The final phase of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ took shape last Friday in Cape Town with the draw to decide the eight first-round groups. As expected, several fancied nations were dealt tricky ties - not least Côte d'Ivoire. Just as at Germany 2006, the side many feel represents Africa's best chance of glory find themselves in a very difficult section.
Drawn along with five-time world champions Brazil, Germany 2006 semi-finalists Portugal and surprise package in qualifying Korea DPR, Didier Drogba and Co look to have their work cut out. FIFA.com users agreed, with 53.1 per cent voting for Group G as the strongest of all the FIFA World Cup groups. "I think I must have been followed by a black cat to Cape Town," joked Côte d'Ivoire coach Vahid Halihodzic.
Three and a half years ago, the Elephants were drawn in a group with Argentina, the Netherlands and Serbia and Montenegro. Despite some promising performances, including a victory over the Serbians, the Africans were unable to progress to the second round. However, with the team now four years older and wiser, Brazil and Portugal can expect a real battle for the top spots. "Côte d'Ivoire are going to be a tough proposition. Most of their players ply their trades in the big European leagues and Drogba is one of the best strikers in the world," confirmed Brazil coach Dunga.
A good draw for Italy?
Group G was voted the toughest group in all language versions of the FIFA.com website. Second was Group A, in which hosts South Africa take on Germany 2006 finalists France, two-time winners Uruguay and the ambitious Mexico for a place in the knockout stages. 19.22 per cent believed this was the toughest draw, while the other groups received between two and seven per cent of the vote - a good indication that overall the draw was a balanced one.
Judging by the survey, Group F would appear to be the 'easiest', with only 2.82 per cent of the vote. Reigning champions Italy are hot favourites in the section which also contains Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. However, it is an assertion that Azzurri coach Marcelo Lippi was quick to dismiss in the aftermath of the Final Draw, saying: "In my opinion there's no such thing as an easy or difficult group - Italy are just out to win whoever we play against."