Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Australia versus Serbia - in tweets

To make my life easier, I decided to commentate this mornings Serbia vs. Australia match with tweets. I figured it would be easier than having to write a fully blown review of the match...especially if I was emotionally racked by a result that left both teams checking in their luggage.

As fate decreed an Australian 2-1 win eliminated both teams from the competition.

Here's my take on a very entertaining match that provided a number of Infarkt moments, in tweets.


NOTE: Start reading from the bottom of the page and work your way up

Just looked at the nxt round match-ups. Germany v England!!! Awesome. Ghana v USA...whatever. about 3 hours ago via web

Stay tuned to Infarkt for more World Cup coverage: about 3 hours ago via web

Time to get ready for work. Thanks for the energy drink Shurak. I'll need it about 3 hours ago via web

That f#cken sucks!!! about 3 hours ago via web

SRB coach remonstrating with officials about 3 hours ago via web
hana through on goal difference about 3 hours ago via web

Germany has beaten Ghana 1-0. GER 6 points, Ghana 4 points, AUS 4 points, SRB 3 points about 3 hours ago via web

Carney interception. Keeper saves. That's the game about 3 hours ago via web

Panta misses a sitter!!! about 3 hours ago via web

Half min to go about 4 hours ago via web

This is INFARKT!!! about 4 hours ago via web

Aussies on counter...Stojkovic slides in about 4 hours ago via web

Chippers with important clearance about 4 hours ago via web

Into stoppage time about 4 hours ago via web

Tosic blazes over about 4 hours ago via web

Vidic claiming handball. Not his own this time. Corner SRB about 4 hours ago via web

SRB corner. Maybe last throw of dice about 4 hours ago via web

Nice shot of fat balding Serb criticizing team...that could be me a couple years from now!!! about 4 hours ago via web

Match point Isner..... Ace number 95! Mahut holds for 59-59. PLAY IS SUSPENDED!!! WOW about 4 hours ago via web

Getting back, Ghana only scored with 2 penalties in 270 mins of football to date. They don't deserve to go through about 4 hours ago via web

GOAL...offside. Brilliant passing. Not be b. Replay confirms a good call. Aussies creaking about 4 hours ago via web

Another long range shot. Schwarz holds this one about 4 hours ago via web

Keeper spills a long shot and Panta cleans up. Did the jambalaya move in mid air??? about 4 hours ago via web

Worth mentioning that Ghana has only scored from two ...hold the phone. GOAL SRB. Pantelic. 2-1. Game on!!! about 4 hours ago via web

8 mins to go plus stoppage. Scores stay as are and both going back home about 4 hours ago via web

SUB AUS - Garcia for Wilkshire's groin. Put some ice on it Luke about 4 hours ago via web

80 mins gone and Wilkshire holding his groin about 4 hours ago via web

Serbs building pressure, Aus on counter about 4 hours ago via web

59-58 @ Wimbledon about 4 hours ago via web

SUB SRB - Lazovic for Kuzmanovic about 4 hours ago via web

Desperate shot by Lukovic about 4 hours ago via web

With Germany beating's down to goal difference. AUS need a couple more about 4 hours ago via web

GOAL...Hollman great strike. The Socceroos starting to believe about 4 hours ago via web

Couple of corners for SRB. Building pressure. Well cleared about 4 hours ago via web

Things getting tense. More words b/w Vidic and Cahill about 4 hours ago via web

Mahut 58-57 in tennis!!! about 4 hours ago via web

Cahill so dangerous in the air about 4 hours ago via web

GOAL - Cahill scores. AUS 1 SRB 0. Just as Germany takes the lead as well about 4 hours ago via web

Both coaches have declared their attacking intent. A draw helps no one about 4 hours ago via web

Kuzmanovic heads over. 67 mins gone about 4 hours ago via web

SUB SRB - Panta for Ziga about 4 hours ago via web

Emerton yellow card. Ninkovic academy award about 4 hours ago via web

SUB AUS - Valeri off, Hollman on / Bresc off, Chippers on about 4 hours ago via web

Serbs starting to lose possession far too easily about 4 hours ago via web

Bresciano great shot, keeper saves, dangerous rebound cleared. Good spell for Socceroos about 4 hours ago via web

Vidic is a gun. For mine Kennedy is easy target for him. Small, quick player will cause him more problems about 4 hours ago via web

Germany Ghana update - nil all. Not good for either SRB or AUS about 4 hours ago via web

Jovanovic great run...even better tackle. Jovanovic looks around in disgust. Get up u big girl!!! about 4 hours ago via web

