Argentina has to contend with South Korea and Nigeria in Group B
Favourites: Argentina; Fancied: South Korea and Nigeria; Underdog: Greece
PARIS: All eyes will be on Group B in South Africa thanks to the presence in the Argentina dugout of one Diego Armando Maradona.
The star of the 1986 World Cup and one of the greatest players ever, the colourful and controversial 49-year-old is sure to attract his fair share of headlines in his new guise as national coach.
Having endured a turbulent qualifying campaign, Maradona has overseen a marked improvement since his side snatched a berth at the finals in its last qualifying game against Uruguay.
The impressive nature of its 1-0 friendly win in Germany in March prompted critics to reassess their pre-conceptions about Argentina's chances of success, while in European Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi it boasts the world's best player.
Guile and experience
The squad is also thick with guile and experience, despite the surprising omissions of Inter Milan pair Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso.
Argentina will face Greece, Nigeria and South Korea in the group phase.
Captain Javier Mascherano believes there will be no need to worry if the two-time champion doesn't click immediately.
“In the long run what really matters is not what the pundits say but how well you do during that month,” said the Liverpool holding midfielder.
Cut above the rest
“Spain and Brazil look a cut above the rest because they've both won trophies in the last couple of years, but experience tells me that the World Cup is won by the team that improves through the tournament, not necessarily the one who plays the best.”
Maradona, meanwhile, is confident that his team can go all the way.
“I tell my players that 30 days of sacrifice for the chance to kiss the World Cup is nothing in the life of a man,” he said.
“An achievement like that is like touching the sky. I played in four World Cups and reached two finals. I know what it takes.”
Overcoming slow start
South Korea, semifinalist on home soil in 2002, overcame a sluggish start under new coach Huh Jung-Moo but eventually qualified with two games to spare to reach its eighth finals — an Asian record.
“We were drawn in the so-called Group of Death in Asian qualifying and we made it through,” said Huh. “We believe we can do the job again in South Africa”.
Nigeria is not the force that captivated the world at the 1998 tournament, when players like Jay-Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh shone but in Joseph Yobo, John Mikel Obi and Obafemi Martins it possesses a steely spine.
Greece edged Ukraine by a single goal in its qualifying play-off after finishing behind Switzerland in European qualifying Group 2. — AFP