Group D Preview

Portugal, Mexico, Angola, Iran

This is a group that’ll probably generate more stories on politics than what happens out on the pitch. It looks like a fairly easy group to call, and every bookie will tell you it is just that. Both Angola and Iran are given short shrift. I can’t understand how Mexico garners so much respect, though. And Portugal, while filling up the pitch with stars, has usually been average at best.

I guess it’s their mediocre play that keeps people from talking much about Portugal winning this World Cup. They shouldn’t be fooled by that. Scolari cleverly has had them generally play like rubbish to keep expectations low. This is the team that made the finals of Euro 2004, after all. He is a great coach, England has just unsuccessfully tried to lure him to replace Ericksson. Portugal is also a great team. Figo is in his last Cup, but is still useful. Pauleta is verging on greatness. The very annoying Christiano Ronaldo, is a bit too cute at times, but there’s loads of talent underneath all that silliness–as much as I hate to admit it. They are, by far, the class of this group and should win it in a walk.

That doesn’t mean this is an uninteresting group. Mexico is given far too much credit. They have racked up a couple impressive victories lately over both Argentina and Brazil, no less, but I’m still not sold. They pin their ears back and attack from the opening whistle on. They will score a lot with strikers Jaime Lozano, Francisco Fonseca, and Jared Borgetti. But I still think they’re closer to the other two teams in the group than they are to a Portugal. Any team the US regularly handles with ease can’t be considered too frightening, but they’ll likely just get through.

Iran is certainly frightening enough, but not because of their soccer talent. They’ve only ever won one match in the World Cup (a 2-1 victory over the US), and if they win any this time around none of their women will witness it. As a country, they don’t play against very strong competition, but they have a decent young team. An intangible is the fact that 4 of their players play their club football in Germany, including their star Ali Karimi, so that‘s probably more like playing in the comforts of home than playing in Iran would be.

Angola plays their former colonizers, Portugal, in the first match. Needless to say Angola hates them, and matches between the two tend to be brutal–though Portugal always ends up trouncing them. Their best player, Pedro Mantorras, plays for Benfica in Portugal. They’re a nice story, their war ravaged country making its first World Cup appearance, but they aren’t quite World Class.

As long as Portugal shake out of their doldrums and play as they’re capable, they’ll win this group very easily, and with a little luck could go the distance. Mexico is the other likely choice to go through, but look for them to struggle more than they should once again. Any win by either of the other teams will be considered a huge accomplishment, but either could steal one from Mexico and another from the other.