World Cup Overview: Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia
Defending Champions Italy will not impress in qualifying, but qualify they will. With old hands like Buffon in goal, Cannavero and Gattuso in defence, De Rossi and Pirlo in midfield, and Laquinta up front, Italy has the class to go through to the next round. But their problem is exactly in the word "old". Soccer players, with the exception of goalkeepers, generally have their best years between the ages of 25 and 30. Italy has no less than seven field players on the squad who are over 30.
On a given day the canny Italian team can defeat any team in the world. Gianluigi Buffon was the best goalkeeper in the world in 2006. His form has been in question lately. If he can reproduce his 2006 form, Italy can go far in this tournament.
Only two teams in the tournament are ranked lower than the Kiwis (hosts South Africa and North Korea). They were embarrassed by Spain at the Confederations Cup last year but performed respectably after that. Subsequently they have had some success, including a surprise victory over Serbia. The "All Whites" rely on Ryan Nelsen at the back and Chris Killen up front.
If 19-year old Chris Wood emerges as a superstar, perhaps New Zealand can go on to the Round of 16. Well, no... actually they won't but Wood will become a transfer target for the big English clubs.
Paraguay finished third in qualifying in South America and have the potential to do well in the tournament. A number of players are holdovers from the 2006 tournament and they definitely have the quality to get to the second round. Top level players like Oscar Cordozo, Edgar Barreto and Roque Santa Cruz have the potential to take Paraguay into the round of 16. The big question for the team is whether they can overcome the blow of losing Salvador Cabanas (shot in the head) who led team in scoring in qualifying.
Paraguay lacks really top level defenders. Paraguay will have to rely on Roque Santa Cruz to make up for a relatively weak defence.
Slovakia qualified in a moderately strong group. They faced tough challenges from the Czech Republic, Poland and of course the surprising Slovenian team. A well organized team they have a number of players in the top flight of European soccer including Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, and Miroslav Stoch. Stanislav Stestak provides striking ability up front.
If Martin Skrtel can hold the back line together, Slovakia has a real chance to go through.
Italy will finish first, though if you get good odds betting on them to finish second would not be unwise. The fight should be for second place. Defense trumps attack. Paraguay will not be able to overcome the loss of Cabanas so Slovakia should go through with Paraguay third. Will New Zealand match Canada's achievement of not scoring a goal in the tournament?