Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Switzerland: FC Sion deducted 36 points in Swiss League

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 30, 2011

FC Sion logoSwiss side FC Sion have been docked 36 points by their national federation, the Schweizer Fussball Verband. The deduction came into force with the club losing three points for every game which featured any of six ineligible players – namely Stefan Glarner, Pascal Feindouno, José Julio Gomes Gonçalves, Billy Ketkeophomphone, Mario Mutsch und Gabriel Garcia de la Tore – in the country’s Axpo Super League.

This means that the club, who are already in the midst of a bitter dispute with European football’s governing body UEFA and world football’s governing body FIFA over this issue, will drop from third place in the current league campaign to rock bottom with their points total dropping from thirty one to minus five. This leaves FC Sion a massive sixteen points behind eleventh placed FC Lausanne and almost certainly will confine the club to relegation.

Swiss football is currently in the mire as FC Sion have already been involved in a lengthy legal process in trying to overturn their expulsion from this season’s UEFA Europa League. As a result of the continued wrangling FIFA has threatened to expel all Swiss clubs and the national team from international competition if the situation isn’t resolved by January 13th.

FIFA World Cup Review – Europe

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Spain World Cup champions

Spain finally managed to win the FIFA World Cup beating the Netherlands in extra-time

In the last of Stoppage Time’s continental reviews we look back at the varying fortunes of the thirteen European teams that competed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

With the exceptions of Brazil and Argentina, most people’s predictions before the World Cup tended to centre on teams such as England, Germany or Italy but it was to be two nations that had never previously won the competition who were to reach the final. Spain, a very popular choice of team due to their 2008 UEFA European Championship success, would face off against two-time finalists Holland in a game which, as most finals do, tended to disappoint but did at least have the justice of seeing the right team win the game.

But more on the final later. In the group stages the biggest disappointments were unquestionably Italy, France and England. In the case of Italy and France it was difficult to believe that these two nations competed in the most recent World Cup final in 2006 such was the depths to which team had sank during this tournament. They both finished bottom in groups which, on paper, seemed amongst the kindest in terms of difficulty. England, on the other hand, did manage to make it through the group stage but even the most hardcore England fan knows that they were poor in their first two games, scraped past Slovenia in the final group match before going out to a classic Germany performance in the round of sixteen. Even arguments over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal cannot escape the fact that the Germans were the better team.

After the group stage had been completed seven of the thirteen European nations had failed to qualify for the round of sixteen. As well as Italy and France, the countries who feel that they should’ve done better in the group stage were Denmark (third behind Holland and Japan), Switzerland (finished third after defeating Spain in their first group game), Serbia (who admittedly suffered some bad luck against Australia) and Slovenia (lost out when USA beat Algeria) whilst Greece would’ve been happy just to score a goal, let alone win a game, before the competition kicked off after their one and only previous appearance in 1994 saw them goalless and pointless. In the event they did finally score their first World Cup goal in their second match against Nigeria in which they also chalked up their first victory. Alas they lost to Argentina in their final game and failed to progress any further.

The round of sixteen saw England, Portugal and Slovakia say goodbye although in the case of Slovakia they did have many good chances to beat the Netherlands before suffering a 2-1 reverse at the hands of the Oranje. The quarter-finals saw previous talk about South American dominance turn to European dominance as Spain, Netherlands and Germany all made it through with victories over Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina respectively. The semi-finals saw Spain reassert their style of play over a Germany team who were perhaps weighed down with expectation after two earlier against England and Argentina. Despite the dominance of possession and territory for the Spanish it took until the 73rd minute for Carles Puyol to head home the only goal of the game to gift the Spain a place in their first ever FIFA World Cup whilst the Netherlands got the better of Uruguay with a 3-2 win securing their third World Cup final appearance.

