Amid the Madness, Korean Workrate will Flourish. Group B Preview


Group B

If there are two individuals who stand like colossi over this tournament; whose frame of mind, whose abilities, and whose effect on the destination of the cup are more dissected than any other, those men are Leo Messi and Diego Maradona. And they are both Argentinians.

Opinion is divided on whether Maradona is a madman or a genius. On Messi, the debate circles more around whether he is a sufficiently talented genius to overcome the insanity, which the observer just attributed to Maradona when answering the first question.

Argentina barely qualified. They managed two late wins in the last week of the campaign, home to Peru and at bitter rivals Uruguay. However the difficulty with which they qualified cannot be attributed to Maradona. He took over after Alfredo Basile tendered his resignation after the 1-0 defeat in Chile. Maradona started by winning two friendlies, in Scotland and France, and a home qualifier against Venezuela before he horribly misjudged his altitude preparation, and the side went down 6-1 in Bolivia.

Will Messis' Genius be Enough to Propel Argentina to Victory?

Three more defeats were endured before the late revival saved them the play-off humiliation.

Maradona is blamed for picking over 100 players as manager but this is unfair. Many of the sides were selected for meaningless friendlies against uncompetitive nations, while his top players were unavailable due to club commitments. Don’t read anything about him into any statistic you see of that nature, unless it”s the one about picking 78 players in just the qualifying games. Ridicule him with that one.

He also launched into an expletive ridden diatribe at journalists. He only voiced what managers all over the world have often wished to say to the press.

More can be read into his omission of Inter pairing Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso who have helped Mourinho’s side to the brink of a treble, which they will complete if they beat Bayern in Saturday’s CL final. He also left out Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago and the Barcelona central defender Gabriel Milito.

In his 30 man squad, other than Messi, is the red host Inter striker Diego Milito, and two other players who will play in Madrid’s final, Inter defender Walter Samuel, and Bayern’s defender Martin Demichelis.

Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, Real’s Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid),and Boca Juniors veteran Martin Palermo are the other well known names in the 30.

Argentina are the hardest to predict side in the tournament, outside North Korea, but their saving grace may be the relatively comfortable draw in Group B.

Greece won Euro 2004, one of the biggest shocks ever in International Football. They won it by being excessively well organised, extremely defensive and relatively physical. None of them being especially characteristics of the Greek persona, it took a German coach, Otto Rehhagel to meld the perfect combination of German organisation with Greek athleticism, exemplified by Liverpool’s underused brick wall Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

Greece came second to Switzerland in a moderately weak group that included Latvia and Israel. They then lucked in by drawing Ukraine in the seeded play-offs and eliminated them.

Two names stand out from their provisional squad of 30, Kostas Mitroglou (Olympiakos) and Loukas Vintra (Panathinaikos) but only because they are the only ones that don’t end in an S. 21 of the 30 play in Greece so they may well have the advantage of knowing each other in their favour. They start off against South Korea in Port Elizabeth, a match between two of the most defensive sides in the competition, which will set the table for the rest of the group. Whichever loses that match, will really be struggling.

Greece have an awful World Cup pedigree. If they score a goal, it will be their best ever performance. Their previous visit in 1994 resulted in three hammerings amounting to a 0-10 goal difference, including a 4-0 hammering by Argentina and a 2-0 defeat to Nigeria in Foxborough.

South Korean manager Huh Jung-Moo selected names familiar to him but not to those of us outside Asia. Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung is the most famous, with seven Lees and eight Kims to drive the rest of us crazy. Former Spurs star Lee Yung-Pyo who now plays for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia will probably be their second biggest influence, very quick both for a defender and a 33-year-old.

Conditions may not suit the Korean style, which is heavily dependent on running. They are thought to cover more ground in a match than most others, but those who say the altitude may put a cap on that haven’t been thorough in their research. They play their first key game against Greece in Port Elizabeth and their second key against Nigeria in Durban both at sea level.

Those pundits who have made a category in their predictions of the ‘Most Boring Game of the Tournament’ have selected Greece v South Korea, a mantle that Switzerland and Ukraine who won it last time will be keen to hand over.

Nigeria look to be one of the African contingent dealt a good hand of cards by the draw. Though not quite the powerhouse they appeared to be at the height of their strength in the 1990s, they will be competitive in a relatively weak group.

The Nigerian FA surprised many by ditching Shaibu Amodu and appointing the Swede Lars Lagerback who managed the Swedish National Team from 1998 until 2009. He resigned from that post after Sweden’s failure to qualify, but finds himself with a second chance in South Africa.

Chelsea’s Jon Obi Mikel, Marseille’s Taye Taiwo, Everton’s Joseph Yobo, Bolton’s Daniel Shittu, and Wolfsburg’s Obafemi Martins are the most familiar names. They barely qualified, beating Kenya 3-2 on the last day while needing Tunisia to throw it all away. The Carthage Eagles duly obliged the Super Eagles by losing in Mozambique and Nigeria had squeaked through, but insufficiently impressively for the coach to hold his job.

Playing Argentina first could be both an advantage if the favourites are cautious, but more likely a disadvantage as a Maradona inspired team comes out all guns blazing.Their third game against The Koreans may come down to who needs the result more, as well as a fascinating clash of styles, as Nigerians muscled powerful players clash with the smaller speedier passing game of South Korea.

This group is probably the hardest to call beyond the obvious prediction that Argentina won’t come a cropper at the opening stage as they did in 2002, after also ironically playing Nigeria in their opening game. It will be a brave predictor or an angry Uruguayan that will predict that, and we aren’t either.


1. Argentina – just two many good players to fail even if their manager is a headcase
2. South Korea
– their two key games are 10 days apart and at sea level
3. Nigeria – their new coach only just meth tme for the first time in May. Not a recipe for solid preparation
4. Greece – just won’t score enough goals to win enough games

Group A: France is the team with the pedigree


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  1. Soundersnerd on

    Jose, I appreciate your sentiment, but I have to call you on this: host country out in the first round? The same team that went to Confederations Cup semis last year?

    One thing I always find missing from the soothsayers: home field advantage, or, if you will, Continental Advantage. The Continental Advantage and the fact that in the US, with most of our soccer input coming from Europe, are very biased towards European teams, makes me question anytime someone says “[insert EU team here] is going all the way this year”.

    In all WC, Europeans win in Europe; Americans (the greater Americans, not USAns) win in the Americas. 2002 was neither; France was predicted to be the big winner, and they didn’t make past the first round. NO ONE put money on Korea or Turkey, let alone to the semis; the quarter finals featured 4 underdogs (US and Senegal in addition to Turkey and Korea).

    For the second time in history, the WC takes place in neither Europe of the Americas; for the second time, expect wild results: a couple EU powerhouses to fall, a couple obscure underdogs riding the Continental Advantage going to the final 4, and probably winning it.

    For example: France were the strong favorites in 02. 02 was in unfamiliar territory