The “Group of Death” without which no modern world cup would be complete is definitely this one. Groups A and B are actually two of the three weakest (no prizes for guessing that Germany’s group is the feeblest of the lot), but this one… well, let’s just say we wouldn’t be tuning in anticipating spectacular all round entertainment if we were you.
What really makes this group stand out is a collection of defences that are head and shoulders (and torsos and giant limbs) above any in the other groups. The Ivory Coast’s rearguard boasts the Arsenal pairing of Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Eboué, who were outstanding as the Gunners reached the Champions League final, alongside a couple of French top division players. And that’s the worst defence in the group. Argentina’s defence is also decent, though not spectacular. They conceded in seven out of nine away qualifiers, but only Brazil could get three past them. England also notched three in their November friendly which was probably more worrying.
Holland would have the best defence in most groups, but not this one. The Dutch rampaged through their qualifiers without conceding a goal in nine games from October 2004. What’s even more remarkable is that they’re rebuilding with comparative youngsters and used around a dozen defenders during their 810 unbeaten minutes. It doesn’t seem to matter who they send out – if they score, they win.
The honours go to Serbia & Montenegro, though. One, single goal conceded away to Spain and a more settled line-up. Their problem is at the other end. Basically, they rely on former Chelsea flop Mateja Kezman to nick one at some point. And he usually does. The Dutch, meanwhile, typically stick a couple on the board and then decide whether or not they can be bothered to get more. Having at last handed on the factional in-fighting hat (to the French) Londonist reckons the Dutch will go all the way to the final. And then win it.
Argentina and Ivory Coast both have decent attacks to go with their respectable defences, but the South Americans reserve almost all their scoring for home matches while the Africans’ finishing is a bit too profligate in this company. We expect Holland and Serbia & Montenegro to progress from six staggeringly dull games.
Team Ratings – A (best) to G (worst)
Defence – Argentina D, Holland A, Serbia & Montenegro A, Ivory Coast D
Attack – Argentina D, Holland B, Serbia & Montenegro D, Ivory Coast E
Crucial Game – Any you can stay awake in.
Fantasy Football Recommendations
As you can imagine, it’s defenders galore here. And goalkeepers, of course, so you’d not be ill advised to pick any of Van Der Sar (Holland), Jevric (Serbia) or Abbondanzieri (Argentina) in that order of preference, or even Tizie (Ivory Coast) if you need a cheap reserve.
Marco Van Basten is still shuffling his personnel around, so it’s difficult to be sure, but former Arsenal wing-back Giovanni Van Bronckhorst is probably the safest of their defensive options, though Dutch defenders don’t get forward a lot. Not much on offer attack-wise from the Serbian defence, either, though Mladen Krstajic gets the odd header from a set-piece and right back Goran Gavrancic takes some of them. Manchester United’s Vidic is suspended for the opening game, by the way. If you have more faith in Argentine progression than we do you could do a lot worse than go for Juan Pablo Sorin, often listed as a defender but basically a left sided attacker who’s regularly involved in what goals there are. Both Arsenal’s Eboué and Arthur Boka get involved in the Ivory Coast’s attack and Kolo Touré is becoming more of a threat from dead ball situations.
Elsewhere, only Chelsea’s Hernan Crespo and perhaps Juan Roman Riquelme offer a regular start and better than average value in the Argentine squad. Kezman and Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast might get a couple of goals whereas Dutch main man Ruud Van Nistelrooy should benefit from being an automatic choice up front in a strong team. Longer shots are Dejan Stankovic, showing good form for Serbia & Montenegro in warm-ups, and midfielder N'Dri Romaric who took set-pieces and was the hub of the Ivory Coast’s attacks in their most recent friendly.
"Oo, it's a scythe!" via Cappellmeister's Flickr stream.