So the only certainty about the FIFA World Cup final would be that it would create a first time champion. Many neutrals before the game saw it as a breath of fresh air that none of the previous winners had reached the final for, in theory, this should’ve provided the motivation for two hungry teams to go out and secure their place in the history books. Sadly the game as a spectacle failed to live up to expectations but that has happened on so many occasions. Much of the post-match reaction centred upon English referee Howard Webb who dished out a World Cup final record 14 yellow cards and one red card in a game which saw many tough challenges (how Nigel de Jong didn’t go for his lunge on Xabi Alonso is a mystery) and a controversial moment at the end where, just before Andrés Iniesta’s 116th minute winning goal, a Wesley Sneijder free-kick was deflected by a Spanish player and should’ve been a corner but Webb gave the goal kick for Spain instead. With this incident leading up to the goal the Dutch were understandably furious but even allowing for this incident the Spanish had the more positive approach and were deserved winners. Spain became the third nation in history to win the UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup double after West Germany (EC 1972, WC 1974) and France (WC 1998, EC 2000) and ensured that Europe overtakes South America in World Cup wins with a 10-9 lead.

FIFA: Groups G and H Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Dunga

Brazil coach Dunga has plenty to smile about after his team topped Group H unbeaten

Figures given are as follows: Games Played/Points Scored:

GROUP G: BRAZIL 3/7; PORTUGAL 3/5; IVORY COAST 3/4; NORTH KOREA 3/0

The Seleção have, as expected, topped the group after Dunga’s men saw off a spirited show from unknown quantity North Korea in the opening group match before going on to beat Ivory Coast and gain a point in an uninspiring ninety minutes of football against Portugal. The Portuguese were held by the Ivorians to a goalless draw in their first match but were able to rout the North Koreans by seven goals before getting the point they needed against the five-time world champions in their final match. The North Koreans provided one of the tournament’s most emotional moments when Jong Tae Se cried his eyes out during the national anthem ahead of the game against Brazil and gave real football fans hope that there are still real footballers out there who feel the emotion about wearing their favourite football shirt. Sadly this emotion couldn’t be transferred into points as the brave North Koreans ended up without any points after three games. As for the Ivorians they will hope for a kinder draw should they qualify for the next competition as they have been dealt the Group of Death in the last two tournaments which has hindered their ability to progress to the knock-out stages.

GROUP HSPAIN 3/6; CHILE 3/6; SWITZERLAND 3/4 ; HONDURAS 3/1

After a poor start to the tournament Vicente del Bosque’s Spain team progressed to the next stage as group winners thanks mainly to the efforts of David Villa who has scored all but one of La Roja‘s goals so far. Spain were shocked on the first matchday losing 1-0 to Switzerland which makes it all the more surprising that Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men never made it to the knock-out stage after such a promising opening to their campaign. Spain went on to win both their next two matches against Honduras (2-0) and Chile (2-1) with Villa scoring three of the goals; only Andres Iniesta got on the score sheet when he settled the latter game in Spain’s favour by scoring the second goal. Chile played some good football in the tournament but will face the toughest test in the Round of 16 when they play against South American rivals Brazil in Johannesburg on Monday whilst the Derby of Iberia will feature in Cape Town on Tuesday when European champions Spain face neighbours Portugal in a much anticipated game.

David Villa

David Villa has been the main man for Spain in their FIFA World Cup campaign

FIFA: Chile edge out Swiss; Portugal thrash North Korea; Spain win

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 21, 2010
Mark Gonzalez

Mark González scored the goal which gave Chile a 1-0 win over Switzerland

The second round of matches in Groups G and H were completed today with Portugal making themselves heavy favourites to go through to the Round of Sixteen stage along with group leaders Brazil in the former while Chile and Spain won their games to make the final round of games in the latter on Friday potentially very interesting.

