Oh, it’s getting ever so close. I can’t be inundated with too many World Cup commercials. Usually the ad naseum gets to me, but not with the World Cup.
And like we promised, we’re continuing with our World Cup preview. And in case you missed Wednesday’s opener, no worries.
Here’s your class schedule:
Wednesday – Group A
Today – Group B
Friday – Group C
Monday – Group D
Tuesday – Group E
Wednesday – Group F
Thursday – Group G
Friday – Group H
Captain: MF Javier Mascherano. If you’re a Liverpool fan, you love him. If you’re not, you hate him. He’s often yelling at the ref, rolling on the ground or sliding late while always managing to be a pest. But he’s great at what he does. And with Diego Maradona deciding to leave steady servants Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso home, Mascherano will have to be at his disruptive finest.
Where The Goals Will Come From: Take your pick. Maradona has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. You start of course with the best player in the world right now, Lionel Messi, but then there’s Real Madrid ace Gonzalo Higuain, the always energetic Carlos Tevez, the soon-to-be-wildly-rich Sergio Aguero and Diego Milito, fresh off his two goals in the Champions League Final. They all can’t play at the same time, though with Maradona there’s no guessing what he’ll do. He might go out on an all-night bender and redraft a video game lineup on a bar napkin and dare anyone to tell “God’s Hand” no.
X-Factor: Walter Samuel and Martin Demichelis. So we’ve touched on the ridiculously good offense, but what about the D? Ah, see that’s where people have been quick to jump on Maradona’s roster selection, seemingly leaving the Argentines vulnerable at the back. But Sameul and Demichelis are steady and sturdy hands with plenty of experience, both for country and with club (Samuel at Inter Milan and Demichelis at Bayern Munich).
Young Stud: MF Angel Di Maria. One of the brightest talents at the 2007 U20 World Cup, Di Maria signed with Portuguese giants Benfica at 19. The left winger has since made 82 appearances for Benfica, scoring 10 times, and is one of the Portuguese League’s most attractive talents. Di Maria proved a flare for the dramatic at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, scoring the winning goals in both the quarterfinal victory over Holland and the gold medal triumph versus Nigeria. Minutes won’t be easy to come by, but Maradona gushes about the 22-year old Di Maria.
Captain: D Joseph Yobo. A veteran with 64 caps to his credit, Yobo sits in the middle of the Super Eagles’ defense, and is Nigeria’s rock in the back. David Moyes’ first signing at Everton in 2002, Yobo has made 220 appearances for the Toffees since joining from Marseille, and despite the occasional lapse, he’s usually proven steady. Yobo, 29, was the anchor for Nigeria in a qualifying campaign that saw just five goals conceded in 12 matches.
Where The Goals Will Come From: F Peter Odemwingie. Russian-born, the Lokomotiv Moscow winger is often a handful for defenders with his tricks and pace. Odemwingie caught scouts’ eyes when he scored twice for Lille against AC Milan to advance the French side to the Champions League knockout stages. He scored 23 times for Lille before they cashed in on a $14 million offer from Lokomotiv. In 74 appearances for the Russian side, the pacy Odemwingie has netted 21 goals. He has appeared in 47 matches (scoring nine times) for the Super Eagles and captained them in the 2010 African Nations Cup. Odemwingie will have plenty of competition for playing time with the likes of Obafemi Martins, Yakubu, Chinedu Obasi and Victor Obinna (see below) on the roster, but the 28-year Odemwingie will most certainly force his way onto the pitch. Plus, who doesn’t like saying “Odemwingie?”
X-Factor: F Victor Obinna. One of African football’s top young attacking talents, Obinna, 23, was Nigeria’s joint leading scorer in qualifying with four goals (Ikechukwu Uche also had four but the Real Zaragoza frontman was shockingly left off the World Cup roster). At 18-years old, Obinna landed with Chievo Verona in Italy where he scored 22 times in 82 games before being shipped to Inter Milan in 2008. Obinna has made just nine appearances for the European champions, having spent last season on loan with Spain’s Malaga, scoring four times in 26 appearances.
Young Stud: MF Lukman Haruna. Despite making only one appearance for his country to date, the 19-year old Haruna was the most highly sought after young Nigerian since Manchester United and Chelsea battled it out for John Obi Mikel. After impressive displays in leading Nigeria to the U17 African and World titles in 2007, Haruna attracted interest from across Europe, with Spanish giants Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid chasing his signature. However, the central midfielder chose the route most used by African youngsters, opting instead for France and AS Monaco. Haruna has made 27 appearances for Monaco, scoring three times.
