Group D Tactics Board
Mexico | Iran | Angola | Portugal
If Group C is this World Cup's Group of Death, then the next pool in the alphabet is its antithesis.
Even though they have been earned a top five spot in the FIFA rankings, it was a bold move to hand Mexico a seeding for the draw, considering their lack of achievement in recent World Cup tournaments. When they pulled Angola and Iran out of the pot, the European sides who felt they were worthy of top billing were more than a little miffed, with European giants Holland and the Czech Republic among those disappointed to miss out.
However, Mexico's bullish boss, Ricardo Lavolpe, needs to make the most of the opportunity that has come his way and most South American football observers suggests El Tricolor deserve to be considered among the world's best after a fine run of form.
Argentina and Brazil have been among their high profile victims in recent times and the often over confident Lavolpe has been Mexico's trump card during a spell that has seen him pull the average age of the Mexico side down drastically. While once this was a national team who relied on a handful of veteran performers, Mexico are now a vibrant young side with a host of options and the coach can take much of the credit for the revolution.
After initially settling on a formation built around three solid defenders at the back, Lavolpe has recently experimented with a variety of formations, playing with six midfielders at times and a 4-2-4 line-up of late. Indeed, when he employed the latter formation against Costa Rica last year, it was after his side had already established a lead in the game and they went on to impress further by notching up a 2-0 triumph.
Inventive with his substitutes and willing to use players in unorthodox positions, Lavolpe has plenty of quality performers at his disposal and in Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez, he has a class act into every sense of the word.
His move to play Brazilian-born midfielder Antonio Naelson has been controversial, while he has also thrown a naturalised Mexican into his frontline in the shape of Guillermo Franco. Bold and brave, Mexico may create a few shocks under this summer and Lavolpe's brash manner may upset a few along the way. The Mexican media have been suggesting that a last four place should be the target this time, so the pressure is on.
Mexico's first opponents in this World Cup campaign will be Iran, a nation whose participation in the competition has been a point of some debate as the political manoeuvrings in Tehran have threatened to get out of control of late. However, Branko Ivankovic's men look set to take their rightful place among the game's elite 32 and they travel to Germany with high hopes of making history.
Every nation in this group believe they have a realistic chance of making progress to the latter stages, yet Iran's build-up to the finals has been disjointed and disrupted.
While Croat coach Ivankovic insists his failure to set up attractive friendly internationals in the run up to his German mission has little to do with rival nations being unwilling to do business with Iran at a time when their nuclear ambitions have sparked a stand off with the United States and Europe, that theory remains in the air.
It's hardly the ideal backdrop to focus on a football tournament, yet Ivankovic is convinced his side have what it takes to reach the second round for the first time in their history. 'We have not had the ideal preparation, but that had nothing to do with politics,' he states.
'That is primarily because many of my key players were committed to their club sides until the end of this season. It has been difficult trying to get the whole squad together and it was not until the Bundesliga season came to an end that we had access to our entire squad. The target, as always, has been the second round.'
Losing to English lower league side QPR and the mighty Macedonia has done little to back up Ivankovic's optimism, but he has a handful of quality performers who are capable of shining at this World Cup. With all of them based in Germany, they certainly cannot claim to be suffering from homesickness this summer.
Now settled on employing a 4-4-2 formation, their German based stars Mehdi Mahdavikia from SV Hamburg, Hanover forward Vahid Hashemian, Bayern Munich's Ali Karimi and Kaiserlautern's Ferydoon Zandi will hold the key to their hopes. Then there is always the remarkable veteran Ali Daei, whose century of goals at international level is a record that commands respect.
Portugal don't have any forwards to compete with a record of that magnitude, but Luiz Felipe Scolari's men look to have all the tools required to assume control of this group. When you consider they were not among the seeded teams, Scolari knows he was a lucky man to be given the task of beating Iran and Angola to reach the latter stages of the World Cup and they should feel confident of winning Group D.
The coach who famously turned down the chance to take over as England manager after this World Cup will be keen to cement his reputation in this competition and after his triumph with Brazil four years ago, there is no doubting his ability to shine when it matters most.
A fan of the 4-2-3-1 line-up, he can switch to a more conventional 4-4-2 if required and the form and goals of Pauleta, the Paris Saint Germain forward, will be a key. Even though they reached the Final of Euro 2004 on home soil, Portugal's lead striker failed to spark in that tournament and he will be looking to put that right in Germany. Barcelona's Deco is the playmaker behind the lead striker, though a jaded Luis Figo may be a passenger.
And so to Angola, the side many expect to be swept aside with little ceremony in Germany. Viewed by many as the weakest of the 32 teams involved, they received their dream draw by being paired against Portugal, the country that once ruled over them.
Many members of Luis Oliveira Goncalves' first team squad ply the trade in Portuguese football and with the star names in Luiz Felipe Scolari's team listed as heroes for the majority of Angolan players, there must be a danger that they will freeze as they open their campaign in Cologne on June 11th.
The loss of winger Gilberto due to injury is a major blow for a squad lacking strength in depth, so much will depend on the form of captain and star turn Akwa, whose historic goal against Rwanda secured Angola's passage to the World Cup finals. Akwa may be employed as the loan forward in a 4-5-1 line-up, with a 4-4-2 coming into play if, as expected, the fall behind.
Coach Luis Oliveira Goncalves, nicknamed 'The Professor' or 'Miracle Man', has done his best to recruit a host of players whose allegiance to Angola is tenuous at best, but he has got the job done so far and more of the same in Germany will further enhance his status as a national hero.
MAN TO WATCH: Ricardo Lavolpe
Mexico's maverick manager has long been at war with his local media, but his ability to make key decisions during games could see him build a worldwide reputation in Germany this summer.
A SAFE BET: Angola will not be good enough to compete at this level and will leave Germany with three defeats to their credit.
THE DARK HORSE: Iran have a handful of players who could sparkle in Germany and they could ruffle some Mexican or Portuguese feathers.
COACHES CORNER: Scolari cannot believe his luck to be thrown into a group such as this and it should give his Portuguese side every opportunity to get off to a flying start in Germany.
VERDICT: Portugal will storm to the top of this group and the confidence they will get from their initial successes will make them a threat in the latter stages. As for the rest in Group D, Mexico will emerge as the best of a bad lot, pushed all the way by plucky Iran.