Portugal versus North Korea has stirred up some memories of the only previous encounter between the two countries in the 1966 FIFA World Cup where the Asian side went three goals up only to be eventually beaten by Eusebio’s Portuguese side 5-3 in one of that tournament’s most eventually matches. This time, however, the game wasn’t to be anywhere near as close although North Korea did restrict the Portuguese to a mere one goal lead at the half-time break, Raul Meireles taking his goal with great aplomb in the 29th minute. Sadly for North Korea coach Kim Jong Hun he saw his players lose their heads in the second half as the Portuguese set about taking the game to the Far East outfit at every available opportunity. Portugal were four nil up by the hour mark thanks to goals from Simão, Hugo Almeida and Tiago and then put the cherry on the cake with further strikes in the final ten minutes of the game from Liédson, Cristiano Ronaldo – remarkably scoring his first international goal in two years – and a second from Tiago to seal a seven goal rout of the helpless North Korea who will hope to claw back some pride in their final group match against the Ivory Coast on Friday whilst Portugal will fight it out with Brazil to see who wins the group.

The first game of the day in Group H saw Chile keep up the South Americans’ incredble record at this year’s FIFA World Cup. In ten matches involving teams from that particular continent in the competition so far there have been eight wins and two draws. Chile won the eighth game for that part of the world with a narrow 1-0 victory over a Switzerland side who had surprised everybody in their opening match by defeating European champions Spain and were determined to follow up on that result. This was not to be a feast of football with Ottmar Hitzfeld Swiss side adopting very much the same tactics that stifled Spain’s attack but once Valon Behrami got himself sent off in the 30th minute for a needless use of the elbow against Arutro Vidal the Swiss were always up against it. The game’s decisive moment came with sixteen minutes of the second half to play as Esteban Paredes beat the offside trap to run on to a through ball from Jorge Valdivia, crossed the ball towards the far post where Mark González was waiting to guide it home with his head. The result ensured that Chile will remain on top of the group irrespective of Spain’s result later in the day.

David Villa

David Villa scored both goals for Spain in their 2-0 win over Honduras

Spain, simply put, had to win against Central American outsiders Honduras if they were to fancy their chances of progress. The game never looked like being anything other than a Spain win either on paper or when the match began on the pitch as La Roja dominated the possession and the territory throughout the game. David Villa added to his amazing goals/games ratio tonight when it mattered. The newly-signed FC Barcelona striker already had forty goals from sixty internationals before tonight’s game and he could’ve added a lot more than the two which he did score against a weak Honduras side. He scored his first in the 17th minute, receiving the ball outside the box, jinking past two defenders before taking a touch in order to curl the ball into the top right-hand corner of the net. His second came six minutes into the second half when his shot from the edge of the penalty box took a deflection and deceived Noel Valladares in the Honduras goal. Villa then had the chance to become the second player in the competition, after Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuaín, to score a hat-trick but missed his spot kick as the ball shaded just past the post as he sent the keeper diving in the opposite direction. Nonetheless Spain were comfortable winners and they now must get three points against leaders Chile in their final Group H match to qualify for the next stage. Anything less and La Roja will be sweating it out on the other game between Honduras and Switzerland which takes place at the same time.

FIFA: Spain shocked by flukey Swiss; Chile make history

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 16, 2010
Gelson Fernandes

Gelson Fernandes scored the winning goal in Switzerland's 1-0 win over Spain

After Brazil squeaked their way past a resilient North Korea on Tuesday another FIFA World Cup favourite Spain had less luck in their opening group match against Switzerland on Wednesday. The Spanish lost to a Gelson Fernandes goal in the 52nd minute of their Group H encounter in what proved to be the first major shock of the tournament. That means that the Swiss top the group along with Chile who, earlier in the day, had beaten Honduras by a lone Jean Beausejour strike ten minutes from the break.

