The Other Hand

Balanced commentary from an unbalanced mind.

SA2010: Sorting out the teams

You can’t enjoy a tournament unless you know who the favorites are. If you just see two teams banging around on the field with the score all even, well, you have no context. But if you realize one is an overwhelming favorite… and the other is a complete minnow… then you realize you might have an upset on your hands. Storyline!

So here is a quick guide to the teams involved:


Most of their fans will be a bit disappointed unless they reach the quarterfinals at least. Teams with a (*) have won World Cups in the last 20 years; their fans won’t get excited unless they reach the finals. These teams also happen to be in separate groups; each is the best team in the group.

  • Argentina
  • Brazil (*)
  • England
  • France (*)
  • Germany (*)
  • Italy (*)
  • Netherlands
  • Spain


These are the teams that are dangerous but beatable. The top teams will be wary of playing them. Their fans will be disappointed unless they progress to the knockout stages. Two teams that sit right between Piranhas and Sharks are Portugal and Ivory Coast (the latter only if Didier Drogba overcomes his broken elbow). If any of the other teams win the tournament, it would be a big upset.

  • Australia
  • Cameroon
  • Chile
  • Denmark
  • Ghana
  • Greece
  • Ivory Coast
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Paraguay
  • Portugal
  • Serbia
  • South Africa (only because they’re playing at home)
  • South Korea (Republic of Korea)
  • USA
  • Uruguay


The classic “we’re just happy to be here” teams. Reaching the knockout stage would be a dream. (For New Zealand, North Korea, and Honduras, just winning a single game would be a dream.) Winning the tournament would be science fiction.

  • Algeria
  • Honduras
  • New Zealand
  • North Korea (DPRK)
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Switzerland

So, what does this mean for the group stage? Most groups will have one shark, two piranhas, and one minnow.

World Cup lore says that there’s always a “Group of Death”. This is the group with too many good teams, making progression a challenge for everyone. In 2010, this is Group G, with Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast, and North Korea. Ivory Coast, however, will be a lot less frightening if Didier Drogba can’t play; he broke his elbow last week and nobody knows yet if he can play (or play well).

There are four groups with three piranhas and one shark: Groups A, B, D, and E. Usually these will be generally easy for the sharks but will be a real mess for the other teams. Group E in particular looks like another Group of Death, with the Netherlands as one of the more inconsistent and vulnerable sharks.

On the other hand, any group with two minnows looks to be simple. Groups C, F, and H are like this. For example, Group C has England, the US, Slovenia, and Algeria. The expectation is that the US and England should be able to win against the other teams, so both will easily reach the knockout stage.

Of course, all that is just the expectation. The reality will have many surprises — that’s what makes it fun! Watch for any game that contradicts the conventional wisdom above; these will be the upsets that leave people talking.


Written by cisko

8 June 2010 at 08:10

Posted in soccer

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