Monday, December 7, 2009

2010 World Cup Group of Death:
Who's Odd Man Out? Brazil? Portugal?

You know, "Dog" spelled backward is Group of Death.

I love the whole notion of a Group of Death. I mean, there are two guarantees you get out of almost every World Cup draw: A GOD and the host being in just a pitifully easy and uninteresting group; it's a random draw, right Charlize?

Looking at the last few:

2006 -- Germany as the host is paired with Ecuador, Poland and Costa Rica. Cakewalk. 3 wins, 9 points. Finishes third overall

GOD -- Argentina, Netherlands, Ivory Coast and Serbia. Ivory Coast tooth and nail loses a pair of 2-1 decisions to Argentina and Holland, both of whom are done by the end of the quarterfinal round.

2002 -- South Korea as the host is paired with the U.S., Poland and Portugal, benefits from the U.S. upset of Portugal and goes all the way to the semis, beating Italy and Spain along the way. A dream run.

Japan as the co-host gets Belgium, Russia and Tunisia. Japan upsets a weak group then loses to semifinalist Turkey in the second round.

GOD -- Sweden, England, Argentina and Nigeria. Brutal group, chock full of political battles and quietly talented upstarts. Sweden and England escape the group. Sweden loses to Senegal in the second round; England loses to Brazil in the quarterfinals.

1998 -- France as the host gets Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia. Dreadful; 3 wins, 9 points. France wins the whole thing at home.

GOD -- Nigeria, Spain, Paraguay, Bulgaria. All four teams were stellar in the '94 Cup in the USA. Spain bombed out, living up to its reputation as dogs in the big tournament. Nigeria and Paraguay move on from the group, losing to Denmark and France respectively in the second round.

Point is, it's very difficult to escape the Group of Death and win the whole thing. Looking at this year, odds are, you're going to lose either Brazil or Portugal coming out of the group stage; I think Ivory Coast is too good not to steal points from either or both. And then, for whomever does escape in second place--again this could be either Brazil or Portugal, their reward is likely Spain in the second round. How would you like to play two wars in the first round (Brazil-Portugal is the final game of the group stage--God I hope things are not decided by then) and then go on to face what is probably the best team in the world at this moment?

It's just tremendous for football fans, even more so if you're emotionally invested in any of the GOD teams.

I honestly have no idea how this will shake out. I'm certainly not of the camp that Brazil is automatic and it will come down to Portugal and Ivory Coast. I can see Brazil slipping against either. Ivory Coast is in its second straight GOD and held its own quite well; its players are older yes, but experience counts for plenty in a short tournament. And Portugal can be deadly; so talented up and down the field. But it does have Carlos Queiroz up top and that isn't going to inspire confidence in anyone [side note: too bad Scolari isn't still coaching Portugal, talk about tasty].

Can't wait for GOD. Too bad we have to wait for GOD. 185 days to go.

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