Thursday, 20 May 2010

WC2010: Whos Going? (Part 6)

World Cup is fast approaching, so here's some more info on some of the qualified nations. I hope to finish this quite soon, so hope you can find them interesting.


Since Pelé famously predicted an African nation would win the World Cup by the year 2000, the African qualifiers are always scrutinised before the World Cup and people speculate over whether an African team will finally take the trophy. This year, many supporters and pundits say that the best chance for an African victory lies with Les Éléphants of the Ivory Coast.

Never before has there been an African nation who can call upon so many well-known, top class footballers than this year's Ivory Coast squad. Boasting such household names as Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Yaya Toure, Didier Zokora and Salomon Kalou, they really have a lot of true strength all over the field. However as has been proven in football many times over the years, big names do not make a good football team. Ivory Coast have suffered from a lack of team spirit and a distinct laziness from some top players in recent times, and if this continues in South Africa then they will surely fail.

The introduction of Sven Goran-Eriksson as manager seems to be a good choice, but as he does not have much time to really unite the squad as a unit, Les Éléphants will need to rely on the influence and leadership of their captain Didier Drogba.

The Ivory Coast find themselves in the "Group of Death" that is Group G where they will face Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. Any nation would have a tough job of qualifying from that group, but with Brazil looking sure to finish first, and North Korea true underdogs, the Ivory Coast should look to single out Portugal as their main rival and attempt to overcome them to reach second place.

Star Man: Didier Drogba

One of the best centre-forwards in world football when playing with English champions Chelsea, Drogba takes on a considerably different role when he plays for his country. At Chelsea he is employed as a centre forward who is given good service from both wings and the team is led by captain John Terry and Frank Lampard. The difference for his national team is that Drogba is the one with the responsibility of leading the team.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this is a one-man team, but Drogba's leadership and world-class quality can grind out results even when the rest of the team isn't playing particularly well. He should end the World Cup as Ivory Coast's top goalscorer, and he will be hoping to lead them as far as he can.

Player to Watch: Gervinho

Gervais "Gervinho" Yao Kouassi, 22, has a nickname that sounds a little more suited to a player in the squad of their Group G opponents Brazil, but like captain Drogba, Gervinho embodies everything that you would expect from an Ivorian footballer. The Lille forward is staking his claim to start up front alongside the Chelsea striker, and in my opinion Sven Goran-Eriksson should grant him that spot.

Listing Drogba as his main influence and idol, Gervinho takes several talents from his captain’s game. From his bullish, almost superhuman strength on the ball, to his natural eye for goal and expert finishing, and even down to the hairstyle.

Keep an eye on him in this year's Finals, a really dangerous and exciting footballer.

Prediction: With Portugal looking a bit lacklustre, I expect the Ivorians to finish 2nd in Group G. However their last-16 tie would then more than likely be up against Spain, who look too strong for them. They have the squad to go far, but I fear their draw will see them leave in the last-16.


The Mexicans, in my opinion, always bring something exciting to the World Cup finals. I'm sure most of you remember their clash with the USA in 2002, also the fantastic second round match against Argentina in 2006. Whether it is a memorable match, or memorable individual performances like Cuauhtemoc Blanco's sublime skills in 1998 or Jorge Campos' eccentric goalkeeping and zany kits in 1994, Mexico always leave the supporters entertained.

This year we will be hoping for something similar when they open the Finals against hosts South Africa. Mexico are a team who have passed through a lot of ups and downs recently, and a few different managers. Now they seem to have found some stability with Javier Aguirre as boss. El Vasco ("The Basque") has brought a new found optimism to the Mexican fans, with many of them hopeful of a memorable World Cup appearance.

The squad itself is littered with gems but also flaws. For example they have a great young attacking pedigree with players like Giovani dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez, and alongside that they have strong experienced players like Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido and the aforementioned Cuauhtemoc Blanco still running the midfield at 37 years old. On the other hand they have some problematic positions on the field, with heavily criticised Adolfo "Bofo" Bautista struggling to impress in his midfield spot. This is a hard problem to solve, with the squad itself only having 5 recognised midfielders, something which could leave them struggling against teams who like to dominate in midfield.

Mexico are entered into Group A in the Finals this year, meaning they will face the hosts South Africa aswell as former world champions Uruguay and France. It is a tough group for el Tri, but if they can play well as a team they should qualify alongside either Uruguay or France.

Star Man: Andres Guardado

Andres Guardado is one of the more experienced of Mexico's young attacking contingent. At 23 he has made 51 appearences for the national side, including a substitute appearance against Argentina in World Cup 2006. He plays on the left of midfield for Mexico and his club Deportivo La Coruna, and he is an automatic starter for both squads.

Truly Guardado is a player that the football world should really start to notice. One of the most energetic wingers I have seen in a long time, Guardado can run up and down the left flank for the full 90 minutes. At only 5’6” (169cm for our metric friends) he does have a slight figure, so you would be forgiven for thinking he would be knocked off the ball easily. However the reality is that Guardado has an ability, similar to that of fellow La Liga winger Lionel Messi, to throw his weight around so that it is near impossible to knock him down.

I can’t wait to see him in this year’s finals, as he is an exciting player to watch and has a huge future ahead of him. I truly believe he is one of the best young left wingers in the world just now and I expect big things in the future.

Player to Watch: Carlos Vela

Vela is a name many supporters will have heard of by now; he has been highly coveted by Arsenal for many years in their youth system, and has started to break into the first team with some impressive substitute performances. He is a real favourite in Mexico, with their support believing that he and his team-mate Giovani dos Santos will be two of the best forwards in the world in a few years time.

