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Entries in Group B (4)


World Cup Preview: Group B Final Matches

Diego Maradona

One Great Season

At this point, anyone could qualify and anyone could go home. Though it's unlikely Argentina, with a full six points and +4 goal differential, will capitulate now, especially since Maradona (Photoshop to the right sent in anonymously) has promised not to rest Messi and has seemingly every intention of wrapping up the top spot at the expense of a Greek side revitalized by their hard-fought win over Nigeria.

Greece are hungry, however, and they've proven not to be the group whipping boys as I so wrongly predicted. Their mettle, organization and surprising quickness earned them that much-deserved victory last round. Despite the probable inclusion of Messi, Maradona will likely field several second-stringers today, the prime candidates being fullbacks Clemente Rodriguez and Nicolas Otamendi, as well as defensive midfielder Mario Bolatti. And some guy named Diego Milito may get the nod as well. Maradona has commented that during training, when the A team takes on the B team, there's very little difference in quality. We shall see if Otto Rehhagel's men find this to be true. I think they will.

By the same token, pointless cellar-dwellers Nigeria could conceivably sneak into the second spot by beating South Korea by two goals or more (and provided that Greece doesn't somehow run up the score on Argentina. But Demichelis is slated to start so who knows). That appears unlikely, though, doesn't it?

The Koreans of the South are a much better squad than their Northern counterparts, and will not suffer a similar thwacking to a sputtering attack such as Nigeria's. But anything is possible (unless you're France, haha) and the Super Eagles could very well ride a wave of African support to a comprehensive win. We'll need to see more of Yakubu and Martins for that to happen, however. And perhaps this is the match where we get to see old man Kanu roll back the years. I predict this to be a very exciting clash.

Team Wins Draws Losses Goals For Goals Against Points
South Korea

Click here for Jeremy's bio and an archive of his previous stories.

World Cup 2010: Group B Recap

World Cup 2010 Logo

One Great Season

Finally, it happened. After days of waiting, of bloodshot eyes and bollixed sleep, of unmet expectations and rationalizations to nonbelievers, of enduring untold hours of something we might grudgingly call boredom, it finally came to pass. It took a whole week, but there was no rest on this seventh day. At long last, thanks to Thursday's scintillating Group B matches, the World Cup has begun.

The slow start has inspired and, as much as it pains me to admit, partially vindicated the usual batch of glib, anti-soccer myopia from the tired old guard of sportswriters concerned with little more than a quick swipe at something they've never bothered to familiarize themselves with. But we know better, and today was our reward. Argentina's 4-1 shellacking of a game South Korea and Greece's engrossing one-goal triumph over Murphy's Law victims Nigeria injected some life, some balls and some reverence for the art of attack into a tournament largely characterized by negative tactics, packed defenses, misfiring superstars, candy-assed you-call-yourself-a-fucking-man-? divers, limp-wristed goalkeepers, errant passing, hopeless shots destined for Row Z, and the mystifying starting berth of the biggest boondoggler in sports today, Sergio Busquets.

Oh sure, we've had our moments:

+ USA v England was fun for a chuckle but the haplessness of it all was a general affront to the game
+ Are North Korea lucky or plucky?
+ And couldn't one ask the same of Brazil?
+ It's always amusing watching someone get beat up, though enough becomes enough after awhile as we learned from Germany
+ Switzerland's bland win was less an upset than upsetting to sit through
+ And then there's the stuff I don't really remember, or perhaps repressed ...

Unless I was hallucinating, ESPN on Wednesday ran a "close calls" highlight ticker along the bottom of the screen following Spain's loss, with announcements going something like: "David Villa's 37th minute shot flies just over crossbar." If that's not a commentary for a dull tournament, I don't know what is.

But thanks to Thursday, the tide has changed, beginning with a Gonzalo Higuain hat trick and ending with a stout-hearted yet slipshod Nigerian effort in the face of dissolution.

