World Cup run looks set to intensify

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pretoria - All eyes are on Italy, Paraguay, Netherlands, Japan, Cameroon and Denmark as group stage matches of the FIFA World Cup continue this afternoon.

Defending champions Italy will no doubt be looking to overpower Gerardo Martino's Paraguay when the two teams lock horns in their Group F match at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium tonight.

World number four Netherlands takes on Denmark, ranked 36th, at Soccer City Stadium in what is expected to be an exciting Group E encounter.

Having put together their best ever qualification campaign, Paraguay are entitled to think big in this World Cup.

Under the guidance of Argentina's Martino, the current Albirroja crop look to have what it takes to build on the progress made by their predecessors at France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002, where the Paraguayans reached the Round of 16 before being knocked out by France and Germany respectively.

With a pool of stars at his disposal, Martino can call on the services of several internationally renowned players, most of whom play their club football in Mexico and Europe. And while the side is sprinkled with proven performers in every area, the Paraguayans' biggest names can be found up front.

Italy, on the other hand will, understandably, fight with all it has to protect its image as world number five.

The only country along with Brazil to have won the tournament twice in succession, Marcello Lippi's men will be vying to match the performance of their pioneering predecessors in 1934 and 1938.

Billed for a number of years now as one of the finest goalkeepers on the planet, at 31 Gianluigi Buffon remains one of the two pillars of the Italian defence.

His spectacular reflexes to keep out a Zinedine Zidane header in extra time during the 2006 Final, illustrated just why he has an undisputed claim on the gloves.

Hosts of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Japan will naturally be doing everything to avoid an early exit in this year's world cup.

But Japanese coach Okada is well aware that it would be na«ve of him to under-estimate African underdogs Cameroon. The top African nation in FIFA rankings, Cameroon also brings Africa's richest pedigree to this year's world cup show piece.

They have appeared at continental-best five times in the World Cup, and no other African side has yet eclipsed their historic run to the Italy 1990 quarter-finals - though Senegal equaled the achievement in 2002.

While the country have not managed to advance past the group stage in three "finals" appearances since then, their long road to the 2010 World Cup has forged considerable momentum behind what many Cameroonians are hoping is the right mix of players, and a new generation of Roger Millas and Francois Omam-Biyiks.

With both South Africa and Ghana having set the pace, all eyes will now be on the Indomitable Lions to make Africa proud.

The match between the two sides kicks-off at 4pm Mangaung.