World Cup Group F Preview: Can Italy defend their title?

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For those who want to see fast-paced, high-flying action, look elsewhere, because Group F is made up of grind-it-out teams. Italy, the defending World Cup champs, have always been known for their defense and counter-attacking. Paraguay only scored 11 goals in their past 11 World Cup games. Slovakia is a team who looks to get an early lead and sit on it. That leaves us with New Zealand, who’s only other World Cup appearance was in 1982, where they only scored two goals.

Some are thinking, “great, as if soccer wasn’t boring enough, we have to watch a group that doesn’t even score goals.” Not so fast (literally for this group). Though it won’t be high-scoring, there may be more drama in this group than all the other groups combined.

by Justin Mertes-Mistretta

zidane headbutt

ITALY

  • The Italian players are like Morgan Freeman. They are old, but still excellent actors. In the 2002 World Cup, Italy flopped their way to a victory over Australia. Francesco Totti’s obvious dive set up a penalty kick for the win.
  • Italy loves to get under the opponents skin any way they can. Just ask Zinedine Zidane. We all remember his headbutt on Marco Materazzi. It will be interesting to see how their trash-talking and frustrating antics will make their opponents react this year. I wonder what the Vegas odds are of a fight breaking out during one of Italy’s games.

PARAGUAY

  • Salvador Cabanas, Paraguay’s top striker, was shot in the head at a Mexico City bar in January. Given only a 20 percent chance of survival, soccer was the last priority for Cabanas. He has made a miracle recovery since being released from the hospital, taking free kicks during practice. Though he is not on Paraguay’s roster, it is quite motivational to see such a resilient human being.
  • In Cabanas’ absence, Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Haedo Valdez have stepped up.  Valdez scored five goals in qualifying, second-most on the team. Cardozo is a 6’4’’ lefty, who scored an impressive 25 goals in 28 games this season for Benfica.

SLOVAKIA

  • Coach Vladimir Weiss’ son, Vladimir Weiss (freaky, I know), has blazing speed and exceptional ball skills. Weiss’ speed could give the aging Italian defenders fits in their match-up.

NEW ZEALAND

  • This team hasn’t been to the World Cup in 28 years and it is debatable whether or not they really deserve to be here this year. Their qualifying group consisted of Fiji (which I am still convinced is a fairytale land based on the movie, Truman Show), Vanuatu and New Caledonia.  What they lack in talent, they make up for with their Maori war dance. Watch here.

Favorite – Italy: The defending world champions are the obvious favorites in this group, but they haven’t gotten any younger since their ’06 championship. It will be interesting to see if they can ditch their canes and still play at a high level in this year’s World Cup. They have looked old in qualifiers and friendlies, but there is something about this team when it matters most. Don’t bet against gli Italiani.

Player to watch – Marek Hamsik: He is one of the best Serie A attacking midfielders and is used to facing Italian defenders. Hamsik could help Slovakia spring at upset over Italy and maybe even into the second round.

Game to watch – Italy vs. Paraguay – June 14, 2:30 P.M. (ET): Heading into an important event such as the World Cup, most coaches are overflowing with confidence about their team’s chances. This is not the case for Paraguay’s coach Gerardo Martino. He had this to say about the match-up with Italy:

“When I think about Italy, everything concerns me. They are the world champions. We made a few mistakes against Ireland, one of which lost us the match. With this kind of mistake, and with the kind of forwards Italy have, they could take advantage and it could be fatal”

Yeah… Not exactly what Paraguay fans want to hear heading into the a match that may determine who advances to the second round.

Prediction

1 – Italy (7 pts)

2 – Slovakia (5 pts)

3 – Paraguay (4 pts)

4 – New Zealand (0 pts)

Read more articles by Justin Mertes-Mistretta at http://www.percysperspective.com/

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