Argentina v South Korea

Lionel Messi, the only superstar yet to exhibit anything resembling superstardom, had a hand in all four Argentina goals, leading a swarming crew of attackers that one could very well mistake as the cause for all that buzzing you hear, if we didn't already know the lame, lame truth. Higuain proved the main beneficiary, adroitly placing himself amid a tattered and exasperated South Korean defense to earn a trio of poacher's goals, including the easiest put-away in the history of soccer. Maxi Rodriguez started in place of the injured Juan Sebastian Veron, whose controlled, elegant passing game may, one can't help but wonder, actually handcuff Argentina's natural rampaging tendencies.

The Tigers of Asia should be applauded for their unwillingness to sit back, though a lack of precision in the final third proved their undoing, exemplified by a potentially game-tying second-half miss that I'm confident Yeom Ki-hun will be ruing on his deathbed. Indeed, the South Koreans’ man of the match was Martin Demichelis, who should seriously consider a career in shampoo commercials. Thankfully, Messi and company eventually disabused Bayern's bungling backliner, likely keeping him off suicide watch for the second time. Addressing the injury to center defender Walter Samuel will be top priority for Maradona.

Nigeria v Greece

Now this was a great match. A "monumentous day" for Greece as ESPN's Mike Tirico would have it. Nigeria took an early lead through a well-taken free kick from Kalu Uche. It was one of those dreaded damned if you do, damned if you don't shot/cross hybrids from the corner of the box, where the keeper is loathe to come off his line because it's a bit too far out, but can't really stay on his line because it'll just bounce into the far corner. Welp, in this case it was the latter, and the Nigerians were riding high until the 34th minute, when Sani Keita got himself sent off. After a pissy little sideline tussle, Keita aimed a half-hearted Rockette kick at fullback Vassilis Torosidis, who produced this year's Rivaldo moment, crumpling into a ball like he just got kicked in the nuts by Fedor Emelianenko. It was nothing, but as a player you have to know that these officious, card-carrying little guys with whistles will look for any excuse to make the game about them. And so it went.

Smelling blood, Greece coach Otto Rehhagel swapped defensive midfielder Socratis Papastathopoulos for Celtic forward and Jesus impersonator Georgios Samaras in search of a miracle: the first ever Greek goal in a World Cup. And Hallelujah, a few minutes later, Dimitris Salpingidis, who doesn’t look much at all like Jesus, put a deflected shot past a blameless Victor Enyeama.

This was not Nigeria’s day. Ten minutes into the second half, left back Taye Taiwo was forced off with an injury. Twenty minutes later, his replacement, Uwa Echiejile, also made the long slow limp to the sideline. And at some point in between, Enyeama ruins his burgeoning reputation by spilling a fairly routine 25-yard shot right into the path of Torosidis, who somehow recovered from that crushing blow he suffered earlier to put his country up 2-1. Despite playing a man down for most of the match, Nigeria, while naturally cautious, never passed up an opportunity to advance up the pitch in numbers. With Greece pushing hard, it made for damn entertaining stuff. But in the end, injuries, foolish ejections and goalkeeping blunders conspired to relegate the Africans to dead last in Group B, with no points, one goal and little hope.

Click here for Jeremy's bio and an archive of his previous stories.


World Cup 2010: Diego Maradona Timeline

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Impetuous Argentina Coach
Sure To Do, Say
Something Colorful

One Great Season

As history has taught us, there are no guarantees at the World Cup. However, I'm compelled to reject the lessons of the past and assert that this year there will be one absolute ironclad lock: that Diego Maradona will do or say something controversial, criminal or just downright weird.

Sure, it doesn't take a keen sense of prescience to suggest that a man with a track record of X-rated tirades, riot inciting, copious drug use and assaults of the verbal, physical, armed and vehicular varieties may be inclined to act impetuously. It's only a matter of time. But make no mistake: I love Maradona. That's why I'll be here throughout the tournament, cataloging every last foible, tantrum, meltdown and effusive, over-the-top celebration that makes the head coach of Argentina the most fascinating figure at the World Cup.