La Roja, as the Spanish national team are known, have been the pre-tournament favourites and were widely expected to beat Switzerland in their opening Group H match in Durban. Sadly for Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque his troops were to go down by a goal to nil despite his side having the lion’s share of the possession and the chances. In face Switzerland’s only real chance in the game came along with the goal seven minutes after the break. A traditional route one goal was started with a punt upfield from goalkeeper Diego Benaglio which was headed on by Eren Derdiyok. He made a run and received the ball back before having a run into the penalty box before being tripped by Spanish keeper Iker Casillas. After Derdiyok was left sprawling in the box the loose ball was tapped in from Fernandes who was chased unsuccessfully by Gerard Piqué and the Swiss had the lead with their first real opportunity of the game. After that there were two great chances which hit the woodwork, one for either side. Xabi Alonso hit the crossbar after shooting from distance on 72 minutes while Switzerland’s only real chance to put the game to bed came three minutes later when Derdiyok, after a mazy run, shot without the outside of his right foot only to see his shot cannon back off a post. The Spanish, try as they might, were unable to summon up an equalizer and it was Ottmar Hitzfeld and his troops who were to celebrate a wonderful three points after the game.

Earlier in the day Chile made history by winning their first FIFA World Cup match a mere 48 years after winning their last one which was played on home soil in the 1962 tournament. A deserved win for the South Americans was sealed when Alexis Sanchez played a lovely through ball down the right to Mauricio Isla who squared it to Jean Beausejour who turned it home from a few yards out. The game could’ve been over as a contest on 65 minutes but Waldo Ponce’s close range header was stopped brilliantly by Honduras keeper Noel Valladares to keep the Central American side in the game. Unfortunately for the Hondurans it was Marcelo Bielsa’s men who had done just enough to take the three points in one of the FIFA World Cup’s more entertaining affairs so far.

After one game each Spain and Honduras are propping up the Chileans and the Swiss before the second set of games in the group sees Spain meeting fellow opening match losers Honduras in Johannesburg on Monday, June 21st whilst Chile meet Switzerland earlier on the same day in Port Elizabeth.

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part Three

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on June 2, 2010
Morten Olsen

Can Morten Olsen guide Denmark beyond the group stage in South Africa?

In the final part of our build up to the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Friday, June 11th, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at those teams that qualified from Europe (FIFA world rankings correct on May, 26th):

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 36

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril. Their group opponents are the Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon so may fancy their chances of reaching the last sixteen.

Coach: Morten Olsen

Star Player: Niklas Bendtner

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 3

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg. Expected to get past the group stage.

Coach: Carlos Queiroz

Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 24

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position and Latvia threatened on occasions to spoil the party. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup but first they must negotiate their way past a group containing Spain, Honduras and Chile. Can the wily old fox Ottmar Hitzfeld get the best from a limited squad in these finals?

Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Star Player: Tranquillo Barnetta

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 13

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round but could, at the very least, qualify for the last sixteen from a group containing Argentina, South Korea and Nigeria.

Coach: Otto Rehhagel

Star Player: Theofanis Gekas

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off. In a group involving Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand so will definitely be involved in a fight for second place but may just lack some quality to get to the knockout phase. Sadly for Slovakia they will have to play without their defensive talisman Martin Škrtel who injured himself in a friendly game before the tournament.

Coach: Vladimír Weiss

Star Player: Robert Vittek

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 25

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedič and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams. Slovenia have a tough draw and may struggle for the third spot behind England and the United States but recent history proves that they can cause a shock on their day.

Coach: Matjaž Kek

Star Player: Milivoje Novakovič

Michael Ballack

Michael Ballack (left) will be a huge loss for Germany but they should still progress far in the tournament

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Löw will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa despite a list of pre-tournament injuries including the likes of Michael Ballack, Simon Rolfes and René Adler to name but three. With new captain Philipp Lahm ready to take charge the Nationalmannschaft will hope to progress from the group stage and reach the last sixteen with, perhaps, a potential clash with old foes England on the cards.

