Friday, June 4, 2010

World Cup 2010: Group B Preview

World Cup Group B figures to be a competitive quartet. Argentina are clear but erratic favorites. South Korea, Nigeria and Greece figure to battle for second. Here's a look at the group.

Under coach Diego Maradona, anything is possible for the two-time champs, and that's not a good thing. An Argentina side loaded with Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano scuffled through South American qualifying, but the iconic coach was retained. Given the level of competition in Group B, Diego's troops shouldn't have any trouble advancing. From there, Messi's talents could take them to a title, but a round of 16 exit wouldn't be a surprise either.

Greece have failed to impress on the world stage since their shock Euro 2004 victory. They missed out on the last World Cup and exited without a point at the Euros two years ago. The roster is filled with guys whose last name ends in "s," but that letter doesn't stand for "scoring." The Greeks practice a defensive style that is far more effective than it is entertaining. If they can add a few timely goals as they did six years ago, a run to the round of 16 is quite possible.

Nigeria were one of the first African sides to establish themselves on the world stage, but the first tournament on their home continent does not feature their strongest edition. Chelsea's John Obi Mikel and two-time African player of the year Nwankwo Kanu highlight the roster, although Mikel's fitness has been a concern. Recently appointed head coach Lars Lagerback, the boss behind Sweden's last two World Cup trips, has had little time with the Super Eagles, and how they mesh under his leadership will be key to Nigeria's success. Update: Scratch John Obi Mikel; he's been ruled out.

At first glance the South Korean squad doesn't look terribly organized. But once they shed the tuxedos, there's some talented individuals, none more so than the captain, Manchester United's Park Ji-sung. A controversial run to the semifinals at home in 2002 raised the nation's expectations, and this is the team's best chance at a knockout round appearance away from home. Always a scrappy opponent, their final match against Nigeria could prove pivotal.

Prediction: Argentina are clearly the class of the group, setting up a three-way battle for the second berth. The schedule favors Greece, who don't face the favorites until game three. In a tight trio, that slight advantage could see them through.

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