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To get the ball rolling, I've taken the liberty of constructing a timeline of every notable Maradona moment since he became head coach. This, I guarantee, is just the beginning ...

Diego Maradona

6/10/2010Bookmaker William Hill posts official betting odds for several insane yet eminently plausible Maradona scenarios: he's sent off during a match (6-1), he gets in a fistfight with one of his players (20-1).

5/28/2010Messi says he's close to Maradona, but you can tell he's still a little freaked out by him.

5/27/2010Maradona inspires mixed feelings throughout Buenos Aires by promising to run naked through the streets if Argentina win the Cup.

5/27/2010Immune to the lessons of England’s 2006 WAG debacle, Maradona permits his players get their sex on during the finals.

5/23/2010Maradona demands £1,400 worth of bathroom renovations for his private quarters in South Africa, including two luxury bidet toilets featuring heated seats, a warm air blow-dryer and front and rear grundle wetters.

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5/19/2010Shortly after announcing his final 23-man roster, Maradona drives over a cameraman's lower leg, then proceeds to shout at the injured guy: "What an asshole you are. How can you put your leg there where it can get run over, man?"

5/18/2010Following Maradona's criticism of Grondona for canceling a lucrative friendly against Saudi Arabia, Grondona's son Humberto threatens to "crush" and "get rid of" Diego.

5/12/2010Maradona omits international veterans and Champions League winners Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso from his 30-man provisional roster, opting instead for unproven youngsters and unproven 30-year-olds.

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5/11/2010Maradona is forced to answer claims that he had a hand in dislodging predecessor Alfio Basile from the head coaching position. Basile's son, Alfito, later Twitters: "At the World Cup, Argentina will be coached by a conspirator."

4/9/2010Never one to hyperbolize, Maradona suggests that Lionel Messi, while in the midst of a torrid scoring spell for Barcelona, is simply "having a kick-about with Jesus."

3/30/2010Maradona is rushed to the hospital for emergency plastic surgery after his Chinese Shar-Pei goes Cujo on his upper lip.

11/15/2009Maradona is suspended for two months for telling reporters, among other things, to "suck it and keep sucking it."

10/16/2009Flushed from the qualifying victory over Uruguay, Maradona tells reporters to "suck it and keep sucking it."

10/10/2009Maradona's enigmatic belly flop in celebration of Martin Palermo's qualification-saving last-minute winner against Peru.

10/6/2009Unhappy with the perceived meddling of Bilardo, Maradona threatens to walk.

9/23/2009Maradona accuses technical director and 1986 World Cup winning coach Carlos Bilardo of trying to bring down Argentine Footabll Association president Julio Grondona, adding to the team's internal problems.

9/18/2009Indebted to the Italian government for £28,000 in unpaid back taxes from his time at Napoli, Maradona gets a visit from police at fat camp with orders to seize any valuables "within plain sight." They swipe his £36,000 diamond earrings. Palermo forward Fabrizio Miccoli later reveals himself to be the buyer.

9/15/2009Maradona checks into a northern Italian weight-loss clinic to combat growing stress and rotundity during a dodgy qualifying campaign.

3/27/2009Maradona reopens the feud with hated old rival Pele following the Brazilian's remarks that the Argentine coach is not to be admired because of his past drug use. In a somewhat disproportionate riposte, Maradona intimates that Pele lost his virginity to a man.

3/11/2009Argentina's mercurial playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme quits the national team following public criticism from Maradona.

2/19/2009Maradona becomes a grandfather as Argentina striker Sergio Aguero successfully assures he always has a spot as long as his father-in-law is in charge.

11/19/2008Scotland assistant manager Terry Butcher, who was England's captain at the time of the Hand of God match, publicly announced he'd never forgive the Argentine for his dishonest goal. When asked about it following a 1-0 friendly Albiceleste win over the Scots, Maradona gets a laugh out of the press corps by replying "who is Butcher?"

