The role of friendlies

The friendlies that began last fortnight have had some shock verdicts and nothing exemplified this better than USA losing 2-4 to non-qualifier Czech Republic and Republic of Ireland putting it across qualifier Paraguay 2-1. Host Portugal's goalless draw with minnow Cape Verde, too, was a surprise outcome. Over to K. Keerthivasan.

Not much can be read into the results of the warm-up matches, or friendlies as they are called, before the 2010 football World Cup. They just give the coaches a chance to try out different permutations and combinations and come up with an idea of how best to use the resources at hand. The friendlies that began last fortnight have had some shock verdicts and nothing exemplified this better than USA losing 2-4 to non-qualifier Czech Republic and Republic of Ireland putting it across qualifier Paraguay 2-1. Host Portugal's goalless draw with minnow Cape Verde, too, was a surprise outcome.

USA coach Bob Bradley expectedly rested a number of his front-line players, including Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfielders Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Fulham's Clint Dempsey. Defenders Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit were still recuperating from injuries.

Bradley shuffled his available players and he admitted that he tried too much. “At times it was a little bit crazy and I think in the process of trying to put so much into it we at times left ourselves wide open,” he said. It was a great result for Ireland's coach Giovanni Trapattoni, who named the strongest line-up possible and was rewarded with his maiden win in six internationals. The Irish had failed to make the cut to South Africa after losing controversially in a two-legged play-off against France.

“We are happy to be here”: That Brazil has given so much joy to football fans all over the world is public knowledge. But when the Brazilian team landed in South Africa, there wasn't much of a welcome. Rather, it turned out to be a quiet entry for the five-time world champion.

“It's a joy to be in a World Cup and to be here in South Africa. Most importantly, the players feel the same way,” said Brazil's coach Dunga. “As we draw nearer to our first match, I'm sure some of the guys will be a bit anxious, but right now, we are just happy to be here.”

South Africa is not a new place for the Samba boys. It was here that they won the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup beating USA 3-2 in the final.

However, Dunga knows that the World Cup is different both in magnitude and grandeur. “We know what we are likely to encounter here. We experienced the same conditions during the Confederations Cup last year. We are here to compete for the World Cup, we know that our responsibility is to do well in this tournament. We are very motivated to do well and to fulfil our objectives.”

Defending the title, not easy: Only two countries — Brazil (1958 & '62) and Italy (1934 & '38) have won back to back World Cups. Everybody knows how difficult it is to win the prestigious Cup two successive times, and there is none better than Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to talk about the pressure of defending the title. The 32-year-old, who had an excellent 2006 World Cup, says it's not as easy as one thinks it is.

Italy won in Germany four years ago following a penalty shoot-out with France in the final, but Buffon said a repeat would be a very hard task. “We have less chance of retaining the World Cup than we had of winning it in 2006 because after winning, it becomes more difficult to repeat that,” he said. “But I have a lot of confidence because everyone, in particular the new-boys, is ready. Therefore we have the foundation necessary to make an impact at the World Cup, even if to win it you need many things to happen as well as luck.” The Italian team is scheduled to arrive in South Africa on June 9.

Fit and ready: Known for his astute defending, Algeria's star player Madjid Bougherra says he is fit and ready to play in the 2010 World Cup. He was affected towards the end of the Premier League season with a calf injury.

The 27-year-old said he'll certainly play his country's final warm-up game against UAE on June 5. Bougherra, who played just two matches for Rangers since February's Old Firm derby win, said in the Scottish Sun: “I am fine now and there will be no problem for the World Cup. There's no danger of me missing our opening game against Slovenia. I've had problems with the calf, but everything is good now. On taking on star players like Wayne Rooney, Bougherra said, “From the moment the World Cup finals draw was made six months ago, I've been looking forward to tackling Rooney. It's the ultimate test for any defender, just as tough as facing Messi or Ronaldo. But I like these moments when I play the best players in the world as I learn more.”

“Anything can happen”: Sport is all about confidence and backed by planning and proper preparation, any team can cause upsets. The World Cup has been a witness to David slaying Goliath.

Making its appearance in the World Cup for the first time since 1982, Honduras thinks it is capable of beating top teams. The country's striker David Suazo is confident that Honduras is capable of defeating the European champion Spain in the group stage. “Spain is the best team in the world, that's clear,” said the 30-year-old Genoa player. “But it would be a lie to say that we can't beat Spain,” he told the Austria Press Agency. “Anything can happen.”

Honduras is seen largely as the underdog in Group H, which has, apart from Spain, Switzerland and Chile. The country's coach Reinaldo Rueda believes that the underdog tag could work to his team's advantage. “We're not under any pressure, and that could be our advantage,” said the 53-year-old Colombian.