Poor cross about 4 hours ago via web

Nice ball in. SRB clears danger. Out to Krasic about 4 hours ago via web

Yellow for Ninkovic. Late sliding tackle. Dangerous free kick for AUS. Keeper pushes out for a corner about 4 hours ago via web

SMS from Slade asking for moment of clarity. I'm wearing a red jersey right now, so the cevos have beaten the chikos in my heart about 4 hours ago via web

Nice work by Jovanovic, but he runs the ball out. He and Krasic hold the key for SRB about 4 hours ago via web

Carney nice shot from outside box, goes wide. 55 mins gone about 4 hours ago via web

4 SRB, too much emphasis on Zigic as target man about 4 hours ago via web

This game really needs a goal to spice things up about 4 hours ago via web

55 - 55 about 4 hours ago via web

Krasic loses possession. Bresciano...great tackle Vidic...Zigic blazes over crossbar about 4 hours ago via web

Tennis update - Isner v Mahut. 54-54 5th set about 4 hours ago via web

Long ball to no-one...both teams lack cohesion about 5 hours ago via web

Yellow for Wilkshire after great piece of trickery about 4 hours ago via web

Zigic clears in his own box about 4 hours ago via web

Stern words between Vidic & Cahill. Neither will give an inch about 4 hours ago via web

Am back on deck now about 4 hours ago via web

Missed first half AUS v SRB rocking child #2 to sleep! about 4 hours ago via web

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How the mighty have fallen

The first footballing giant has fallen at the 2010 World Cup, with a long queue of others ready to follow. The French, after a pathetic campaign resulting in zero wins from three games, are heading back to Paris. A revolutionary horde waits. Despite their ongoing issues with team chemistry during qualifying, I honestly thought their talent and depth would be enough to get them through a challenging, but by no means frightening, group. Instead they produced a brainfart of epic proportions. Viva Les Bleus!!! Their golden generation has past their used by date, with heroes from the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship winning teams ready to be retired to make way for fresher legs. Coach Domenech should also step aside, lest he be treated in a similar manner as the Marquis De Sade - incarcerated for 32 years of his life in an insane asylum.

Congratulations to Uruguay and Mexico on qualifying for the second round ...remember that I tipped Uruguay as a semi final sleeper (you heard it here first). As predicted in ‘An Idiot’s Guide to the World Cup – Part 1’ both Argentina and South Korea have also progressed to the final 16. Nice to know I can get them right sometimes.

Two groups completed, one past champion eliminated, and no European or African teams in round two. A sign of things to come? Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing storylines for the remainder of the group phase.

1. Who wants to be a champion? After a fairly low profile start to the tournament, a mix of insipid displays (see Italy & England) and inspiring performances (see Switzerland & New Zealand) have left some very big names teetering on a knifes edge. With France already racking up their frequent flyer points, Italy, England and Germany could well follow in their footsteps. Let’s break this down further:

a. Italy. Two draws (how very Italian) built on very dreary defensive football sees the Italians facing Slovakia needing a win to progress. Another dull draw simply will not be enough. Italy has both the players and the pedigree, but what they seriously lack is form. Should Slovakia decide to sit back and spoil the contest, an Italian forward line that created nothing against New Zealand, will be looking for divine inspiration.
b. England. Their plight mirrors that of the Italians. A Grade C performance against the under-rated USA was followed by an F minus versus Algeria. Two draws, no cohesion on the field and less cohesion off it. Should England produce another abject performance in their final group match against the surprising will well and truly be their final match. Slovenia is definitely beatable, but they also have the capacity to upset. After all, they did knock out Guus Hiddink’s highly fancied Russian’s in qualification. The rabid English tabloids are on stand by. Should England lose, Capello will be featured as the devil incarnate with poster boys Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard and Terry derided as bumbling fools. On the other hand, an England win and (according to the Sun and Mirror) they will be cup favourites again.
c. Germany. After steamrolling through Australia 4-0 in their first game, it looked as though this would be another walk in the park for Ze Germans. Then the Serbs rocked up and stole their mojo. Now Germany faces Ghana knowing a win will guarantee progression, a draw could be enough and a loss will result in a collapse of embarrassing proportions. The Ghanaians’ will be motivated to top the group, so a win is by no means certain. And if Serbia continues their improvement by dispatching Australia, a draw won’t do either. Interesting times. On a more political note, looking at the 2010 German World Cup team and it’s fair to say that Germany well and truly lost the last world war. A team featuring Khaderi, Ozil, Podolski, Klose, Tasci, Cacau, Marin, Gomez etc. would have Mein Fuehrer rolling in his grave.

