In continuing with the EJSIC World Cup preview, we move on to Group F which contains the defending world champions, Italy. The group also features South American nation Paraguay, Oceania representative New Zealand, and the eastern European nation of Slovakia.
To see prior previews, click the appropriate link below.
World Rank: 5
Appearances: 16 (4 victories)
All-time Record: 44-19-14 (W-D-L)
Matches: 6/14 vs Paraguay, 6/20 vs New Zealand, 6/24 vs Slovakia
Analysis: The defending champions are the clear favorites to win Group F and advance in their quest to win back-to-back championships for the second time in their history (1934 and 1938 being the other time). In the last 4 years, the Italians have seen their veteran team age, and it seems logical that 2010 could be the last hurrah for I Nazionale’s (team nickname) current make-up.
World Rank: 30
All-time Record: 6-7-9
Matches: 6/14 vs Italy, 6/20 vs Slovakia, 6/24 vs New Zealand
Analysis: Paraguay was impressive in CONMEBOL (South America) qualifying for the World Cup for the fourth consecutive time. They also face a favorable path for advancement in South Africa with the only real juggernaut to worry about being Italy. A win against Slovakia would put Paraguay in driver’s seat for advancement.
World Rank: 38
All-time Record: 11-5-14
Matches: 6/15 vs New Zealand, 6/20 vs Paraguay, 6/24 vs Italy
Analysis: Slovakia is competing as an independent nation in the World Cup for the first time in its history, although it has previously participated as the now defunct Czechoslovakia. Slovakia also enters the tournament with high confidence after winning their qualifying group in Europe. Some of their players have gained experience playing in the high European leagues, most notably the German Bundesliga. They also have a good shot to advance to the knockout stage.
World Rank: 78
All-time Record: 0-0-3
Matches: 6/15 vs Slovakia, 6/20 vs Italy, 6/24 vs Paraguay
Analysis: New Zealand dominated in Oceania qualifying, especially after Australia left for the easier paths of Asia. However, New Zealand is one of the worst-ranked teams in the entire tournament so it is hard to envision them winning a game, let alone advancing to the next stage.
Group Winner: Italy
Group Runner-up: Paraguay
Match to Watch: Paraguay vs Slovakia. Paraguay and Slovakia will be battling for second place in Group F which makes their match all the more important. It stands to reason that both teams will drop a match to Italy and win a match against New Zealand. So, the winner of the Slovakia and Paraguay could be the eventual group runner-up.
Players to Watch: Gianluigi Buffon (ITA), Fabio Cannavaro (ITA), Gennaro Gattuso (ITA), Andrea Pirlo (ITA), Robert Vitteck (SVK), Justo Villar (PAR), Salvador Cabanas (PAR), Ryan Nelsen (NZL)
The full schedule for the group can be found here.