Captain: MF Park Ji-Sung. By far the most accomplished player in the South Korean side, Park has been competing against the best in Europe since joining PSV Eindhoven in 2003. After a successful run in Holland, the tireless winger moved to Manchester United in 2005. Park has made 102 appearances for the Red Devils, and while he’s not always in the Starting XI in league play, Sir Alex Ferguson relies on him often in European Cup competition. Park, 29, led South Korea with five goals in qualification and he’s no stranger to World Cup heroics. Playing for the host country in 2002, Park scored the game-winner against Portugal that eliminated the Portuguese and sent South Korea to the knockout stage for the first time in the nation’s history.
Where The Goals Will Come From: F Park Chu-Young. Once considered Korea’s next big thing, Park is looking to make up for a disappointing 2006 World Cup, where he appeared in just one match and received a yellow card for committing the foul that led to a Switzerland goal. Known for his blistering pace and free kick exploits, he bolted to French side AS Monaco after three years with FC Seoul. He’s appeared 51 times for the Ligue 1 side and scored 13 goals. With a talented midfield providing quality service, Park should enjoy plenty of scoring opportunities. He finished second behind Park Ji-Sung with four goals in qualification. He most recently marked the scoresheet against Japan in a 2-0 friendly victory May 24.
X-Factor: GK Lee Woon-Jae. Playing in his fifth, that’s right I said ‘fifth’ World Cup, Lee, 37, will certainly have to be old reliable between the pipes for the Koreans. Five World Cups sounds like a lot (and it is), but not really for a goalkeeper. He’s still just 37-years old and in goalie terms that’s the equivalent to 29 for a field player. Kasey Keller was 36-years old for the Stars and Stripes at the 2006 World Cup, and Oliver Kahn was around 60-something last go-round with Germany. South Korea has plenty of midfield flair, speed and technical ability. However their backline is suspect, so expect Lee to be busy.
Young Stud: MF Lee Chung-Yong. The 21-year old Lee is coming off a successful first season of British football with EPL side Bolton Wanderers. Lee made 27 league starts for Bolton and was immensely impressive week in and week out, in a league known for chewing and spitting out highly touted Asian youngsters. His dribbling and desire make him quite the live wire on the right wing, and expect him to shine for the Koreans.
Captain: MF Giorgos Karagounis. The Panathinaikos central midfielder perhaps is as influential a player for his country than any other in the tournament. I know that sounds pretty audacious considering Karagounis is 33-years old and has just six goals in 92 appearances for the Greek national setup. But Greece isn’t about scoring. Their about defending, absorbing and making you play their game (much like they did at Euro 2004). Karagounis is integral at making sure that Greek style of play is implemented. This time around, Greece has a few more attacking options than in year’s past, so the little guy’s passing should unlock a defense or two as well.
Where The Goals Will Come From: F Theofanis Gekas. Unlike the larger, more stout Greek forwards, Gekas is smaller in stature but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in hustle and bustle. He finished as the top scorer in European qualification with 10 goals. During that campaign, the rest of the Greek squad provided 11 scores. Gekas, 30, has always been a goal threat, including 2006-07 when he led the Bundesliga with 20 goals for Vfl Bochum. He’s bounced around, failing to settle at Portsmouth in England and struggling to get getting games at Bayer Leverkusen. He scored six times last term while on loan at Hertha Berlin and just signed with Eintracht Frankfurt in May. Gekas doesn’t really wow you with any one attribute, but he’s a solid finisher and his strike rate for Greece (20 goals in 47 games) certainly merits attention.
X-Factor: D Vasilis Torosidis. Greece’s first choice left-back (despite playing on the right for club side Olympiakos), Torosidis won the race to be fit for the World Cup after struggling with an ankle injury. The 24-year old (he’ll turn 25 June 10th) has proven to a be willing attacker down the flanks and has shown some really top notch crosses. With the standard Greek height (Georgios Samaras and Angelos Charisteas) waiting in the box, Torosidis’ whipped crosses should be Greece’s most reliable offensive weapon.
Young Stud: MF Sotiris Ninis. This 19-year old attacking midfielder adds some much needed pace into the Greek side. He probably won’t start, but he’s a dangerous weapon coming off the bench. And remember he’s still just 19. Ninis is the youngest ever player to be named captain of his club team, Greek giants Panathinaikos (18-years and 125-days old). In 2008, he became the youngest ever player to score for Greece, putting the ball in the back of the net five minutes into his senior international debut. Not bad, kid. A good tournament in South Africa and Ninis will most certainly seal a move to one of Europe’s big boys with Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan all linked with him in the past.
Argentina wins the group. Nigeria takes second