
The World Cup qualification campaign was certainly not devoid of controversy. Thierry Henry’s outrageous handling of the ball helped France secure qualification in the competition at the expense of Ireland. All the European teams in Pot 1 were keen to avoid being drawn with France, who were dangerous opponents in Pot 4. Fortunately, France was drawn with South Africa in Group A, since the hosts were automatically in Pot 1. Even if Les Bleus struggled through the qualification campaign, they remain as favourites to top the group. Mexico and Uruguay complete the rest of the group and will battle it out for second spot. South Africa will be the underdogs, but being a home nation, they could cause a few upsets.
Group B seems to have some tricky matches. Although Argentina would be hot favourites on the basis of squad strength, they have struggled a lot in their qualification campaign. Nigeria certainly would not be pushovers as African teams are famous for causing upsets. South Korea’s memorable, albeit controversial, journey in the 2002 World Cup should be fresh in the minds of all football enthusiasts.
Fabio Capello has assembled together a talented English squad, which many have tipped to go all the way. England is the obvious favourites to top Group C, whereas United States should be able to qualify to next round through a runners-up spot. Slovenia and Algeria should not be too difficult to overcome for both these teams.
Every major competition sees Germany arrive with a bunch of not-so-famous footballers who actually progress through the tournament much more than expected. The Germans are the obvious choice to top Group D. Australia and Ghana will battle it out for the second spot whereas Serbia are outside contenders to qualify. As mentioned earlier, Netherlands are the favorites to top Group E. Denmark, Japan and Cameroon will fight for the second spot, and will meet Italy in the round of 16, provided that the Azzurri keep up with the expectations.
Each edition of the World Cup has a group branded as the ‘Group of Death’. This time, it is Group G. That Brazil is favorites to top this group is a no-brainer. Some might point to Portugal to cause problems for the Seleção, but in fact, their open, attacking style of play is actually suited for Brazil. North Korea is outside contenders to qualify through the group and Ivory Coast will try to repeat their praise-winning performances of 2006.
Champions Spain will easily top Group H, as other teams should not provide much challenge for the reigning European Champions. Chile and Switzerland have had excellent qualification campaigns in their respective continents. Both will try to fight for second spot. Although possessing some recognised names such as David Suazo and Wilson Palacios, Honduras are branded as underdogs, and are expected to finish at the bottom.