World Cup Group F Preview, Predictions, Fixtures

Group F Odds: Italy 1.50; Paraguay 3.50; Slovakia 8.00; New Zealand 41.00
Group F Schedule: Italy v Paraguay, Cape Town, June 14, 8.30pm
New Zealand v Slovakia, Rustenburg, June 15, 1.30pm
Slovakia v Paraguay, Bloemfontein, June 20, 1.30pm
Italy v New Zealand, Nelspruit, June 20, 4pm
Slovakia v Italy, Johannesburg, June 24, 4pm
Paraguay v New Zealand, Polokwane, 8.30pm
*All times local [ad#as3]

Group F Teams:
Italy: Salvatore Bocchetti; Leonardo Bonucci; Gianluigi Buffon; Fabio Cannavaro; Mauro Camoranesi; Giorgio Chiellini; Domenico Criscito; Daniele De Rossi; Antonio Di Natale; Morgan De Sanctis; Gennaro Gattuso; Alberto Gilardino; Vincenzo Iaquinta; Christian Maggio; Federico Marchetti; Claudio Marchisio; Riccardo Montolivo; Angelo Palombo; Giampaolo Pazzini; Simone Pepe; Andrea Pirlo; Fabio Quagliarella; Gianluca Zambrotta.

Paraguay: Antolin Alcaraz; Diego Barreto; Edgar Barreto; Lucas Barrios; Edgar Benitez; Aldo Bobadilla; Carlos Bonet; Julio Cesar Caceres; Victor Caceres; Denis Caniza; Oscar Cardozo; Roque Santa Cruz; Rodolfo Gamarra; Nestor Ortigoza; Cristian Riveros; Claudio Morel; Rodriguez Jonathan; Santana Paulo da Silva; Aureliano Torres; Nelson Haedo Valdez; Enrique Vera; Dario Veron; Justo Villar.

New Zealand: James Bannatyne; Andy Barron; Leo Bertos; Andy Boyens; Jeremy Brockie; Tim Brown; Jeremy Christie; Aaron Clapham; Simon Elliott; Rory Fallon; Chris Killen; Tony Lochhead; Michael McGlinchey; Glen Moss; David Mulligan; Ryan Nelsen; Mark Paston; Winston Reid; Ben Sigmund; Shane Smeltz; Tommy Smith; Ivan Vicelich; Chris Wood.

Slovakia: Marek Cech; Jan Durica; Marek Hamsik; Filip Holosko; Martin Jakubko; Erik Jendrisek; Kamil Kopunek; Jan Kozak; Dusan Kuciak; Juraj Kucka; Jan Mucha; Peter Pekarik; Martin Petras; Kornel Salata; Marek Sapara; Stanislav Sestak; Martin Skrtel; Jan Mucha; Dusan Pernis; Miroslav Stoch; Zdenko Strba; Robert Vittek; Vladimir Weiss; Radoslav Zabavnik.

Group F Predictions:

Ron Patel: All eyes are on Italy in this group. Italy’s average age isn’t too much different from 2006, but some serious creative spark is missing, especially with Andrea Pirlo injured for the time being. Understandably boss Marcello Lippi avoided picking troublemaker Mario Balotelli, but he should have included the somewhat reformed Antonio Cassano. Unlike Spain, Brazil, Argentina, England and Germany, Italy thus lacks a star front man. Paraguay has serious weapons up front – Lucas Barrios, Oscar Cardozo and Roque Santa Cruz, who has the chance to make up for a dismal, injury-filled season at Manchester City. Slovakia won its qualifying group and can’t be discounted, while the Kiwis will be lucky to get a point. Italy and Paraguay to advance, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Italy fails to progress.

Frank Finnegan: This is a rather fortunate group for what looks to be a weakened Italian squad, highlighted by New Zealand, quite possibly the worst side in the tournament, and a solid if unspectacular Slovakia. Paraguay is the other player in this group, and gets to face Italy in their first match, which historically is the best time to catch them in the World Cup. I’m tempted to pick Paraguay to win the group, but I’ll stay with conventional wisdom and say the Italians will find a way to win this group, with Paraguay second. I see them both going out in the round of 16, however.

Greg Neville:
The crucial match of this group is Slovakia v Paraguay in Bloemfontein on June 20. Otherwise pencil the defending champions Italy through and don’t expect much from Oceania qualifiers New Zealand. The thing to watch for in the New Zealand games might be a few standout performances in lopsided clashes. The majority of the All Whites ply their trade in the A-League (Australia and New Zealand) and have done well to get to South Africa by beating Bahrain in a two-leg playoff. Kiwi striker Shane Smeltz and co. should grab the chance of a lifetime to showcase their skills to the world on sport’s grandest stage. When the draw first came out I picked Slovakia, playing in its first major tournament as an independent nation, to advance ahead of Paraguay (by coin toss) … I’ll stick with that for now.

Peter Howard: Going from the bottom up, the Kiwis are in a very unfortunate situation. It’s very possible goal differential will play a huge roll in deciding this group, and that means there will be incentive to run up the score on New Zealand. The Rossi-less Azzurri will get through, likely with nine points. Slovakia and Paraguay will be battling for that second spot, and both will look to pile on against New Zealand. Slovakia will do as an insurance policy, and Paraguay can do so knowing exactly where it stands in the final match of group stage. The defensive toughness that Paraguay showed in its impressive qualifying run will push them into the Round of 16.

Alex Michaels: At first glance, it looked like the Italians would cruise through this group at a canter, but their opening match against Paraguay will be a difficult test for the defending champions and could prove to be a banana skin. There’s usually a shock in store at the start of a World Cup, and the South Americans had a highly impressive qualifying campaign, amassing 30 points for the first time and defeating Argentina to seal their berth in South Africa. Poor old New Zealand has been written off by pretty much everyone, and I’m afraid I can’t really find a cause to argue against them. Striker Chris Killen may well have put his honeymoon on hold, but his new bride won’t have to wait much longer for him to come home. The Slovaks, despite a solid defence led by Liverpool’s Martin Skrtl, I fear will be joining the Kiwis by going out at the first hurdle, and expect the Italians to go through despite an early scare.


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