It is not at all guaranteed that Vela will start for el Tri, but with him held in such high regard by the fans and manager, he will surely get plenty of playing time. Vela brings a really raw attacking pedigree to the team, with great pace and fabulous dribbling skills. However, one thing about Vela’s play which will need to improve in time is in his decision making. Sometimes when he is in possession he doesn’t always know the right time to pass, or when it’s better to keep the ball than to give it away, though he is still young and hopefully he will develop this intelligence over time.

Prediction: They have a decent chance to qualify from Group A, and could find themselves with a really nice draw in the later stages. However I predict Mexico to exit in the group stage behind Uruguay and France.


Regarded by many as one of the strongest teams in this year's Finals, Netherlands will be looking to try and finally win their first ever World Cup after many years of trying. Many would say that this year is one of their best chances since 1978, with their squad full of top class players and real danger in attack. The Dutch have their sights set on the Final, and will settle for nothing less.

Coach Bert van Marwijk will surely stick to the 4-2-3-1 formation that saw them qualify with a 100% record. It is an attacking, sometimes spectacular, but yet a secure system. Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie link up to form a scintillating attacking force, while Mark van Bommel, Joris Mathijsen and Andre Ooijer keep the back door shut with a really strong defensive spine. Definitely one of the best squads in this years finals, if they can stay strong as a unit, their quality could take them far.

The Dutch are in Group E for this year's finals, there they will face Japan, Denmark and Cameroon. It's a tough group for sure, Denmark are currently one of the strongest underdogs in Europe, and I believe Cameroon to be the strongest African side in the draw. Holland will have enough to finish 1st in Group E, but they should be wary of their last 16/quarter final/semi final opponents, with possible opponents including Italy, Brazil and Spain.

Star Man: Wesley Sneijder

Holland and Inter Milan’s creative force Wesley Sneijder is certainly one of the top midfielders going to the World Cup this year. He has been an inspiration for both club and country recently, and he plays a particularly key role in the national team. A true team player, he links up so well with his team-mates, and is very energetic, always adopting a “pass and move” style of football.

Another great attribute of his is his set-pieces. Whether it be corners or free-kicks, Sneijder is one of the top set-piece takers in the world at the moment. He is deadly when shooting for goal, and he can pick out a perfect cross almost every time, all this with either his left or right foot.

For the Netherlands, he initiates most of their attacking moves. A player truly deserving of the number 10 jersey, expect him to shine in South Africa.

Player to Watch: Eljero Elia

As a young forward in this Netherlands squad, you may not expect him to feature much behind Robben, Kuyt, Huntelaar et al, but there is a buzz in Holland surrounding Eljero Elia that they haven’t seen for a long time. Since moving to Hamburg in 2009, Elia has been gathering admirers from around Europe, and is now featuring heavily in the Oranje national setup.

Playing as a winger or forward, Elia is expected to be used liberally as a substitute by van Marwijk. Scottish fans like myself may remember his name from our decisive World Cup qualifier against the Oranje, where Elia was the man who scored the only goal into our defence at Hampden.

Elia’s best attributes lie in his speed and great dribbling abilities. He is relentless in attack, always happy to bomb forward and pressure his defender. He should perform well this year in South Africa, and I’m expecting a bright future from him.

Prediction: They should advance through their group easily enough, and they have the team to see off the best of opponents in the later rounds. I expect they will exit at the quarter finals, where they have a good chance of facing teams like Brazil or Spain.


Unfortunately, New Zealand are a nation that I do not know much about, so this report will come more from what I’ve read and the little bits of them that I have seen. But well, I don’t think many people know much about the Kiwis.

Traditionally a nation mad about rugby, the national football team (nicknamed “the All Whites”) have struggled to gain popularity thanks to some disappointing campaigns previously. This year is the second team the All Whites have qualified for the World Cup, the first time coming in 1982 in Spain where they lost all three group games against Brazil, the Soviet Union and Scotland.

New Zealand seem to have gained their success through a strong and stubborn defence, and a dangerous attacking partnership of Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen. Generally the squad is made up of players relatively unknown to most football fans, although team captain Ryan Nelsen, and aforementioned Chris Killen and Motherwell winger Michael McGlinchey may be recognisable to SPL followers.

Group F is New Zealand's group this year, where they face reigning champions Italy, as well as Paraguay and Slovakia. The Kiwis have a massive task ahead of them if they are thinking of qualifying, even defeating Slovakia looks like an unlikely prospect. They should have a great game against Italy, giving them the chance for a truly huge upset.

Star Man: Ryan Nelsen

Without a doubt the All Whites’ most important player, the Blackburn Rovers centre-half leads the resolute defensive line that has brought New Zealand to the finals. Nelsen, captain for both club and country, has fantastic determination and organises the All Whites defence expertly.

In a group where they will be on the back foot for most of the time, his leadership and quality will be absolutely imperative to the Kiwis.

Player to Watch: Shane Smeltz

New Zealand’s number 9 and main goal source, Shane Smeltz will have a big task ahead of him, trying to get past such stubborn defences as the Italians and the Slovakians. Playing for Gold Coast United in Australia’s A-League, he’s pretty much unknown to most of us here.

From what I have seen of him for the national team, he is a good finisher who links up well with target man Chris Killen. I’m not sure how he would fare against some of the World’s top defences, but looks an interesting player. Unfortunately I don’t know anyone who follows the A-League so can’t really shed any more light on him.

Prediction: The squad and fans will have a great time in South Africa, and I'm sure a lot of neutrals will be cheering them on against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia. However, sorry Kiwis, they're finishing fourth in Group F...