2. Crossing paths. Switzerland’s amazing 1-0 victory over Spain leaves the Spanish needing only a draw against Chile to qualify. However, sitting in second place will pit them against either Brazil or Portugal (the former most likely) in the second round. One of these three giants faces early elimination, with the mouth watering prospect of a Spain versus Brazil round of 16 clash a distinct possibility. It’s very likely that one of the pre tournament favourites will be watching from a distance a week from now...on high definition 3D no doubt.

3. The definition of Infarkt. Anyone who sat through the Serbia v. Germany match would have been entertained by a spectacle that defined Infarkt (at least in sporting terms). The game had more pendulum swings than...I was going to say a swinging pendulum, but that’s too know what I mean. From multiple yellow cards, to the Klose sending off, to Serbia’s goal, to Khaderi smashing the crossbar, to Germany’s ten men overrunning the Serbs the entire second half, to Vidic’s handball giving away (another) penalty, to Podolski’s poor spot kick and Stojkovic’s save, to the 7ft 6 inch giant Zigic missing a point blank header when marked by the vertically challenged Lahm...this game had it all. Anyone with a vested interest in this game would have experienced major and minor infarctions throughout the 90 minutes.

4. Memo. Speaking of giving away another penalty, The Dark Knight sent me the following SMS after Vidic’s brain explosion: URGENT MEMO. To all Serbian players. Touching the ball with your hand in the penalty area is not good, it’s bad. Please tell the bloke to your left and right.

5. Before you blow. Those damned vuvuzela’s have been making more noise (boom, tish) than the action on the park. Before you wet your lips to let out another annoying spurt of wasp like sound, think about what the vuvuzela was originally used for.

6. Don’t forget the hype: For the past six months all Australian eyes have been on Harry Kewell’s groin. Not because of his underwear line at Politix, but to monitor his readiness for South Africa. Considered Australia’s attacking X-factor, it has been widely considered that if Kewell isn’t on the plane, then the Socceroos will be returning home with little more than a recipe for Boerewors (a traditional South Africa sausage, very tasty. Click here for a recipe). Kewell was declared fit to play, got on the plane, and was subsequently kept wrapped in cotton wool during Australia’s lead up games. Against Germany he again rode the pine, as Coach Verbeek made some mystifying decisions around his tactics and starting line-up. Kewell was finally selected to face Ghana, and spent most of the opening 15 minutes trying to imitate Geoff Toovey (FYI – a Google search ‘Geoff Toovey whinger’ returned over 8,000 results). Then Kewell was sent off. Was it deliberate handball? Who knows. At the end of the day, when you’re on the goal line you do your best to block the ball. If any part of your hand is used to save a certain goal, then a penalty and handball have to result. I digress. What has interested me most about Kewell’s World Cup saga has been the tit-for-tat with Sydney Morning Herald writer Michael Cockerill (see below). Highly entertaining stuff, and nice to see these professionals not get personal. I can’t see these guys sending each other Christmas cards in December, well Bernie might...then charge it back to Harry as a consultancy fee.

Sticks and stone...but names will never hurt me
Cockerill calls out Kewell
Kewell calls out Cockerill
Cockerill responds
Mandic responds
Cockerill, Kewell and Mandic in wild sex romp...just kidding

7. Torn apart. 4.30 am, AEST. Australia versus Serbia. Cahill versus Krasic. The homeland versus the motherland. Chiko Rolls versus Cevapcici. VB (Victoria Bitter) versus PB (Plum Brandy). Jimmy Barnes versus Bora Corba. Advance Australia Fair versus Boze Pravde. Thongs versus Opanke. Gallipoli versus Kosovo. Mark 'Chopper' Read versus Zeljko Raznatovic 'Arkan'. This match has it all. I’m more confused than a 12 year old boy at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Should I be excited or terrified??? I’ll tell you now...there’ll be a few VB’s and PB’s tomorrow morning, which will either add to my confusion or perhaps create a moment of clarity.

8. How many Irishmen does it take to change a light bulb? Because the sporting world doesn’t stop just because a World Cup is being played (although maybe it should) I’m going to throw in my two cents worth with relation to the Andrew Johns, Timana Tahu soap opera.

While I don't begrudge Tahu for standing up for his beliefs, and applaud him for having the courage to take a stand...I do believe this whole racism in the NRL issue has been blown way out of proportion.

Would ‘T’ have walked out if, at a team bonding session, they were watching a Chris Rock stand up comedy video? Inappropriate, stereotypical and racist dialogue would be booming out of the TV, but I'm sure all players, Tahu included, would be laughing their arses off. Some examples of Rock's humour include:

• But when you hear "Barack Obama", you picture a brother with a spear, just standing over a dead lion.
• What is up with Jermaine Jackson? Is it just me or is he the greasiest nigga you ever seen? Just greasy motherfucker looking like he sprayed Armoral on his face!