11/18/2008Maradona says this: "I will not go into controversy. Neither with (FIFA president Sepp) Blatter nor with (UEFA president Michel) Platini, nor with anyone else. We have to tone things down."

11/3/2008To much national fanfare and many skeptical pundits, Maradona is announced head coach of Argentina.

Click here for Jeremy's bio and an archive of his previous stories.


World Cup Preview: Group B

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Nigeria, South Korea Battle
For Second Behind Argentina

One Great Season

The Albiceleste, the Super Eagles, the Taeguk Warriors and the Pirate Ship. Messi and his 10 friends, a faded African powerhouse, Asia's likeliest lads and the one-hit wonder of 2004. Tossed together in a pot that looks sure to bust some brackets. Indeed, Argentina remain the favorites to lead the group, though no thanks to a tumultuous qualifying saga that culminated with a collection of world-class ballers grinding out an uuuuugly 1-0 win at the 11th hour against their old rivals from across the river.

Conventional wisdom has it that Nigeria and South Korea will slug it out for the second spot, with unfancied Greece bringing up the rear (watch it). However, most people said the same thing about the Mediterraneans six years ago in Portugal.


The Argentine road to South Africa was littered with high-altitude massacres, biblical downpours, last-gasp winners, painful losses to Brazilian arch-rivals, coaching changes, musical armbands, defections of key personnel, the ineffectiveness of the planet's finest player and, of course, the unknowable whims of a bloated, bewhiskered, profane and diamond-encrusted national demigod in the form of Diego Maradona.

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Since El 10 took over the head-coaching duties from Alfio Basile in November 2008, Maradona has fielded virtually every Argentine citizen able to walk upright, presumably stopping just short of kidnapping Manu Ginobli or disinterring Julio Cortazar to make up the numbers. The actual figure hovers somewhere above 100, which is a good deal more legs than other countries have tested, and has had the ostensible effect of preventing the squad from achieving any sort of cohesion during qualifiers.

Further, he's experimented with more lineup formations than your average fantasy football fanatic, toying with a 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 3-4-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1 and 3-5-2, all while continually rotating players. And folks in Argentina are breathing down Lionel Messi's neck for not scoring for his country! Nevermind that the Albiceleste possess no one in the same stratosphere as Barcelona's Xavi, Andres Iniesta or Dani Alves to link up with, the poor kid probably didn't know half his teammates' first names, let alone how he was supposed to be playing off them.

It appears that the former Boca Juniors idol has actually settled on a 4-4-2 formation (or 4-4-1-1, depending upon how much Messi drops back into midfield). He's even taken the unusual step of announcing his starting lineup so far in advance (except for the striker who isn't Messi); and he's taken the extraordinarily unusual step of playing a flat stay-at-home back four of central defenders, depriving the team of overlapping, marauding full-backs, one of the great weapons of the modern game. Presumably much will asked of his wingers, Newcastle's workmanlike Jonas Gutierrez and coveted-by-every-team-in-the-world Angel di Maria, to provide width and defensive cover. Juan Sebastian Veron steps into the Riquelme role, while Javier Mascherano will protect the defense until he gets red carded in the second minute of the first match. Messi will play just behind his strike partner, who could be Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, Gabriel Batistuta, Evita, I don't know.

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But it's perhaps more telling to dwell on who's staying home this summer. Maradona, to put it diplomatically, is a complex and peculiar man, prone to lapses in judgment, evidenced in recent months by running over a reporter with his car, inducing his household pooch to rip 10 stitches worth of face from his head and earning a two-month suspension for hurling much unrepeatable invective in the direction of the press corps. Such ill-judgment runs the gamut from cretinous to criminal, though no recent decision is, perhaps, as unforgivable as omitting Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti from the final 23-man roster.

