Group F: Italy, Paraguay, Slovakia, New Zealand
Reigning World Cup champions Italy head Group F alongside Paraguay, Slovakia, and New Zealand. The Italian side will look to win back-to-back World Cup titles, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Brazil did so back in 1958 and 1962.
Paraguay are becoming perennial World Cup participants and will also feature in Group F. After a disappointing first round exit in Germany, the Paraguayans will want to at least get out of this group.
They will be challenged by Slovakia, a team making their first World Cup appearance (first since the break-up of Czechoslovakia). New Zealand back at the tournament after a 28-year absence round out the teams in a quite appealing group.
What Should Happen
Betting against the Italians would probably be foolish. Though they have had some patchy form in the run-in to this tournament, Marcello Lippi’s team team can’t be overlooked and Italy have the habit of improving as the tournament wears on.
New Zealand are the rank outsiders in this group and the mere fact that they will be present in South Africa means that anything extra will be a bonus for All-Whites’ supporters. Paraguay and Slovakia will duel it out for a place in the next round with Italy. Paraguay have the experience and some good talent, while Slovakia are inexperienced, however boast a good group of youngsters ready to make their mark on the world stage.
What Might Happen Instead
Traditionally slow-starters in tournament play, Italy could surely slip-up against Paraguay and then things could become extremely interesting especially for the neutral. New Zealand’s recent performances have shown they will be no pushover and Slovakia have the talent to a make a splash in South Africa. Could one bad result by Italy mean all four teams are in the thick of advancing to the next round? It could happen.
This is the type of group that is difficult to select just one key fixture. That said, we are going to go with Slovakia-New Zealand in the opening match. Perhaps some of you will be bewildered by that choice, but here’s our reasoning. The result of this game could greatly impact the group as a Slovakia victory will mean that Vladimir Weiss’ side are serious about challenging for a place in the knockout rounds, while a draw or surprising victory by New Zealand could mean that Italy and Paraguay have an easier path to advancing.
Players To Watch
For all their talent, Italy’s best player in all probability remains goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Considered by many to be the world’s best, Buffon led a superb defense to the title in 2006 and if Italy are to reach those heights again, it will be due in part to their inspirational man in goal.
Roque Santa Cruz will lead the attack for Paraguay seeking to overcome recent injuries that have curtailed his playing time with Manchester City. Paraguay have perhaps the most conservative, pragmatic approach of all the South American qualifiers, they don’t score tons so Santa Cruz’s efforts will be highly valued at the World Cup.
Slovakia will turn to 22-year-old playmaker and captain Marek Hamsik to lead them in South Africa. The Napoli star has become one of the highest rated midfielders in European football and a positive World Cup from him will not only be good news for Slovakia but could ensure he makes a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Ryan Nelsen’s play at the back for New Zealand will be a good gauge on how the All-Whites perform in South Africa. A hard-nosed defender whose consistent play for Blackburn has won him plaudits in England, Nelsen is a natural leader who could help New Zealand spring a surprise.
One Game, One World Prediction
Italy will go through, but typically we see them struggling a bit before they ensure qualification. The first match against Paraguay could give them trouble and let us not forget that New Zealand fought hard in a 4-3 friendly loss just a year ago. Could they crash out? There is a chance if they don’t take things seriously.
New Zealand’s presence in the group complicates matters for second place. We are picking the All-Whites to finish last, however we don’t see them getting shellacked and with the right spirit and a little luck this is a side that could gain some points in South Africa and play the spoiler role.
Paraguay are the favorites over Slovakia, however we are going with the underdog Slovakians. Weiss’ team is brimming with hungry, talented, young stars who have the ability to be a surprise at this World Cup. We may be wrong, but we are picking youth over experience in this one.
- New Zealand
Slovakia into the second round? What do you think about our analysis and picks for Group F? Drop us a line with your views!