Brazil-Portugal will be one of the most eagerly awaited of all group matches: it features the only group clash of teams ranked among the top five in the world and, while Brazil traditionally boasts flair, Portugal has at least one player with the ability to trump any Brazilian.
With their superb record of being the only country to contest every Fifa World Cup™, being five-time winners, twice runners-up, and beaten in the semi-finals three times, Brazil will rightly be regarded as one of the favourites to lift the World Cup trophy in South Africa.
While the current team might not play the free-flowing football for which Brazil is traditionally renowned, they have the individual quality and the team ethic under coach Dunga – himself a former World Cup winning captain in 1994 – to make them a tough opponent for any team they face.
The Brazilians have one of the world’s leading playmakers in midfielder Kaka, while strikers Luis Fabiano and Adriano are proven finishers at international level. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar anchors a stingy defence, with experienced defender Lucio patrolling the ground in front of him.
For Brazil, 2009 was a very busy, but successful year. They lifted the Fifa Confederations Cup in South Africa, winning every single match on their way to the title. They also won 14 of the 17 matches they played, lost only one and drew two others. They scored 38 goals and conceded only 12 and along the way defeated, among others, Italy (twice), England, Argentina, and Chile.
Only one result is good enough for the Seleçao and their supporters and that is victory. Under coach Dunga, a defensive midfielder in his day, Brazil came around slowly, but he now has them playing with confidence in his way. They will be tough to beat in South Africa and their Confederations Cup success will surely prove to be invaluable in the World Cup.
Portugal weren’t seeded after finishing second in their qualifying group behind Denmark. That resulted in the Portuguese playing off against Bosnia and Herzegovina for a place in South Africa 2010. However, they are a team loaded with quality and a world ranking of fifth speaks volumes about their ability.
In addition, their poor results didn’t come in 2009. In fact, they were unbeaten during the year, playing 12 matches, winning eight of them and drawing the other four.
Portugal is coached by Carlos Queiroz, formerly coach of Bafana Bafana, which makes him familiar with South African conditions.
While 2008 Fifa World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly the star attraction, fellow forward Simao is a handful for opposition defences with his dribbling ability and set piece skills.
Most importantly, Portugal has an excellent defence, which features a good mix of experience and youth. During 2009, they conceded only two goals in their 12 matches! That kind of defensive record is a fine foundation from which to win matches.
Considering their excellent form during 2009, as well as a fourth-place finish in Germany in 2006, Portugal will be aiming to win it all in South Africa. Their clash with Brazil will be one of the most eagerly-awaited contests of the group stages.
While Group G is headlined by Brazil, it is known as the Group of Death because of the presence of Portugal and also because of the Ivory Coast, a team ranked 16th in the world that features some top class talent, including one of the world’s best strikers.
The Ivorians, with the quality of their squad and their experience of African conditions, are certainly a dark horse team to beware of, even though their group includes two of the world’s top five nations.
The undoubted star of their team is striker Didier Drogba, who has proven himself with Chelsea on the biggest stages in Europe to be one of the world’s leading strikers and certainly one of the most difficult to contain. His Chelsea team-mate Salomon Kalou provides excellent wide support up front.
In fact, with many of their players plying their trade in Europe with top clubs, the Elephants have a battle-hardened squad of players that is used to the pressure of having to perform against top class opposition on big stages. That makes them very dangerous.
During 2009, the Ivorians were unbeaten, winning five games and drawing four. They didn’t lose a single match in qualifying.
North Korea has qualified for the World Cup once previously, in 1966, and they acquitted themselves very well on that occasion. They shocked Italy 1-0 to win through to the quarterfinals. There, they took a 3-0 lead over a very strong Portuguese team, before exiting 5-3.
In 2010, thanks to the secretive nature of the communist country, their abilities are somewhat unknown, although they did enjoy a good World Cup qualifying campaign.
They finished second in their group behind their neighbours, South Korea, and ahead of Saudi Arabia on goal difference. Their reward was hardly a friendly welcome back to the World Cup, with Brazil, Portugal, and the Ivory Coast all teams of the highest quality.
The good performances by North Korean women’s teams at international age group World Cups – winners at under-17 level and runners-up at under-20 – is indicative of the fact that the country has football talent and good coaching. However, some of their results in 2009 were not as encouraging.
There were a couple of head-scratching defeats mixed in among what was generally a good run of results: a 1-0 loss to Lebanon at home and a 4-1 defeat in Zambia topped the list. Overall, in 2009, North Korea won six matches, drew four, and lost three.
The Koreans’ greatest strength is the lack of knowledge about them but, faced with the quality teams in their group, they will have an almost impossible task to reach the round of 16.
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