Two accomplished champions, heavily involved in Inter Milan's march to an unprecedented treble, miss the cut in favor of barely capped yeanlings and Fabricio Coloccini. I don't believe the Guardian overstated the point in calling the snubs a "Shakespearian fit of blindness." After being Pekermaned four years ago, Inter captain Zanetti, who excels in either fullback position or in midfield, will feel particularly aggrieved to miss the party again, while Cambiasso, who comprised one-half of Jose Mourinho's two-man defensive midfield screen that frustrated the likes of Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayern Munich (and probably spared Inter and Argentina defender Walter Samuel's blushes a few times), has never been on Maradona's radar. Kind of like your girlfriend's disapproving friend who just ain't gonna like ya no matter what ya do.

But that's old news by now, just like the fact that Juan Roman Riquelme won't be quarterbacking the offense as he refuses to play for Diego. What has gone largely overlooked, however, is the preclusion of several first-rate central midfielders. Apart from Cambiasso, Fernando Gago, Lucho Gonzalez and most distressingly, Ever Banega, will not be deputizing for Mascherapunzel; that job goes to Fiorentina's erratic and little-used Mario Bolatti. Valencia's Banega emerged from an 18-month doldrums to become arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in Spain, and that's no reference to his Internet dalliances. Likewise, Lucho, with close to a half century of caps under his belt, has matured into the cornerstone of a talented Marseille side that stormed to their first Ligue 1 title since 1992, and Gago, a bit-part performer in Real Madrid's unending carousel of squandered talent, has always performed admirably in the sky blue and white (we’ll pretend Bolivia never happened).

Argentina's strength lies in their world-class forward line—maybe the best assemblage of strikers to ever appear at a World Cup—consisting of Messi, perennial Ugliest Guy At The Tournament contender Tevez, Pipito Higuain, Milito (who reportedly was left off the roster until an assistant coach, almost certainly with the aid of magic, talked some sense into Maradona), Sergio "Nepotista" Aguero and Martin Palermo, back from a decade-long international exile for the heretofore unpardonable crime of missing three penalty kicks in one match. It's testament to this team's topheaviness that a player such as Lyon's Lisandro Lopez, who strolls into many international set ups, is forced to—gasp—spend time with his family this summer. As selection headaches go, this is a Sunday morning in Vegas, but Maradona can take solace in that whoever is paired with Messi is one of the planet's most inventive predators. Except for Aguero. He's possibly the most overrated player in all the land, save for Zlatan Ibrahimovic who fucking sucks. But I digress.

If Argentina can survive Maradona's tactical idiosyncrasies and Messi can at least partially duplicate his domestic form, and, well, a shitload of other ifs, then the squad can go far. The core is solid, though the bench from midfield back is a touch flaca. Look for a strong showing in the group stages. Then look for the wheels to begin falling off in the knockout round(s).


As any degenerate gambler worth his pleather fedora knows, predicting the outcomes of tournament play is tough stuff, particularly when the game you're betting on involves a team as scatterbrained as the Super Eagles. Which Nigeria will show up? The steady, defensively organized unit? The flashy, yet profligate lot? Or the one that barely scrapes by something called Equatorial Guinea? What will be the final score of the 2021 Super Bowl? Beats me. I'd rather spend the night at a bus station in Lagos than be forced to accurately predict what South Africa has in store for Kanu and company.

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Like Argentina, Nigeria needed a result on the final day of qualification to advance, despite passing through two group stages unbeaten. Naturally the game in question, a 3-2 victory over Kenya, was a harried, back-and-forth affair finally settled by a late piece of serendipity courtesy of Bavarian football enthusiast Obafemi Martins.

Apart from inconsistent play, the Nigerians' qualifying adventure has been beset by confusion over friendlies, transportation snafus, inadequate accommodations, sudden outbreaks of PHD Syndrome, and the ever-present prospect of armed robberies and kidnappings. Yet surely no factor has affected the team so much as uncertainty surrounding the coaching position.

