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    World Cup Group of Death Set to Play Openers

    Parke Brewer

    The teams in World Cup Group G, the so-called "Group of Death" begin play Tuesday in South Africa.

    After the draw for every World Cup tournament that places the 32 teams into eight groups of four, one is always labeled, by media and fans alike, the Group of Death.  That means it includes at least three, and sometimes four, highly regarded teams that figure to make it to the second round.  But only two teams from each group after round-robin play qualify for the second round.

    The consensus Group of Death for this World Cup in South Africa is Group G, which includes five-time champion and world number-one Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast, and North Korea.

    As always, Brazil has great talent and depth and enters each World Cup as one of the favorites.  And Brazil is on familiar turf, having won the Confederations Cup played last year in South Africa.

    Ivory Coast's fate could hinge on the physical condition of Africa's greatest star, striker Didier Drogba, who has won three English Premier League titles with Chelsea.  It was a big blow to Ivory Coast when he recently broke his forearm during practice.  But he was back to doing some light training Sunday and his appearance would not be unprecedented.

    Teammate Kolo Toure said Ivory Coast knows the challenge it faces in this group.

    "We will try to do everything to make life really, really difficult for those three teams," said Kolo Toure. "You know, because for us we have some young, good players and we have a good generation of footballer, and we have a great manager and we are working really hard."

    Portugal reached the World Cup semifinals in Germany four years ago and is hoping to do even better this time.  The Portuguese are led by Cristiano Ronaldo, the highest paid football player in the world, who has won three Premier League titles with Manchester United as well as a Champions League crown.  Since he did not perform up to expectations in qualifying, he will be looking to make up for that.

    Portugal's opening match against Ivory Coast could be the pivotal game in Group G, with the winner likely to join Brazil in the second round.

    Ronaldo said that is all he is thinking about.

    "We have to focus on the first game," said Ronaldo. "I think that is the most important.  After that we will see what happens.  You know if we win two games in the group maybe we will pass into the next round.  So we are focused on the first game.  We have to win."

    The fourth team in Group G, North Korea, is the unknown factor.  Its only other World Cup appearance was back in 1966 in England, surprisingly reaching the quarterfinals.  The North Koreans rely on tight defense and counterattacking.  They yielded only seven goals in 16 qualifying games.  But they open the tournament against Brazil.

    Even if a team gets out of this most difficult group, it is no guarantee of success.  Only one team from the so-called Group of Death in the last five World Cups has advanced past the quarterfinals.

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