As Groups of Death go, they do not come much more fatal than Group G.
Three of anybody’s pre-tournament favourites Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast brought together to fight it out for only two second round places, along with the distinctly unknown quantity of North Korea.
The form guide would suggest Didier Drogba’s men ought to be the ones most capable of accompanying Brazil through, especially given Portugal’s tortuous but ultimately fortunate qualification campaign.
However, as the history of previous so-called Groups of Death would suggest, even the stand-out seeded team can take nothing for granted in as rarefied an atmosphere as the first round of the World Cup.
Take the Group of Death in the 1990 first round, which pitted holders and favourites Argentina with the tough Romanians and Soviets, and the relatively unknown quantity of Cameroon.
Cameroon’s historic opening game win over the Argentinians turned the group on its head, with the Africans eventually qualifying as group winners, Romania clinching second spot and the holders suffering an embarrassing first round exit.
Or 1994, when favourites Italy kicked off their campaign with a stunning defeat to the Republic of Ireland, leading to their group stage elimination with Mexico and Jack Charlton’s men progressing through.
Spain were bounced out early of a 1998 group also including Nigeria, Paraguay and Bulgaria, while in 2002 Argentina again missed out with Sweden and England squeaking through from Group F.
And with the Brazilians kicking off the group against supposed minnows North Korea in Johannesburg on June 15, it only heaps more pressure on them not to slip up.
With the final Group G pairing featuring the Brazilians and Portugal 10 days later, there is every chance it could be a match which leaves one of the big-shots returning homeÂ and the legend of the Group of Death living on.
Ivorians upbeat despite draw
Ivory Coast coach Vahid Halilhodzic says his team are not going to South Africa “for a holiday” despite being drawn in a World Cup ‘Group of Death’.
The West African giants have been grouped alongside five-time champions Brazil, 2006 semi-finalists Portugal, and Korea DPR.
But nonetheless, the Elephants boss revealed that he still has aspirations of having a successful tournament.
“We are in a very tough group,” he said after the draw. “But we are not coming to South Africa for a holiday.
“It will be tough for Ivory Coast. What I can say is that we are coming here with great ambitions.
“If we can go past the first round I can guarantee we will go very far
When asked about the match against Brazil, Halilhodzic said: “It will be a great game, two great teams with great players. it probably will be one of the best game of the World Cup.
“I hope that my team will be able to create surprises. If Brazil want to beat us they will have to play a very tough game.â€
Japan Coach Okada slighted by Dutch
Japan and the Netherlands will battle it out in next year’s World Cup, but the Dutch coach has some homework to do after failing to recognise his Japanese opposite number at a Cape Town dinner.
Japan’s Takeshi Okada said he was speaking with Australia coach Pim Verbeek, a Dutchman, on the eve of Friday’s World Cup draw when Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk joined and apparently mistook him for one of Japan’s FA officials.
“Then he (van Marwijk) asked me who the Japan coach is and where he is. I told him, ‘That’s me’. Then he said, ‘Is that so?'” a miffed Okada told Japanese media late Sunday on his return from South Africa.
The encounter took place at an official dinner and came not long after Japan and the Netherlands played their first ever match in September, a friendly that Japan lost 3-0.
Donovan welcomes England challenge
United States legend Landon Donovan has welcomed the World Cup draw that pitted the US against England.
Donovan, the USA’s all-time leading goalscorer, has a potential head-to-head meeting with Los Angeles Galaxy team-mate David Beckham when the two countries open their Group C campaigns in Rustenberg, with Algeria and Slovenia also in the group.
“It could have been worse,” Donovan said after watching the draw from New York.
“It’s going to be fun. Depending on where I play, playing against [Frank] Lampard, [Steven] Gerrard in a midfield against those guys is going to be pretty fun.
“I can’t think of a better match-up personally.”
Donovan clashed verbally with Beckham earlier this year after the American questioned the Englishman’s commitment to the Galaxy and Major League Soccer following an extended loan move at AC Milan.
The two mended fences over the course of the 2009 MLS season and combined to help the Galaxy reach last month’s MLS Cup league title decider, which LA lost in a penalty shoot-out in Seattle.
Beckham will return to Milan on a second loan deal on December 28, not returning to MLS until the end of the World Cup, but of the possibility of playing against Beckham, Donovan added: “Hopefully we’ll both be there, because a lot can happen between now and then but if that’s the case, it’ll be fun.
“There’ll be a lot of talking before the first game. He won’t be around with the Galaxy before the tournament starts so it won’t be as intense as it might be but it’s going to be fun to see him there.
“We’ve just talked about being there and seeing each other there but I don’t think it entered our minds that we might be playing each other.â€