In February, the Nigerian Football Federation sacked four-time boss Shaibu Amodu, who led the team to the finals, after a rather flattering third-place finish in the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Flirtations with Glenn Hoddle and French vagabond Bruno Metsu took the better part of a month before the NFF settled on Lars Lagerback, who quickly became the most disliked Swedish mercenary to hit Nigeria since Carl Gustaf von Rosen. Soon following his appointment, the long-time Swedish national team honcho drew up a seemingly arbitrary list of 44 names he would consider for the squad—which, to the satisfaction of many, contained several bright up and comers ignored by the prior regime—then quickly scaled it back to 30 without ever meeting with or seeing his players in action. Lagerback was brought in to shake things up, but only managed to create an air of skepticism by ultimately choosing a very similar group as did his predecessor.

The final 23-man roster did, however, reveal many surprising omissions, several of which had been regulars under Amodu. Leading WCQ scorer Ike Uche got the axe, as did Everton’s young forward Victor Anichebe (one of the few bright spots in a 0-0 friendly with Saudi Arabia so dull I could physically feel boredom), whose dubious marching orders have sparked a row between club and country. Central defender Onyekachi Apam also misses the boat, clearing the way for, oh dear, Bolton benchwarmer Danny Shittu to anchor the rearguard. Luckily, Lagerback can call on the services of Vincent Enyeama, arguably the best goalkeeper in Africa.

Which leads to the primary problem with this group. True, we are not living in a golden age of Nigerian football, yet most of the established, European-based players are either struggling for fitness or starved for first-team football. Starting centerback Joseph Yobo missed much of last season for Everton with a string of hamstring complaints; Shittu can’t get a game at frickin Bolton; Marseille’s Taye Taiwo, for my money one of the most dangerous left fullbacks in the world (you reading this Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, every top team in Italy?), saw Argentine counterpart Gabriel Heinze usurp his role toward the end of the year; John Obi Mikel is just returning from knee surgery and can barely break into Chelsea's midfield when healthy; Yakubu, recovered from a 10-month Achilles rupture, is now mainly an impact sub at Goodison Park; forward Martins is firmly behind Brazil's Grafite and the universally admired Edin Dzeko in Wolfsburg's pecking order; and Kanu, the team's 33-year-old captain, was not a regular starter at Portsmouth, the lousiest side in the EPL. And John Utaka is a name that should always be uttered with a shake of the head.

Still, the backline has proven fairly solid throughout qualifiers and the form exhibited by holding midfielder Dickson Etuhu in Fulham's run to the Europa League final will inspire hope of a solid defensive foundation (though Lagerback may opt for Russia-based Sani Kaita). Mikel is the closest thing the Super Eagles have to a superstar (but, alas, no cigar) and his presence in the engine room is crucial; look for him to play a more advanced role than at Stamford Bridge, where the 23-year-old's natural attacking instincts have been stifled by an insistence to reincarnate him as Claude Makelele. Kalu Uche will likely be his partner in playmaking, and comes into the tournament on the heels of a stellar season with Almeria—one of the few teams that took points off Barcelona last term.

In the final third, the respective speed and poaching threat of Martins and Yakubu always will worry opposition back lines, while forward/wingers Obinna Nsofor, Chinedu Obasi, Peter Odemwingie are wily characters in their own right.

Nigeria are no longer the team that 10 years ago looked to put Africa on the international footballing map. That mantle has since been passed to Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast (or at least it was until...). Lagerback's charges do remain formidable opposition, capable of beating anyone in the world on their given day, though whether they can summon the discipline and concentration to pull that off several times in a row is matter worthy of considerable debate.

South Korea

So whenever I think of the Tigers of Asia—and I do, like, all the time—I hearken back to those sleep-deprived nights of the summer of 2002, when the South Korea/Japan World Cup marked the last time I can remember being up that late without a beer in my hand. This is when the world learned that South Korea had a team. And not necessarily because they were that good, but because they benefited from the most sensational and blatant home-field advantage screwjob since Roy Jones Jr. beat that Korean dude around the ring for three rounds at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and got the silver for his trouble.

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Since FIFA probably would consider a fleet of Sherman tanks full of lagered-up English Nazi hooligans a more welcome sight in South Africa than Byron Moreno, it appears that South Korea will have to rely on its trademark organization and tenacity to achieve results. But that's not to say the Koreans lack firepower.