Coach: Joachim Löw

Star Player: Bastien Schweinsteiger

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 2

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and a spell at number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they go all the way and be the best team in South Africa? Last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup saw them surprisingly knocked out by the United States at the semi-final stage so they will still have to be weary of so-called ‘lesser opposition’. Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters and a group containing Honduras, Chile and Switzerland shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Star Player: David Villa

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 8

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship. The group stage shouldn’t cause too many problems but the mentality of the squad will be questioned once the knockout stages get under way.

Coach: Fabio Capello

Star Player: Wayne Rooney

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 15

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by topping the group by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat and contain a number of technically skillful players with experience from many of Europe’s top leagues. They will find it tough in Germany’s group but can progress if they make full use of their ability.

Coach: Radomir Antic

Star Player: Dejan Stanković

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 9

Les Bleus started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France later played Republic of Ireland in a two-legged play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s infamous handball leading up to the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa although they are in an open group containing the host nation, Uruguay and Mexico so they’re not far from certain to qualify for the Round of Sixteen just yet.

Coach: Raymond Domenech

Star Player: Franck Ribéry

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 5

The current world champions were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late equalizing goal from Alberto Gilardino in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer the Azzurri to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each. Should qualify with relative ease from their group which contains Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia and, despite an ageing squad, are expected to go far in the tournament.

Coach: Marcello Lippi

Star Player: Andrea Pirlo

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 4

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. As usual there have been pre-tournament reports of internal arguments so it seems that the Dutch, despite their potential, never learn the lessons from previous mistakes. A further setback for the Dutch is the injury in a pre-tournament friendly against Hungary to Arjen Robben who may miss some, if not all, of the tournament with a hamstring problem. At the very least they should easily get past a group containing Japan, Denmark and Cameroon without too many problems but anything beyond that remains questionable knowing past history.

Coach: Bert Van Marwijk

Star Player: Robin Van Persie

Italy National Team

Will the Italians be celebrating World Cup success yet again in South Africa?

FIFA World Cup draw – The Verdict

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 5, 2009
Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron hosted the World Cup draw in South Africa

The draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday. Presented by Charlize Theron (pictured) and including a host of figures from the football world including FIFA president Sepp Blatter and perhaps  the most recognisable sporting icon in the world David Beckham, the draw did throw up some intriguing individual ties and some interesting groups. “Stoppage Time” assesses the groups and the matches that should shape the fortunes at the beginning of the tournament:

GROUP A: SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO, URUGUAY, FRANCE

The host nation should find it very tough in a group which looks like it will be very close. The French will be favourites to go through but their clash against Mexico could decide who wins the group. However the South Africans may harbour hopes of surprising Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. Uruguay, with their deadly strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, will certainly fancy their chances of finishing in the top two. Their final group game against Mexico could be amongst the most intense of the championship.

GROUP B: ARGENTINA, NIGERIA, SOUTH KOREA, GREECE

Almost an exact copy of Group D in the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Argentina, Nigeria and Greece played in a group that contained Bulgaria instead of South Korea). Despite qualifying the tough way Argentina should top this group quite comfortably, the opening match against Nigeria will probably be their toughest assignment. However the Greeks may wish to spring a surprise in much the same way that they did in EURO 2004 when they became European Champions. South Korea can only expect to finish bottom.

GROUP C: ENGLAND, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ALGERIA, SLOVENIA

Almost after the draw had finished the English media were in overdrive, hyping up their country’s chances of winning the 2010 World Cup. It’s true that they should expect to top this group with relative ease. The only match of real interest is England’s opening clash with the USA, a game that throws back terrible memories for the “Home of Football”. If the Americans can repeat their 1-0 victory in the 1950 World Cup (so unbelieveable a result in those days that the English media initially reported a 10-0 victory for England!) then it would leave the group wide open. The match will have a personal edge involving the LA Galaxy footballers David Beckham and US Captain Landon Donovan, a war of words between the two earlier in the season may add a bit of extra spice to this match. Algeria and Slovenia will be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon.

