Can the eight ‘Good Things’ deliver in the World Cup Group Stage?

Ahead of the World Cup, many people will be making predictions about which teams they fancy to do well in South Africa along with who they think will win the tournament. Selecting the obvious heavyweights of International Football will be the chosen route of many with Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, England, Germany and Holland amongst the teams being tipped to do well. However is the World Cup that predictable?

It is easy to take one look at the Spain squad and recognise that a few familiar names play for Europe’s leading clubs and that the reigning European Champions must stand a good chance of winning their first ever World Cup.  It also doesn’t take a genius to conclude that Brazil have an astounding World Cup pedigree with the five times champions likely to head many peoples world cup tips.  The question remains though, is football such an exact science that all the favourites in the eight groups can progress to the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup? History suggests otherwise.

Before a ball is even kicked in South Africa, the bookmakers have made France, Argentina, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, Brazil and Spain all odds on favourites to win their respective groups in the opening stages of the competition.  The 33/1 on offer for the accumulator that all the ‘good things’ will make it to the knock out stages is sure to attract the interest of plenty of punters as the betting frenzy which surrounds the World Cup gets underway. However, in the six tournaments since the current format of each team playing three group games before progressing to the knock out stage was introduced at the 1986 World Cup, at least one of the group favourites has failed to deliver.

Some of the more famed exits at the group stages in recent years include France in 2002 that went in to the tournament in Japan and Korea as reigning champions and favourites to win only to finish bottom of the group, picking up just one point from their three games against Senegal, Uruguay and Denmark. The French are set to face Uruguay again in South Africa along with Mexico and South Africa in what looks to be one of the trickiest of the eight groups to call. Portugal and Argentina were also first round casualties eight years ago.

The biggest shock of the 1998 World Cup was the failure of Spain to progress to the last 16 and four years ago in Germany, whilst all the pre-tournament group favourites qualified for the last 16, not all of them finished top of their respective groups.

The question ahead of the 2010 World Cup therefore becomes, can each of the eight group favourites buck the trend and oblige to win their groups, or will a shock exit be on the cards for one of the fancied teams?

As highlighted, France could be the most likely candidate to come unstuck in what is a tough looking Group A. Raymond Domenech’s side crashed out at the group stage of Euro2008 two years without winning a match and after only qualifying for the 2010 World Cup courtesy of Thierry Henry’s controversial goal in the play offs against Ireland, all is seemingly not well for ‘Les Bleus’ and an early flight home could once again be on the cards.

Another group which has the potential for an upset is Group D, which contains Germany, Serbia, Ghana and Australia. The Germans have only ever failed to progress beyond the group stage on one occasion, back in 1938, but their long heritage as a World Cup powerhouse is under threat in South Africa with all three group opponents posing a tough assignment for the three times champions. Questions have been asked of the current German squad and if they don’t answer their critics in South Africa, the consequences could be disasterous.

Many are also earmarking Argentina as a potential casualty up against Nigeria, Greece and South Korea in Group B. Whilst the Argentina side boasts such talent as Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain; it is considered that their World Cup winning manager, Diego Maradona, could be the team’s Achilles heel. Regarded as one of the greatest palyers of all time, Maradona demands God like worship in his home country but as manager of the national team he has struggled, only just qualifying for the World Cup and calling up a total of 90 different players in to the squad over the past two years. The media spotlight is sure to shining brightly on Maradona and Argentina’s every move and the fortunes of the two time winners could go one of two ways. Either an early flight back to South America will be on the cards or the magic generated by Maradona during the ’86 and 1990 tournaments will evident from the touch lines and the Albiceleste will be a force to be reckoned with. However, all three group opponents are sure to give them a stern assignment!

The one group that has had everybody talking since the draw was made is Group G, which will ensure that one of the early tournament fancies will be going home after three matches. Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast must play each other together with North Korea and with only two places available to go forward to the last 16, one of the three will be heading home earlier than expected. Brazil is the obvious favourites to win the Group, as well as being many bookmakers favourite to win the competition in the World Cup betting odds. However, if the five times champions are to make it a six in South Africa, they will have to hit the ground running against North Korea before they play the Ivory Coast and finally Portugal. Which two from the three progresses is anybody’s guess at this stage but all six matches in group F are sure to prove exciting viewing.

The World Cup has long been famed for its surprise results and the 2010 tournament promises to provide just as many twists and turns as football fans have come to expect from finals in years past. Whilst it is difficult to look beyond the ‘big guns’ prior to the tournament kicking off, history suggests that there will be shocks aplenty in South Africa and anybody playing fantasy football, prediction leagues or having a bet, certainly has a job on their hands identifying which matches and teams will provide the shocks of the tournament.

Written By Richard Smith