What if one of the players was playing rap on their iPod, and Tahu heard the word n#gger used in a song over and over again. Would he walk out on the team then because one of the players thought this was entertaining?

While I'm not condoning what Andrew Johns said, his words should be taken into context. From what the media has reported he used offensive language when talking about a number of indigenous players (the best one's mind you) on the Queensland team. He was also self deprecating, referring to himself as ‘white trash from Cessnock’ (aren’t they all???). This suggests he was trying to be humorous (he obviously failed), and was also trying to create an 'us' against them' mentality...which is what Origin is all about.

What also irks me about this issue is that Johns is a former drug user. What sort of a role model is that to start off with? It’s ok to admit you used to get high, but please don’t use offensive language about skin colour.

The way the media jumps on the bandwagon to stir up a story is fascinating, and it suggests that the concept of State of Origin alone isn't strong enough to carry a story. Pulling in the Anthony Mundine's of the world to make comment only inflames the situation. Mundine used to claim that racism in league is rife, and his non selection for representative teams was an example of this. To this I reply that you just weren’t good enough bro. The fact that names including Beetson, Meninga, Daley, Thurston, Inglis, Hayne, Thaiday, Civoniceva, Idris, Tonga are all associated with State of Origin blows your theory out of the sky.

Hypothetical: If John's got up and told an Irish joke...would Luke O'Donnell be right to walk out on the team???

Friday, June 11, 2010

IGTTWC - Part 2

I've just finished eating a Mexicana pizza from Dominos (free plug), I'm on my second beer, have poured my first plum brandy (to keep warm), and am patiently awaiting the opening ceremony. What better time to complete Part 2 of the Idiot’s Guide to the World Cup.

Group E

Under the radar: The Dutch usually enter every World Cup with a wave of expectation that declares this will finally be their year. This is the first time in my memory that the Oranje have entered the tournament without great expectations. Which is strange because they are no less talented than squads from 2006, 2002, 1998, 1994 or 1990.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie. A supremely talented footballer, his only Achilles heal seems to be that he’s injury prone (pardon the pun). When fully fit he has the potential to take over any game with his vision and eye for goal. On the wing, or as the primary striker, he has all the skills to unlock the tightest of defenses.
Form guide: The Dutch arrive in South Africa on the back of a 100% qualifying record. Ominous form for a team that has talent to burn. Watch this space.

Dad's Army: Some might call them experienced, others may call them veterans. I'll stick with old bastards. Dennis Rommedahl, Jesper Gronkjaer and Jon Dahl Tomasson are still the keys to the Danes chances. Might as well roll out the Laudrup brothers while they're at it.
Player to watch: Nicklas Bendtner. A typical product of the Arsenal school of footballing excellence. Prissy, egotistical, talented, and bloody annoying.
Nothing of interest: I honestly have nothing of interest to note, other than the fact that I still think it's bullsh#t that Denmark won the European Championship in 1992 after not even qualifying. You can thank the United Nations for that one, cheeky buggers.

Now this is cool: Cameroon's nickname is Les Lions Indomptables (The Indomitable Lions). Much better than the Socceroos.
Player to watch: Samuel Eto'o. One of the world's most lethal strikers, Cameroon's shot at qualifying for round two rests on his lean shoulders. 43 goals in 96 internationals is a phenomenal return, and puts him in good stead to make a run at the Golden Boot award.
Flying the flag: There are high hopes for the African contingent at this World Cup. I rate Cameroon as the best bet for a local team to be playing into week two of the tournament. They've got a gun striker, good World Cup pedigree, and a decent draw.

Poor form: Like their Asian counterparts South Korea, Japan are now a World Cup fixture. However their form in the lead up is shaky. A run of loses led Coach Okado to ask the football federation if they wanted to retain his services. Only in Japan would the coach actually ask his superiors if they still wanted him in the job!!!
Player to watch: Shunsuke Nakamura. The Yokohama F. Marinos midfielder has 97 caps and is one of Japan's most experienced campaigners. He's recovered from injury to take his place in the squad. His teammates will look to him for guidance.
Overly optimistic: After nearly resigning due to poor form, Coach Okado declared that the Japanese were ready to book their place in the final four of the World Cup. I think someone spiked his green tea.

VERDICT: Although this group lacks big footballing names, it's a group of death. The Dutch should go through, but any one of the other teams is a legitimate chance. I'm going for the Lions of Cameroon to unite the African continent.

