World Cup 2010 Group G Preview, Predictions: The Not So Group Of Death

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 04: Kaka talks to the media during the Brazil team press conference at The Fairways Hotel on June 4, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Brazil national team are in South Africa to contest the 2010 FIFA World Cup. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Group G was originally thought the Group of Death. The term has since been debunked, though a strong trio of teams still makes this the World Cup's most intriguing group.

It was originally advertised as the Group of Death, but upon reflection people covering the game have acquiesced, seeing North Korea as too weak to be in a Group of Death (as well as finding the whole terminology as bit morbid). Still, there are three name sides in Group G, and with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Didier Drogba leading the contenders, this group has the most intriguing individual talent.

But this is case where the group is much more competitive by name than by match-up. When you walk through the games and consider the match-ups, there is a clear have, have-not to the quartet, with injuries potentially giving us a surprise order of finish.

Match-by-match, here is SB Nation's breakdown of World Cup 2010's Group G:

Cote d'Ivoire versus Portugal, June 15, Port Elizabeth

Emphasis in the lead-up to this match has been placed on Didier Drogba's health, but even if the Ivorian captain was healthy, Cote d'Ivoire would have a very difficult time generating goals through him. Portugal has a stellar defensive record in qualifying, allowing only five goals in ten matches. Real Madrid central defender Pepe is back in the team, recovering from a knee injury and ready to assume the defensive midfield role he's played for Carlos Queiroz. Along with Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves, the trio form a triangle at the base of the defense that is too much for one player to handle.

Until we see Sven-Goran Eriksson's tactical approach, it's difficult to speculate that an often aimless Ivorian attack will have a plan in place that will do to Portugal's defense what Denmark and Sweden's did not.

At the other end of the pitch, Portugal was surprisingly toothless in attack through much of qualifying. That changed with the emergence of Liedson, a decent Brazilian-born striker from Sporting Club in Lisbon who solved one of the team's glaring weakness. With him in the team, Cristiano Ronaldo healthy, and the Deco-Raul Miereles pair in central midfield, Portugal has regained its bite.

They will go against a defense that possesses little of Cote d'Ivoire's talent. Kolo Touré, coming off a subpar year at Manchester City, is Les Elephants best defender, and with Boubacar Barry in goal, Cote d'Ivoire has the tournament's second-worst keeper (my sympathies, Honduras).

These are two relatively even teams on talent with one team that has clear advantages in a match-up: Portugal 2, Cote d'Ivoire 0.

Brazil versus North Korea, June 15, Johannesburg (Ellis Park)

This match features the tournament favorites against arguably the 32nd seed, with the main reason for hope for Korea DPR being their formation and tactics. North Korea plays a very conservative version of a 5-3-2. Often it features a flat four with the fifth defender applying pressure on a ball that's on the flank. The midfield three features two players who play defensively. Korea DPR will sit back, try to absorb Brazil's pressure and hope to break out with forwards Jong Tae-Se and Hong Yong-Jo.

The biggest problem for North Korea, beyond the talent gap, will be dealing with set pieces. Brazil's speed and athleticism combined with North Korea's approach should lead to a number of fouls. Brazil is the best team in the world on set pieces, and with significant physical advantages over North Korea, we could see goals from the likes of Luis Fabiano, Luisão or Lucio.

Once the first of those go in, we may start to see North Korea open up. There is belief in the side, and they may not be content with merely staying close. Their pursuit of the match could allow the flood gates to open: Brazil 4, North Korea 0.

Brazil versus Cote d'Ivoire, June 20, Johannesburg (Soccer City)

Again, Cote d'Ivoire's defending costs them, but whereas Brazil moved past North Korea in a rather blunt way, this will be more like the Dunga team we've come to know: seemingly conservative, deadly on the counter - dominant. As Les Elephants build their attacks, they will find their defense isolated and wanting as Kaká picks them apart. And should they start chopping down Brazil as a means to deal with the counter, Kolo Touré's defects in dealing with set pieces will be accentuated.

Yaya Touré will be a key figure for the Ivorians. A rugged player in the middle of the pitch, Touré can help break up counters at the point of origin. If Touré has a huge match - winning these battles as well as adding a needed element of creativity in midfield - it would be the first step toward a surprise result.

However, Touré would have to have an epic match, along with help from his other prominent teammates: Brazil 3, Cote d'Ivoire 0, at which point the Ivorians' tournament is likely over.

Portugal versus North Korea, June 21, Cape Town

Portugal had a terrible time breaking down teams in qualifying, and for a team that was a bit inconsistent through that process, this match has a number of elements which should concern fans of the Seleccao. At this point, Portugal will know they need only one point to eliminate Cote d'Ivoire. They will also be riding high off their first match win.

Amongst other criticisms Carlos Queiroz, he tends to play conservatively. This almost got Portugal into trouble in qualifying, where the Portuguese's tactics led to three straight 0-0 draws and put his team in a position to have to scramble to set Group 1's playoff spot.

Portugal has improved since that poor spell, but against a North Korean side more conservative than the Portuguese are used to playing, some of Portugal's problems scoring goals could reemerge. The fact that the result actually helps Portugal might factor into the lack of a late match push: Portugal 0, North Korea 0.

Portugal versus Brazil, June 25, Durban

For some, this match is as anticipated as United States-England, but in a situation where both teams get what they want with a draw, you could see a lack of inspiration in the second half. Portugal could come out highly motivated and able to create a goal down the right flank, should Queiroz shift Cristiano Ronaldo to the side being defending by Lyon midfielder, Brazil left back Michel Bastos.

However, look for a Brazil response, perhaps having to wait until after halftime to get it, with that strong Portugal defense proving difficult to break. But once the goal comes, the teams could see the 1-1 score and say "we're both through," letting the rest of the match bleed out, leading to a Brazil 1, Portugal 1 result.

Cote d'Ivoire versus North Korea, June 25, Nelspruit

With Cote d'Ivoire eliminated, they will not play Didier Drogba, while North Korea will continue pushing, still holding out hope that they will advance. Needing to turn around a huge, negative goal difference incurred in the first match, the North Koreans show they are better going forward than most thought, perhaps getting a relatively early goal.

Unfortunately for the North Koreans, this is not a style they can play without leaving the defense, though numerous, exposed. Cote d'Ivoire should find a response, after which North Korea will have to play more conservatively. Yes, they need goals, but they do themselves no favors by also giving them up.

Ultimately, another drawn ends a disappointing tournament for the Ivorians. Cote d'Ivoire 1, North Korea 1 leaves them with one point, fourth place - the culmination of a process that brought a new coach in too late, Didier Drogba unfortunately hurt, and their sequence of matches leaving them out of contention after two rounds.

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