by Timmy Espozito
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Group C stands out as the "group of death" in this World Cup. Argentina and the Netherlands are two giants of World Cup history and it would be a shock for either to miss out on the knockout rounds. At 13/2 odds to win the cup, Argentina is as powerful as ever, while The Netherlands, at 12/1 odds, complete the most highly-ranked twosome to face off in an opening group. FIFA's world rankings also have the Dutch and Argentineans at Nos. 3 and 4 in the world. Their meeting, a rematch of 1978's final, which Argentina won on its home turf, and 1998's round of 16 match, which Holland won via a Dennis Bergkamp golden goal, should be another classic. Both sides are fast-paced, offensively minded teams who have a brilliant batch of young talent that appears to be emerging just in time for World Cup glory.
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The Netherlands shocked everyone by failing to qualify for World Cup 2002, so this appearance will be extra special for Manchester United's top striker Ruud van Nistelrooij and Bayern Munich's Roy Makaay, who will finally get a chance to shine on the World Cup stage. Edgar Davids and Phillip Cocu are some of the notable veterans left from the Dutch semifinal squad of 1998, a team that lost a brilliantly played game against Brazil on penalty kicks.
However, the Dutch look especially dangerous in Germany due to an emerging crop of young talent that can complement its seasoned core. Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Ryan Babel are all in their early 20s and have the flexibility to be midfielders, wingers and forwards. While Holland doesn't play Total Football to quite the degree that brought it two consecutive second-place finishes in the 70s, the "Clockwork Orange" still plays a fluid, attacking brand of soccer that always makes for great spectator sport. Holland's only major trophy came in Germany during Euro 88, so seeing if it can finally win a World Cup again on the soil of their biggest rivals will be another plotline to follow.
Argentina is, of course, another legendary team that is the winner of two World Cup titles in 1978 and 1986. However, this team has not gotten past the quarterfinals since 1990, and its failure to advance out of 2002's 'group of death' behind England and Sweden has Argentina determined to not let its nation's passion down again. A tough draw has Argentina facing a 'group of death' once again, but oddsmakers fully foresee a team that will advance. Hernan Crespo is at strong 14/1 odds to be the top goal scorer of the World Cup, and he is complemented by a strong crop of young players up front such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero, who were members of Argentina's winning World Youth Championship side last year.
Serbia and the Ivory Coast hope to make this group live up to its billing, and the oddsmakers clearly see both of these teams as powerful, with Serbia at 17/2 and the Ivory Coast at just 9/1 odds to beat everyone and win Group C outright. No game will be easy for any team here, which can mean goal differential tie-breakers may play a role on who advances and who goes home early. Serbia and Montenegro (the country formerly known as Yugoslavia) boasts the stingiest defense in all of European qualifying rounds with just one goal conceded in ten fixtures. This could make for an intriguing clash of styles against both Holland and Argentina. The Netherlands was also Yugoslavia's last World Cup opponent, taking down that strong side, 2-1, in France 98's round of 16.
The French-speaking nation of Côte d'Ivoire - or Ivory Coast, known as "The Elephants", are making their debut splash in World Cup final play via an upset of traditional African power Cameroon in qualifying play. However, they are no fluke, but rather a rising talent spotlighting the increasing depth of African football. Bodog has Ivory Coast as the highest rated African side with 85/1 odds to win the World Cup. Chelsea's Didier Drogba will be the biggest threat, a striker that ignites a pitch with the pace and flare we've come to expect from African football. If Les Éléphants can win some games, they're bound to provide a great deal of buzz at this World Cup, much like Cameroon's run to the quarterfinals in 1990. With the 2010 World Cup upcoming to South Africa, A strong performance here in the group of death may send signals of bigger things still to come four years down the road.