Group F

Uninspiring: As usual the Italian team is built from the rearguard. Keeper Buffon and captain Cannavaro will marshal perhaps the stingiest defense in the tournament. However, the Italians have always produced an attacking player who is a game changer. In recent years Baggio, Totti, Zola and Del Piero have played that role. This year the cupboard looks bare.
Player to watch: Alberto Gilardino. Four goals from six is rare form for an Italian striker. If he can replicate that during the tournament, the Italians might be heralding the second coming of Paolo Rossi.
You win with defense: Italy, the defending champions, hold the record for the most consecutive games without conceding a goal (5 in 1990) and most minutes without conceding a goal (517, also in 1990). Cannavaro, following in the footsteps of greats such as Baresi and Maldini, will be looking to repeat his performance from 2006 and lead his team to glory.

New Zealand
Ka Mate Ka Mate: The most ridiculous decision to date is FIFA's edict banning New Zealand from performing the much famed Haka in their pre match ritual. For mine, nothing would be funnier than watch a bunch of skinny arse Kiwis in their white uniforms looking to intimidate their European and Latino rivals with a Maori war dance.'ve robbed us of high comedy.
Player to watch: Shane Smeltz. The A-League leading scorer will look to lead the Kiwi charge.
Socceroos aren't that bad: The Kiwis are called the All Whites. What the f#ck??? That's hilarious, and marginally racist. Love it. Here's hoping the Kiwis keep the chilly bun full of puss and kuck beck for some fun times.

Injecting some flair: Paraguay have long been the black sheep of the Latino football world, building their teams on discipline and tactics above individual flair and attacking instincts. This crop, while not pushing forward at every occasion, will play a far more free flowing style than previous generations.
Player to watch: Roque Santa Cruz. Poor form in the Premier League, but he is a proven striker with power in the air and on the ground. He'll be hoping he can add to his collection of 21 international goals.
All Stars: In France 1998, Paraguay's central defending duo (Carlos Gamarra and Celso Ayala) and goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert were selected for the all-star World Cup team.

First time: Since the fall of communism, the number of countries in Europe has almost doubled. Slovakia, one of the new nations post Iron Curtain, make their first World Cup appearance in South Africa.
Player to watch: Marek Hamsik. The 19 year old is a star in the making, and could well be hit of the World Cup. It's unlikely that Slovakia will progress to stage 2, but Hamsik will still have a chance to impress.
Nothing more to add: I'm running out of ideas, and the opening ceremony isn't offering me any inspiration. My wife thinks it looks second rate and sooo 90's.

VERDICT: Italy and Paraguay. Shut the gates

Group G

Best known for: Joga Bonito. The Brazilians approach football with a passion that is unmatched anywhere in the world. And their philosophy of Joga Bonito (play beautifully) is inspiring.
Player to watch: Kaka. Before moving to Real Madrid, Kaka was a member of football's modern day trinity (together with Ronaldo and Messi). However his form in La Liga was less than spectacular. While not a direct attacker like Messi or Ronaldo, Kaka has unparalleled vision, and has the ability to really pull the strings.
Water carrier: As a player, Coach Dunga was called a water carrier by his critics back home, meaning he plays like a grafter and is not an exponent of Joga Bonito. And this is the way he coaches. This Brazil is built in Dunga's image. He doesn't shy from making tough decisions, as evidenced by his call to exclude Ronaldinho. Rightly so in my opinion.

Ivory Coast
Toure de Force: The Toure brothers (Yaya and Kolo) make up a fine defensive shield, and will provide The Elephants with strength at the back.
Player to watch: Didier Drogba. Will he play? If not, the Ivory Coast will really struggle to find the back of the net.
Déjà vu: It really must feel that way for The Elephants. After matching up against Argentina and Holland in 2006, now they are drawn against Brazil and Portugal. Despite being the strongest African nation at the Cup, they are destined for another early exit.

Motivation: Portugal has obvious talent, but have struggled to find the motivation, inspiration, dedication and determination when entering major championships. Coach Queiroz has done nothing to lead me to believe this tournament will be any different.
Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo. Just a pubic hair behind Messi in the race to be the best in the world. But rarely has he reproduced his club form for country. If he wants to be the best, he'll need to fire now.
Goals?: A solid backline and midfield. But where will the goals come from? With Ronaldo struggling to find form in the qualifiers, the Portuguese lack imagination and penetration in the final third.

North Korea
Upset of upsets: In 1966 North Korea defeated Italy 1-0, which still ranks as one of the greatest upsets of all time. I put that one in for my workmate Cam.
Player to watch: I've got no idea.
Sport and politics: The two Korea's faced off in qualifying. Their first meeting was originally planned to be held in Pyongyang on March 26, 2008. The North Korean government decided that the South's national anthem would not be played, nor would the DPRK allow the South's national flag to be displayed at the game. The match was moved to China.

