We're getting closer to the final squads being announced but before then let's look at the fixtures for the group games and determine which ones to target. Reader David has already highlighted a few in a recent post so I thought I'd add my picks based on form, odds, goal scoring record and propensity to keep clean sheets.
My top picks for each round of group games are below:
Slovakia vs New Zealand
Brazil vs North Korea
Spain vs Switzerland
Argentina vs Nigeria
For three of the games here (Brazil, Spain and Argentina), the key here is not to indicate that the likes of Messi, Villa and Kaka are good picks (no kidding!) but that you might want to double up rather than have, say a Brazilian and a Dutch strikeforce (with the Netherlands facing a much tougher opener against the Danes). For the record I think the key in week 1 is get to get 11 men on the field so going with captains and irreplaceable players rather than long shots is the key. While I always sing the praises of differentiators, I think these should be sought by picking a star from a lower profile team rather than a top team's 3rd best striker who may or may not play.
The matchup that will give value is an underrated Slovakia side against New Zealand, who the bookies give the longest odds in the whole competition. The highly rated Marek Hamsik might be worth a look after a very strong season in Serie A while Stanislav Sestak has a good international record (10 in 30) if you are really looking for a differentiator or budget option. How far down the barrel we have to scrape will largely depend on how the Official game values its players.
Italy vs New Zealand
Portugal vs North Korea
Spain vs Honduras
England vs Algeria
Holland vs Japan
Argentina vs South Korea
Again, I will not dwell on the top seeded teams as we all know it's useful to have a player like Xavi or Messi in your team but I will note that Spain and Argentina feature in both round 1 and round 2 which gives them added value from day one and England feature in both round 2 and 3.
The only non-first seed here is Portugal who I do not fancy for the tournament (I actually have them going out to Ivory Coast in group G). That said, when you have a player like Ronaldo going up against North Korea, you have to at least consider picking him up. The opening game against the Ivory Coast could be high scoring too thus making Ronaldo a decent pickup for the first two games. Liedson might be worth monitoring to see if he is penciled in to play as he has enjoyed a very good season with Sporting (22 goals) and will not be fancied by the average player. On an interesting side note, Portugal - North Korea is a rematch of the 1966 Quarter Final following N.Korea's upset (perhaps the biggest in WC history) against Italy. Fantasy fans will be thrilled to learn that the game finished 5-3 with Portugal led by the legendary Eusebio.
Ivory Coast vs North Korea
Paraguay vs New Zealand
England vs Slovenia
Poor old North Korea. They were actually very solid in qualifying (conceding 5 in 8 games) but they haven't come up against the likes of their Group G opponents for some time. The main man here will of course be Didier Drogba though I'm sure EPL fans will give some attention to Salomon Kalou and Aruna Dindane. An outside bet might be Gervinho who has a scored 11 in 22 for Lille and enjoyed a good Olympics for Les Elephants.
Paraguay did well in the CONMEBOL qualification, finishing ahead of fellow finalists Argentina and Uruguay. Their star man is another player who will be familiar to EPL fans, though less so this year as Roque Santa Cruz has suffered through a miserable season at Man City, failing to hold down a regular first team spot. With Italy in round 1 I would stay clear of Paraguay for now, gauge how good they are against Solvakia in round 2 then bring someone in if they have proven they can be competitive to play against New Zealand.
England are one of the highly (overly?) rated sides and with a fairly good group make good group game pickups. The defense should be solid under Capello (despite the recent friendlies) and someone like Glen Johnson or Ashley Cole should deliver good value. Rooney will be widely owned but I want to see how fit he is against the US before I buy into his considerable hype.
The Official Game announces the player values on the 3rd June so I will prepare an in depth post then with my value picks and sleepers as soon as possible after that. As always, thanks for reading and stay in touch over on Twitter @plfantasy.