We all know about Ji-Sung Park (or is it Park Ji-Sung?) at Manchester United: the guy is basically the king of South Korea, best buds with Tevez and Patrice Evra and probably has mixed feelings when fans chant his name at Old Trafford. He's developed into an important weapon for Sir Alex because he reputedly has three lungs. While Park's the captain and unquestioned star, a handful of other South Koreans also are making names for themselves throughout Europe, notably (and culturally ignorant name dyslexia applies here as well) Park Chu-Young at Monaco, Lee Chung-Yong of Bolton and Celtic's fine young Catholic lad Ki Sung-Yong.

Other than the aforementioned players, who compose the thrust of the team's attack, ex-Middlesbrough pine rider Lee Dong-Gook will be one to watch. Though like his teammate from Monaco, Lee is hampered by a leg injury that may keep him out of the opener against group stat-pad Greece. It's worth noting that coach Huh Jung-Moo unanimously lifted spirits throughout camp during qualifiers by announcing that the team could not afford to lose starters in attack, as the replacements just aren't good enough. "Huh" about sums it up. Also of concern is a perceived weakness at the heart of the defense, a state of affairs made gloomier by a tournament-ending knee injury to first-choice centerback Kwak Tae-Hwi. Let's hope the defensive replacements are good enough then, eh coach?

I can tell you that the Koreans of the southern persuasion fairly breezed through an Asian version of a tough group, dotted with regional heavy hitters including but not limited to Iran and Saudi Arabia. They overcame Asia's other reputed top dog, Japan, in a 2-0 friendly win a few days ago, thereby solidifying their status as the continent's most capable opposition (here is where we conveniently forget about recent friendly losses to Belarus and Zambia).

Quick on the counter and tactically astute, South Korea can be a right bugger of an adversary to break down. Their focus on physical conditioning and teamwork will compensate for individual deficiencies. To this end, Park is the blueprint. Not a donkey by any means, but not overly skillful, his game is one of positional sense, high pressure, and lots and lots of running. Ten Parks, or admitted lesser facsimiles of Park, buzzing about the pitch at 100 mph in an organized fashion always will promise a long afternoon for opponents.


My advice for Greece is to stay home this summer and watch DVDs of their triumph at the 2004 Euros. Sure, they've proven the doubters wrong before, but it just ain't gonna happen again. Perhaps they'll rise up and galvanize a nation steeped in financial catastrophe? We all saw how that worked out for Argentina in 2002.

Coach, er I'm sorry, King Otto Rehhagel's laurels from 2004 must be of the eternal variety, because his side hasn't done squat since that unlikeliest of summers in Portugal. In fairness, with the paucity of personnel at his disposal, there's not much he can do, and he knows it. Greece play a trenchant 4-5-1, burrowing deep in their own half in anticipation of launching a counterattack they're not athletic enough to execute. Rehhagel did tinker with a conservative 3-4-3 in some WCQs, but will likely revert to type against stiffer foes. Angelos Charisteas, Giorgos Karagounis, Giorgos Seitaridis are vestiges of that great victory, but their collective influence has diminished, while two of the bigger names on the side, Liverpool's Sotiris Kyrgiakos and Celtic's Giorgos Samaras, lack the guile and skill to guide their nation to a repeat of history.

When the big gun of your group is Switzerland, you know that fortune has favored you. The Greeks artlessly nabbed the second spot ahead of several countries that myself, a few local high school kids and that fellow who sleeps in my subway stop could have taken: Moldova, Latvia, Israel, and Luxembourg. Who said it's tough for European teams to get to the World Cup?

At the World Cup anything is possible. Rehhagel is a wise coach who understands how to absorb pressure and grind out results. But Greece's hard-nosed, attritional approach is geared toward capitalizing on mistakes, rather than manufacturing their own luck. And there will be no duchies to push around in South Africa.