Italy might be the 2006 World Cup champions and one of the favourites for this tournament, but it will be playing without a recognised number 10 player, a Roberto Baggio or Francesco Totti-type and midfield orchestrator Andrea Pirlo has injured himself in a recent friendly. Much depends on coach Marcello Lippis ability to bring the best out of his team and tactical brilliance to break down opposing defences.
Paraguay had an impressive campaign during its qualifying group finishing only one point behind leader Brazil. After looking at Italys issues and the strength of Slovakia and New Zealand, the team would really fancy its chances to even steal the top spot. Another plus point is that its players already have valuable experience in earlier World Cups.
Slovakia can boast an equally eye-catching run during qualifying, finishing as surprise winners of a tricky group containing Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Northern Ireland. What works against it is that South Africa will be its first-ever World Cup tournament, and coach Vladimir Weiss will have to make sure the players are not overawed by Italy and Paraguay.
On the one hand, New Zealand will be glad that its biggest rival, and obstacle, in its regional qualifying group, Australia, managed to switch itself into the Asian group, leaving the path clear. On the other, the team has to be applauded for being able to overcome play-off opponent Bahrain. The team should feel that its high-intensity direct play can surprise its group opponents.
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