|Breaking down Group G|
|By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor|
|Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - |
Considered to be this World Cup's "Group of Death," Group G features two of the world's three top-ranked teams - Brazil and Portugal - as well as a dangerous dark horse in the Ivory Coast and a relative mystery team in North Korea.
That was until Friday, June 4, when the Ivory Coast went from real contender to also-ran as striker and captain Didier Drogba broke his arm in a friendly, ending his World Cup.
This is not the usual Brazil team we have become accustomed to seeing, with plenty of flair and a free-flowing style. Manager Dunga has instead opted for a more defensive approach that has so far produced good results.
Brazil captured the 2007 Copa America championship and also won last summer's Confederations Cup in South Africa before finishing on top of its qualifying group in South America.
Dunga left out popular players like Ronaldinho, Pato and Adriano, leaving Kaka to handle much of the playmaking duties in midfield, but a defense anchored by goalkeeper Julio Cesar and defenders Lucio and Maicon will be just as important.
Portugal enters the World Cup as the third-ranked team in the world according to FIFA, but they certainly didn't look like it in qualifying as they finished behind Denmark in their group and needed to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina in a playoff just to reach the World Cup.
Much of Portugal's success will hinge on the play of Cristiano Ronaldo, who must carry the scoring load with some help from Nani and Deco.
The Ivory Coast was a trendy dark-horse pick prior to the draw, but after being put in such a difficult group, many have scaled back their expectations for manager Sven-Goran Eriksson's side.
And, with Drogba's injury they will have a tough time keeping up with both Brazil and Portugal due to a shaky defense and a sudden lack of firepower up top.
With no recognizable names on its roster and very little available information about the team, North Korea will rely on the element of surprise.
Game of the Group: Brazil vs. Portugal (June 25)
Both teams could conceivably be through to the next round with only the group winner to be decided, but the potential for an attractive offensive display would still be there.
The two teams are ranked in the top three in the world but Brazil is the more balanced of the two, while Portugal will hope that Ronaldo is at his brilliant best.
A second-place finish in the group could mean a second-round matchup with Spain, something that both would like to avoid.
Player to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Luis Figo was unable to capture that elusive World Cup title for Portugal as part of the country's golden generation, and now it is Ronaldo's turn to take his shot.
He is only 25 but has already been named FIFA World Player of the Year and won a number of titles during his time at Manchester United, including the Champions League in 2008, before moving to Real Madrid.
However, his performances for Portugal have been underwhelming as he failed to score in seven qualification games and couldn't guide the team past the quarterfinals of Euro 2008.
There are not a lot of good scoring options on this team, so if Ronaldo is not in top form, Portugal won't go very far.
Breakout Player: Salomon Kalou (Ivory Coast)
He is not an unknown quantity after featuring regularly for Chelsea in the English Premiership, but this summer's tournament will give Kalou a chance to show his true class in the absence of Drogba.
At Chelsea, Kalou is overshadowed by other stars like Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka, but he will need to step up and carry the scoring load for his country, something he is not asked to do at Chelsea.
Kalou scored 12 goals in all competitions for the Blues this past season and his pace and versatility will be very much needed if the Ivory Coast is going to have any chance at moving on.
Group Winner: Brazil
They may not be as entertaining as usual, but Brazil will still get the results they need from a tough group. Games with both the Ivory Coast and Portugal could be exciting affairs, but Brazil is a more balanced team and will do enough to finish on top.
Second Place: Portugal
Prior to Drogba's injury, second place in the group appeared to be up for grabs between Portugal and the Ivory Coast. But with the Chelsea star out, Portugal will have enough to comfortably move into the next round.