VERDICT: Brazil and Portugal to power their way through this group

Group H

No longer chokers: Since winning the European Championship two years ago, Spain has gotten rid of the choker moniker, and are most pundits favourites this time round.
Player to watch: Take your pick, there is talent to burn across the entire squad. I'll say David Villa, who's scoring record for his country is phenomenal with 33 goals in 52 games.
Balance and depth: Three keepers who would be first choice in most teams (Casillas, Valdes and Reina); a solid defensive with prodigy Pique and old head Puyol leading the way; a midfield with Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso; Torres, Villa, Silva up front. Spain really do have weapons everywhere.

No disrespect to Chile, Honduras or Switzerland...but it's past 11.00 pm and I want to sit down, have a third beer and settle in for a big night of football. Neither of them is a chance to win, so I don't want to bother with any more details.

VERDICT: Spain is a can’t miss bet to win the group. I’ll tip Switzerland as well, only because I think they’re far more organised than Chile and won’t give up easily

That's it from me. Enjoy the Cup.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Idiots Guide to the World Cup (part 1)

With the World Cup countdown into the hours now, it's time for me to put together my preview on the who's who and what's what in South Africa. I had originally hoped to write an in-depth analysis of each team, group, star player, referees dog and linesman's whistle. Unfortunately time isn’t my I figure you've already read it all in some overpriced special edition magazine with a glossy cover and plastic sleeve. So instead I bring to you my whirlwind, cut-price World Cup preview. In other words, An Idiots Guide to the World Cup.

Without further ado...

Group A

South Africa
: Bafana Bafana, which literally translates to 'The Boys'. I find this funny, as you'd think it would translate to 'Boys, Boys'. One of the cooler nicknames on the international scene...unlike the Socceroos.
Player to watch: Steven Pienaar. This is one hard Toffee. A strong forceful midfielder, his performances in an injury depleted Everton in the English Premier League will give the host nation great hope they can avoid becoming the first hosts to be eliminated from the first round.
Ride the lightning: South Africa has a high repository of natural metals underground. What does this have to do with football? Lightning, attracted to the metals in the earth, has often been known to strike a footballer or two e.g.

: Mexico has participated in 13 World Cups, a phenomenal record. It probably also explains why they hold the record for most total losses with 22 (11 wins and 12 draws). I've got a feeling they'll be adding to the 'L' column and keeping that record for a while yet.
Player to watch: Rafael Marquez. A strong and imposing defender, Marquez will have to draw on all of his skill and experience to ensure the Mexican backline isn't breached too often (you can take that any way you want).
Thirty years of hell: Not content with holding the record for most losses, the Burritos also hold the record for most consecutive loses (1930 - 1958), most consecutive matches conceding at least two goals (1930 - 1958) and most consecutive matches conceding at least three goals (1930 - 1950). Methinks Mexico went through a dark period from the 30's to the 50's.

Reputation: For a team that has won two World Cups (1930 & 1950), Uruguay very rarely enters the debate regarding footballing powerhouses. Perennial losers Holland, along with Spain, France and England are always mentioned before the South Americans.
Player to watch: Diego Forlan. As a Manchester United fan, it was painful watching him bust his gut for the Red Devils, yet squander chance after chance for most of his EPL career. Since moving to Spain though, he has become of the deadliest strikers on the continent, winning the European Golden Boot twice. Definitely worth a lazy tener for top scorer. Diego...woah ohh ohh. Diego...woah ohh ooh. He came from Uruguay, and made the Scousers cry
Chances: I rate Uruguay as a legitimate semi final dark horse. They've got a balanced outfit from the back to the forward line and are well known for their grit and determination - key when entering such a knock out tournament. But unlike teams from the past few Cups, they won't be afraid to come forward and play football.

To cheat or not to cheat: I don't think anyone, especially the Irish, has forgotten how Thierry Henry's handball helped 'Les Bleus' board the plane for South Africa. But that's history now. And Henry will have many more chances to poke the ball with his hand while he's sitting on bench watching football.
Player to watch: Despite France's issues in qualifying, they boast a world class array of talent throughout their squad. It's a shame that Coach Raymond Domenech seems to have no idea how to put a team together. While it's obvious and easy to pick a Nicholas Anelka, Franck Ribery or Henry, I'll put on my Man United colours and say that Patrice Evra is the man to watch. If he can get forward and create the overlap on the wing, it will create space for the attackers to potentially run amok.
Unpredictable: Let's face it; the French are a total mess. A collection of mercurial personalities together with a mad professor for a coach. However, there can be no denying their talent. If they can put it together out!

