Argentina, Greece and Nigeria, three of the four members of 2010 Group B, all featured in the same group at the 1994 Fifa World Cup. On that occasion, Nigeria topped the group, while neither Argentina nor Greece made it through to the round of 16, both losing out to Bulgaria.
Based on the individual talent of their players, Argentina should be favoured to top Group B.
Yet, despite all their talent – including Lionel Messi of Barcelona, who won the 2009 Ballon d’Or, awarded to the European Footballer of the Year – the two-time champions (1978 and 1986) were less than convincing in qualification. They were the fourth of five qualifiers from South America, ahead of Uruguay, but behind Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.
Argentina’s coach is Diego Maradona, a genius on the field, but a man with a questionable past off of it, including a life-threatening drug addiction, and a less than imposing record as a club coach with with Textil Mandiyu and Racing Club. Maybe the biggest question surrounding Argentina’s challenge is whether or not they have the right coach to lead them to the title.
During 2009, Argentina played 13 matches, won eight of them and lost five. That’s not the kind of record a country with Argentina’s proud history finds acceptable, especially when included among those results is a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of 56th ranked Bolivia.
Another reason that more is expected of the Argentines is the individual quality of their players. Messi is the diamond that the whole world recognises, while Sergio Aguero is another youngster on the rise. Carlos Tevez is a skillful, hard-working striker. In midfield, Javier Mascherano gives Argentina steel, while Juan Sebastian Veron is a good distributor of the ball.
Greece, the shock champions of Euro 2004, finished second in European Group Two behind Switzerland, but beat Ukraine 1-0 in a two-leg playoff to secure their place in South Africa.
The only goal of the playoffs came in the away game in Donetsk and that is the thing about this Greek team, they’re not flashy, but they have the steel to grind out 1-0 wins, no matter where they play.
Otto Rehhagel has been coach of Greece since 2001 and has turned the team into a difficult opponent. He was also in charge when Greece achieved its greatest success, by winning the 2004 European Championship. They exited in the first round of the 2008 Championship, but before Rehhagel took charge they had qualified for the European Championships only once in 10 attempts.
Their qualification for South Africa 2010 is, in fact, only the second time Greece has reached the World Cup finals. Previously, in the USA in 1994, they exited in the first round after losing all three of their group games. Their ambition will be much higher this time around.
During 2009, Greece played 10 internationals, winning four of them, losing twice, and drawing four.
Striker Theofanis Gekas bears watching in South Africa. His 10-goal return was the highest tally by a player in European qualifying. Fellow striker Angelos Charisteas, who scored the winning goal at Euro 2004, presents a physical challenge to opposition defenders because of his aerial prowess and height.
Nigeria are ranked behind only Cameroon and the Ivory Coast in Africa. Yet, the feeling is that the Super Eagles are capable of more than they have achieved in recent times.
During 2009, they played only nine matches, won four of them and drew the other five.
The Super Eagles have two classy strikers in Obafemi Martins and Yakuba Aiyegbeni. John Obi Mikel, still only 22 years of age, has proved his ability in midfield with leading English club Chelsea, while at Everton, captain Joseph Yobo has anchored the Toffees’ defence.
Two-time African Player of the Year Nwankwo Kanu has played in two previous World Cups, in 1998 and 2002, and has been a member of the national team since 1994!
Nigeria has been to three World Cups. In 1994 the West Africans topped their group, but went out to eventual finalists Italy in the second round to an injury time goal by Roberto Baggio.
Four years later, in France, the Super Eagles again made the second round after wins over Spain and Bulgaria and a loss to Paraguay. However, Denmark thumped them 4-1 to end their tournament.
Nigeria qualified for the World Cup for the third year in succession in 2002, but they failed to progress beyond the group stage. They missed out on Germany 2006.
South Korea will be contesting the World Cup for the eighth time in South Africa in 2010. Under coach Huh Jung-Moo, who is in charge of the team for the third time, they topped their qualifying pool, ahead of their neighbours and rivals North Korea.
They play a team-oriented game, and are a fast, cohesive unit. Captain Ji-Sung Park is the most well known Korean football export, playing for high profile English club Manchester United.
South Korea ended 2009 ranked 52nd in the world, but that ranking does not do them justice. They’re better than that and are a dangerous side on their day, a team that can beat the best; in the 2002 World Cup, on home soil, they scored wins over Italy and Spain in the round of 16 and quarterfinals.
During 2009, the Koreans won six matches, drew six, and lost one. Perhaps their biggest problem was goal-scoring as only once in 13 outings did they manage to score three times, although that came in an impressive 3-1 win over Australia.
The Koreans hope Park Chu-Young, who plays for Monaco in France’s Ligue 1, will be the answer to their lack of goal-scoring.
One quality the Koreans are not short of is experience. It could prove invaluable in South Africa.
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