by Trevor Whenham
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Group G is a mixed bag. On one side you have a team, France, which should win the group easily if it can manage to play to its potential. That has been easier said than done for les Bleus since 2000, though. On the other side you have three teams in South Korea, Switzerland and Togo that will most likely be fighting for second place, but will have to play much better than anyone expects them to if they want to make an impact in the second round and beyond.
For the last few years of the last century no team in the world was playing better than France. It won the World Cup in 1998, and then showed everyone that it was no fluke by winning the European Championships in 2000. The six years since then have been forgettable, to say the least. Les Bleus went into 2002 as a favorite to win it all again, but failed to score a single goal and went home winless. A loss to Senegal was the low point. France did better at Euro 2004, but still went home earlier than expected after losing in the quarterfinals to tournament cinderellas Greece.
Stars like Zinedine Zidane left the team but have since returned, though they may be past their prime. Coach Raymond Domenech was brought on after the Euro 2004 disappointment and is charged with maximizing the team's talent. France qualified first in their group, but it didn't start well with 0-0 draws to Ireland, Switzerland and twice to Israel. Still, this team has much more depth than anyone else in the group. France just has to play together and find a way to score some goals. The French are 2/5 to win the group at Bodog, so the oddsmakers think that they will.
Though you wouldn't immediately think it, South Korea is Asia's most successful soccer country. It is the team's sixth consecutive World Cup, though 2002 was the first time it escaped the first round. It made the most of it, though, by ending up fourth in the biggest surprise of the tournament. The team will have to play at the best of its ability if it even wants to come close to replicating that run. It didn't play its best in qualifying, finishing second to Saudi Arabia (which is 750-1 odds to win the World Cup).
A key to the 2002 victory was coach and master motivator Guus Hiddink, the former Dutch coach who is managing Australia this year. The Koreans must be hoping that it was his nationality that made the difference, because Dick Advocaat, another former Dutch coach, is at the helm this time around. South Korea is 200-1 to win it all, but just 10-1 to win the group.
Switzerland was a very good team up until the 1950s. It has been downhill since then. 1994 was the only time since 1966 that it made the World Cup, though it did make it into the second round. The team celebrated making it into the tournament this time by having a massive brawl against Turkey following their playoff game. It is a young and quick team, though it remains to be seen how it will stand up under pressure. Bookmakers have Switzerland listed as the second choice in the group at 125-1 to win the World Cup and 9/2 to win Group G.
Togo is a longshot that seems outclassed in its first World Cup. France should be concerned, because that is exactly what Senegal looked like in 2002. Perhaps more than any other team in the tournament, Togo's fate rests on the performance of one player. Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor was at his best in qualifying play and the team made it through fairly easily. Before the African Cup of Nations started, though, Adebayor fought with coach Otto Pfister and spent the whole tournament throwing temper tantrums. The team self-destructed, failing to get a single point. If he can't keep his mind on the goal at the World Cup, it could be a short tournament. Even if he plays his best it likely won't be enough. They are 350-1 at Bodog and several experts have argued that that might not be high enough.