GROUP D: GERMANY, AUSTRALIA, SERBIA, GHANA

Not as easy for Germany as it may appear on paper. The Australians were very unlucky to lose to the Italians in the 2006 World Cup (a dubious penalty tucked away by Francesco Totti five minutes into stoppage time) and they will hope to put up a challenge for the top spot in this group. Serbia are competing in their first finals as an independent nation and have a leader in Manchester United player Nemanda Vidic. Ghana could be a team that plays open, attacking football but their defence will concede plenty of goals. Germany are quietly optimistic that they can go far in this tournament. The matches between themselves, Australia and Serbia should determine the outcome of the group.

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, CAMEROON, JAPAN

This group looks to be a fairly comfortable one for the Dutch. As I reported in my blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three” the Dutch had a very easy group in qualifying and they will look to take that form into this group. Cameroon will be a strong contender for second place and with players like Samuel Eto’o and Geremi can give the Danes a tough challenge when they meet in their second group match. Japan have improved as a nation in the last decade but won’t be expected to trouble the other three too much.

GROUP F: ITALY, PARAGUAY, NEW ZEALAND, SLOVAKIA

The current world champions Italy won’t have too much trouble getting through this group. The opening group game between themselves and Paraguay should be among one of the better ones in the group stages. Slovakia are a tough team on their day and won’t go down without a fight. However they may be just a little too inexperienced at this level and will find it tough to get to the Round of 16. New Zealand will be ecstatic to be in South Africa but their squad is very limited, therefore expect defensive tactics from a nation that will want to avoid embarrassment in this tournament.

GROUP G: BRAZIL, NORTH KOREA, IVORY COAST, PORTUGAL

There’s a 1966 World Cup feel to this group; it was Portugal who, literally, kicked Pele and his great Brazilian team off the park (Goodison Park to be precise) and it was Portugal who had to come back from 3-0 down to defeat the surprise package of the tournament North Korea 5-3. This time, though, matches in this group involving North Korea should be more clear-cut as they’re the outsiders of this tournament. The Ivory Coast, involved in a tough group including Argentina and Holland in the 2006 World Cup, will be expecting as tough a time in 2010 but some will feel that they can beat Portugal, whose qualification for the World Cup was only confirmed via a play-off. If the Ivorians can get three points against Portugal in the opening group match then they should reach the second round.

GROUP H: SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS, CHILE

The current European champions Spain are currently the favourites to win the FIFA World Cup and they will be encouraged further having seen the draw. They should easily overcome the challenges of their group rivals leaving the rest to fight it out for second place. Honduras qualified thanks to events elsewhere (see blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One) but aren’t expected to get through this group, therefore the match between Switzerland and Chile (both teams’ second group match) should prove to be amongst the more important.

FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 3, 2009
Italy 2006 World Cup

Fabio Cannavaro lifts the World Cup for Italy in 2006

In the final part of our build up to tomorrow’s FIFA World Cup finals draw “Stoppage Time” looks at those teams that qualified from Europe:

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 26*

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril.

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 5

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg.

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 18

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup.

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 12

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round.

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off.

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 33

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedic and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams.

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Loew will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa. If experienced campaigners such as Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose can gel with the upcoming talent such as Mesut Ozil, Marko Marin and, if chosen, Stefan Kiessling then the “Nationalmannschaft” could be a real threat in the championship.

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 1

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team, known to all as “La Seleccion”; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they confirm their status as the world’s best team by going all the way in South Africa? Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters.

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 9

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship.

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 20

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat but not expected to go too far in their first World Cup since independence.

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 7

“Les Bleus” started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France then played Republic of Ireland in the two-leg play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s part in the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa.

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 4

The current world champions (see picture above) were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late goal in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer his charges to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each.

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 3

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. Usually the Dutch flatter to deceive in the big tournaments, will they do the same again despite their world ranking?

* FIFA world rankings correct on December 1st, 2009.