The only country to have won the FIFA World Cup™ outside their own continent, five-time champions Brazil take their opening bow at South Africa 2010 against Group G outsiders Korea DPR. Following their untimely quarter-final exit at Germany 2006, A Seleção Pentacampeã have their minds firmly fixed on adding another world title to their already impressive collection.
The other game in the section, between Portugal and Côte d’Ivoire, has a cup-tie feel about it. Les Eléphants are still waiting on Didier Drogba, who had an operation on his injured elbow nine days ago and remains doubtful for a match that will be crucial to the final outcome in the section. Largely unimpressive in qualifying, A Selecção das Quinas enjoyed a promising build-up to the finals, winning two and drawing one of their warm-up games. And with a proven matchwinner in Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, the Portuguese are sure to pose a potent threat up front.
Slovakia are warm favourites going into their game with New Zealand, who are back on the big stage for the first time in 28 years and only the second time in their history. Vladimir Weiss’s side has a solid look about it, with Liverpool central defender Martin Skrtel, Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik and Stanislav Sestak, their top scorer in the qualifiers, making up a formidable spine.
New Zealand-Slovakia, Group F, Rustenburg, 13.30
Côte d’Ivoire-Portugal, Group G, Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, 16.00
Brazil-Korea DPR, Group G, Johannesburg (Ellis Park), 20.30
The big game
Brazil’s qualifying campaign featured some pedestrian performances, including goalless draws with Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia, and some irresistible ones, most notably an emphatic 3-1 win over the Argentinians and a 4-0 thumping of Uruguay. The question is, which Seleção will turn up in South Africa? One thing we can expect is defensive solidity and blistering counter-attacks. A FIFA World Cup winner at USA 1994, national coach Dunga has fashioned a team in his own image, making those two attributes and the team ethic the unmistakable hallmarks of the class of 2010.
Braced for just their second participation in the world finals, the counter-punching North Koreans will need to be at their very best if they are to reprise the country’s most famous victory: a 1-0 defeat of Italy at England 1966.
Chelsea v Chelsea
The match between Côte d’Ivoire and Portugal could feature no fewer than five Chelsea players. Blues defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira seem certain to line up in the Portuguese defence against club colleague Salomon Kalou, with Ivorian talisman Didier Drogba a potential absentee. The fifth and final member of the Chelsea contingent is impish midfielder Deco, who could tilt the match in Portugal’s favour.
What they said
“I think it will be a tactical battle and neither side will want to concede. The team who makes less mistakes and sticks to their gameplan better will win,” Jan Durica, Slovakia defender.
A family tradition: Slovakia’s 45-year-old coach Vladimir Weiss is the son of Vladimir Weiss, the former Czechoslovakia international, now 70, and the father of another Vladimir Weiss, the 20-year-old Manchester City and Repre defender.
Ivorian excellence: Côte d’Ivoire barely put a foot wrong during the African qualifying competition, winning eight games and drawing the other four, scoring 29 goals and conceding only six in the process. The only man to feature throughout their run to South Africa was Sevilla midfielder Didier Zokora.
Kiwi pioneer: Ricki Herbert, New Zealand’s 49-year-old coach, is regarded as a footballing legend in The Land of the Long White Cloud. A no-nonsense defender during his playing days, the All Whites boss played in all three of his country’s matches at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™ and was also one of the first Kiwi players to play abroad, running out for Wolverhampton Wanderers for two seasons. In charge of the national side since 2005, Herbert doubles up as the coach of Australian A-League side Wellington Phoenix, the only professional club in New Zealand.