VERDICT: Definitely Uruguay and France through to the second round. No doubt about it

Group B

Hand of God: After years on under-achievement, Argentina's football federation bit the bullet and introduced the walking deity Diego Maradona as the new head coach. It is quite possible that no sportsman, in fact no man, is loved in his own country as much as Diego is adored. Despite all of his issues and indiscretions, he is idolised. However, he's not a great coach. Or even a good coach. The Argies struggled to qualify, even though they have arguably the best player in the world in Leo Messi, and a support cast that is the envy of almost every footballing nation. Maradona is fortunate that Argentina lie in a fairly easy group, with Nigeria, Greece and South Korea standing in their way. This should give his charges enough time to play themselves into form and scare the sh#t out of their second round opponents.
Player to watch: It has to be Leo Messi, who this season stamped his claim to being the world's best player. His form for Barcelona was beyond dynamic. If his season's form were to be translated to a computer game, he'd be set on 'Professional' level with his opponents listed as 'Amateurs'.
Send them off: Although the Latinos are well known for their flair and flamboyance, the Argy Bargies hold a few undesirable records in World Cup history including: only player sent off from the bench (the lovable Claudio Caniggia versus Sweden in 2002); most sending’s off in a final; most cautions all time for a team; most sending offs all time for a team and the longest player suspension (the aforementioned Maradona - 15 months for doping).

Ebony and Ivory: Nigeria's coach is Swedish!!! Try spotting him at the team meeting.
Player to watch: For the past two decades the Nigerians have been blessed with some very talented footballers. In my opinion the well is running dry. John Obi Mikel has withdrawn due to injury. I think his back is sore after carrying the sack full’s of cash that Roman A is paying him. So I'm going old school with this one and call out Nwankwo Kanu. Firstly because he's got to be about 53 years old now, and secondly, because I just love his first name.
What's in a name?: It's not just Kanu that has me in stitches...I'm also a big fan of Danny Shittu!!! Maybe he's an omen for how the team will perform.

I still can't believe
: Greece won the European Championship in 2004. A team so limited in almost every element of football won a major championship. It defies belief, and proves that the Sporting God's do have a sense of humour. Look for the God's to ensure that order is restored in South Africa and the Slovakia's wrap it up and are taken away early.
Player to watch: Theofanis Gekas. 20 goals in 47 games for the national team, including 10 in their World Cup qualifying campaign. He knows how to find the back of the net.
Prediction: If Greece wins a game, watch for the daily news networks to show hilarious footage of a bunch of excitable Hellenic's in Brighton-La-Sands and Melbourne jumping up and down like a bunch of yahoos.

South Korea
Perennial participants: This is now familiar territory for the South Koreans, who are competing at their eighth World Cup.
Player to watch: Definitely Kim. That could be Kim Young-Kwang, Kim Dong-Jin, Kim Hyung-Il, Kim Nam-Il, Kim Jung-Woo, Kim Jae-Sung, Kim Bo-Kyung. Safe bet that at least one Kim is going to have a good tournament.
Total football: After three consecutive Dutchmen (Advocaat, Hiddink and Verbeek) at the helm, South Korea has a local coach again in Huh Jung-Moo. It's safe to say he's learnt a few things from his Orange masters, losing only 5 matches in his 39 in charge.

VERDICT: Argentina to go through and I like South Korea to join them

Group C

Best known for: A totally delusional belief that they are a world class team who can actually win every tournament they qualify for. While England has some real talent, with 1.5 world class players (more on that shortly), they are a far cry from the likes of Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina in football's pecking order.
Player to watch: Most would say Wayne Rooney, especially after his emergence as a world beater for both club and country this season. However, I know what Rooney will offer. The X-factor for England is Steven Gerrard. He is the half a world class player I alluded to earlier. There is no questioning his talent. But his form this season has been patchy at best. If he can replicate his club form of a couple of seasons ago in this tournament, England could make the semi finals.
Safe bet: Whether they make the second round, quarter final, semi final or...dare I say it...the final, it's a safe bet that England will lose in a penalty shoot out. Even Fabio Capello can't coach against that one.

Surprise, surprise
: Although football runs a distance fifth behind baseball, American football, basketball and ice hockey in the domestic pecking order, USA are currently ranked 12th in the FIFA rankings (albeit they are a joke), and are competing in their ninth Cup competition (including the last five in a row).
Player to watch: Landon Donovan. 123 caps. 42 goals. Immeasurable experience. Excellent form with Everton this season. If the Stars and Stripes are any hope of shaking things up, Donovan has to pull the strings.
Interesting fact: The youngest player to captain a team in the World Cup is America's Tony Meola (in 1990) at 21 years and 109 days old.

