Three contenders, two tickets
Group G appears the toughest section. Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire and Portugal have all stated their aim is to win the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup™. One of them – or two, if Korea DPR can evoke a colossal shock – will miss out on a place in the Round of 16. Enhancing the section's appeal is the three heavyweights' penchant for flair, which can be taken for granted given that Kaka, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo, among others, will be parading their genius. We can look forward to 540 minutes of engrossing football.
The favouritesBrazil: The record five-time world champions have regained their unique, irresistible groove under Dunga's tutelage. They will head to South Africa as the Copa America and FIFA Confederations Cup holders as well as the top-ranked in South American qualifying. In Julio Cesar, Brazil have one of the game's best goalkeepers; in Kaka, they have one of its best players. With the likes of Maicon, Robinho and Luis Fabiano complementing them, A Seleção will kick off this examining section as the team to beat.
Portugal: Carlos Queiroz's side may have only scraped through to the finals via a play-off victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the Africa-born coach has copious talent at his disposal. Much of it will come from Cristiano Ronaldo, a player capable of swinging any match. The likely presence in the Portugal squad of Brazil-born players Pepe, Deco and Liedson will be an intriguing subplot to the meeting between A Selecção das Quinas and A Seleção.
The outsidersCôte d'Ivoire: The Ivorians proved themselves a force to be reckoned with at Germany 2006, when they gave Argentina and the Netherlands serious cause for concern in narrow defeats, before returning home on a high following a defeat of Serbia and Montenegro. The Elephants have, indubitably, come on leaps and bounds since. With the likes of Kolo Toure, his brother Yaya, Solomon Kalou and hulking forward Drogba they coasted through to South Africa 2010 without a single defeat and will look to cement their reputation as a formidable side by reaching the knockout phase.
Korea DPR: The Chollima caused a major shock simply by qualifying for South Africa. They will need a significantly bigger one to reach the Round of 16. Belying the odds is not, however, alien to the North Koreans, who pulled off one of the most colossal upsets in FIFA World Cup history by beating Italy 1-0 en route to the quarter-finals in 1966, where they lost 5-3 to Portugal in a thrilling game. Prolific forward Jong Tae-Se appears to be Korea DPR's best hope of stunning the football world once again.
The players to watchKaka (BRA), Luis Fabiano (BRA), Cristiano Ronaldo (POR), Liedson (POR), Didier Drogba (CIV), Jong Tae-Se (PRK)
The crunch matchCôte d'Ivoire-Portugal: Brazil will be expected to win Group G. Korea DPR will be the overwhelming favourites to finish bottom. Therefore, the section's opening game, between the Ivorians and the Portuguese at Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, could well determine which of this pair advances and which suffers first-round elimination.
A look backBrazil and Portugal have won one game apiece in their previous two meetings. The Europeans inflicted a first defeat upon Dunga as Seleção coach, winning 2-0 in London in February 2007, before Brazil beat their rivals 6-2 in a November 2008 thriller.
The stat44 – The number of years that will have passed, by the time South Africa 2010 kicks off, since Brazil last failed to progress beyond the first phase. A 3-1 defeat by Portugal in their final group game at England 1966 condemned A Seleção to an early exit.
The questionsDo you consider Group G to be the toughest pool? Which two teams will progress from it? Which players will illuminate it?