The group’s favorite Argentina is regarded as one of the greatest football nations in history and one of two nations that own a World Cup trophy, Confederations Cup trophy, and an Olympic Gold Medal. La Albiceleste will be making their tenth consecutive finals appearance in 2010 and have hoisted the hardware of two previous World Cup titles. They are led by one of the finest player-coaches, Boss Diego Maradona, the man who scored the most famous goal in World Cup history in 1986 and is revered by most to be the greatest footballer to ever play the game. The side is stacked with some of the best international superstars and features the likes of FIFA World Player of the Year Barcelona’s Lionel Messi –La Pulga (The Flea), along with Alfredo Di Stefano, Mario Kempes, Gabriel Batistuta, and Benfica midfielder, Ángel Di María. Despite a load of talent, Argentina did not make their qualifying run as easy as some may have expected. They started the campaign with their first-ever competitive defeat to Chile, followed by a humbling 6-1 thrashing by Boliva. The team resurrected itself against Peru and then secured their place in the finals with a 1-0 win over Uruguay.
Another favorite to advance to the round of 16 are the Nigerians. The Super Eagles is making its first appearance back in the tournament since 2002 and with the World Cup on African soil, will be expected to give a solid performance with the crowds firmly behind them. Swedish born Lars Lagerback is Nigeria’s 23rd head coach and has plenty of World Cup experience. He will have at his disposal a squad packed with both young and experienced talent alike, but the player that will lead Nigeria’s high flying attack in South Africa will be Peter Utaka, He along with striker Obafemi Martins and set up man — midfielder Jon Mikel Obi, will round out the up front punch for Nigera, while youngsters Victor Obinna, Ikechukwu Uche and Nwankwo Kanu seem more than ready to carry the torch for their famous predecessors. Skipper Joseph Yobo in the centre of defense will be a force on the backline. After opening their qualifying run with two draws, the Super Eagles were on the brink of elimination but snuck into the finals on a one-goal difference.
This group’s long shot is the most powerful team in Asia. South Korea had been riding an undefeated streak of 27 matches until losing to Serbia and Zambia in a pair of friendlies and then to China in the 2010 East Asian Championships. The Taeguk Warriors enters this campaign enjoying its seventh straight appearance in the finals, including a semifinals appearance in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. The Warriors will try to further that run in this year’s final under former Korea Republic midfielder, Boss Huh Jung-Moo. The squad is led by Manchester United winger; skipper Park Ji-Sung who has played a key role in Korea Republic’s two previous FIFA World Cup appearances. He will be surrounded by a number of other European stars, in particular 2009 Young Asian Footballer of the Year — forward, Park Chu-Young who’s thought to answer all of Korea’s goal scoring questions. Rounding out the squad is Ki Sung-Yong along with other rising stars like Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong and FC Seoul forward Lee Seung-Ryu, all of who will give fits to opposing defenses. Korea’s ride to the finals was a bit bumpy as they barley managed top their group after two scoreless draws against their nemesis North Korea. However, they bounced back wrapping it all up with a 2-0 win against UAE on the road.
Finally after stunning the futbol world by winning the UEFA Euro 2004 in Portugal, their first major international trophy at any level, Greece followed up by missing the 2006 World Cup. Now they have once again proven they have the will to compete on the word stage by earning their place in the World Cup finals for only the second time in its history. The Galanoleyki’s are under the direction of Greek futbol legend –German boss Otto Rehhagel. “King Otto” will have no shortage of experience when his squad hits the pitch in South Africa in June. Among them is veteran defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, as well as former Inter Milan and Benfica midfielder Karagounis. The two are rounded out nicely with steady players like Angelos Charisteas, Georgios Samaras and Theofanis Gekas. Finally, Vasilis Torosidis is one to keep an eye on. Greece’s World Cup qualifying campaign started with the side outscoring their opponents eight to none. Finally, after winning their playoff series 1-0 on aggregate against the Ukraine, Greece was awarded one of the final UEFA World Cup spots
Argentina is always a threat, but given the way the squad eeked out a qualifying spot, nothing is ever for certain. What we do know is this team certainly has the talent and if the leadership does its job, are sure to be the darling of the group in advancing to the second round. Nigeria will need wins against Greece and at least a draw against South Korea, which they will get in some combination. I look for the Super Eagles to be one of the two teams moving on. The Greeks have mastered the art of the 1-0, defensive game, and with their counter attacking style they will be tough to beat. But the lack of superior talent cannot get them a much- needed win over Argentina or Nigeria. Lastly, there are the Koreans, who are known for their fitness and being nearly flawless technically, but I would be a surprised if they advance further than the group stage. However, a must win against Nigeria or Argentina could change that.
Advancing: Argentina, Nigeria