Struggling: The team isn't struggling. I'm struggling. Do I really know anything about Algeria as a footballing nation? Not really. I'll let you Google something.
Player to watch: Has to be Yazid Mansouri. He's their captain and most capped player with 67 caps. That's got to count for something. Right?
Still struggling: I guess I could let you know that their nickname is Les Fennecs (the Desert Foxes). It's still better than Socceroos!!!

Surprise package
: Beat out Poland and the Czech Republic to finish second in their qualifying group, and then proceeded to outplay Russia over two legs in the knockout stage.
Player to watch: Milivoje Novakovic. 16 goals in 38 games in the drab green of the Slovene national team. And I'm not going to mention the fact that his name would indicate he should be representing another former Yugoslav republic that's present in the tournament.
Chances: In what has to be one of the easiest groups in the Cup, Slovenia has a legitimate chance to qualify for the second round. Assuming Slovenia and USA both lose to England and beat could amount to a showdown between the two teams for the second spot. And with Slovenia's impressive qualifying form, I rate them a good chance.

VERDICT: England must still be jumping with joy that they scored three crappy opponents. Slovenia through as well

Group D

Best known for
: Being the dark horse. Not a single major tournament goes by without the footballing fraternity calling Serbia (formerly Serbia and Montenegro, formerly Yugoslavia) a dark horse for the tournament. No-one has ever questioned the quality of talent produced by this Balkan powerhouse. Names like Stojkovic, Sekularac, Dzajic, Petrovic, and Savicevic are well respected. The current crop, led by Nemanja Vidic and Dejan Stankovic, are no less talented. It's just a question of their mentality...which is more fragile than the Greek economy.
Player to watch: Vidic. The rock at the heart of Manchester United's defense is also the rock that the Serbs build their team around. Serbia entered the 2006 World Cup on the back of the best defensive record in qualifying. Vidic withdrew through injury, and the Serbs proceeded to capitulate (there's that mental frailty). Vidic is the key man to a confident Serb outfit.
First timers: Despite an impressive World Cup record (twice semi finalist and three time quarter finalist) under the guise of Yugoslavia, this is Serbia's first ever appearance as an independent nation. I'm hoping now that the millstones that are Brotherhood & Unity and Montenegro have been removed, Serbia is ready to strike. NAPRED SRBIJA!!!

Gary Lineker: The England great once famously said "Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball...and in the end Germany always wins". That about sums it up.
Player to watch: Bastian Schweinsteiger. And not just because he's got 'pork' in his surname. A running machine with a powerful shot, he can be the key to creating the space needed for Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm to stamp their authority.
Penalties please: The Germans feature in 6 World Cup records featuring penalty shoot-outs, including: Most shoot-out wins and most successful penalty kicks all time for a team. The moral of the story is...don't take them to penalties. Unlike their English counterparts, these guys don't buckle under pressure.

Time for a change: I appreciate tradition, but also feel sometimes a change is a good thing. As far as the Socceroos name is concerned, I'm voting for the latter. What are the other options? Maybe p#ss off both Aussie Rules and the Rugby League and call them the Footyroos!!! Just kidding.
Player to watch: Harry Kewell or Tim Cahill? I can't separate them. Both are required to excel if Australia is to repeat their performance from 2006 and exit the group stage. However with Kewell underdone and Cahill under an injury cloud, the forecast is bleak.
He's no Guus: All credit to Pim Verbeek for leading the qualifying campaign and successfully taking Australia back to the World Cup. I just don't think he's got the tactical nuance to follow in Guus Hiddink's footsteps and get the team to the next round. Hiddink has no fear of switching tactics between games, or even mid-game when required. And he held no fear of telling the team to push forward and look for the win. While I appreciate Pim's perspective that our striking options are limited...there is plenty of attacking potency in Kewell, Cahill, Bresciano, Emerton etc. It's the World Cup Pim. Time to put your balls on the line.

Put a fork in them: I was legitimately scared of Ghana leading into the Cup. Then Michael Essien pulled out with injury. That's their campaign down the toilet. Game over, good night, thanks for coming, hope you enjoyed the show.
Player to watch: With Essien out, the burden will fall on the experienced shoulders of Stephen Appiah to lead the Black Stars.
Useless fact: Ghana is the youngest team in the World Cup at an average age of 24 years and 9 months.

VERDICT: Australia can't repeat 2006 success. Germany and Serbia to progress

Part 2 of the Idiot's Guide, featuring Group's E - H to follow shortly.