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World Cup Preview: Group F

The World Cup begins in exactly sixteen days, and we are officially excited. Starting June 11, there's nonstop historic action, all day: From 7:30 a.m. on, you have every excuse to pretty much take the whole summer off. We continue our World Cup coverage today with our preview of Group F. (See our Group G and Group H previews.) So, here's all you need to know about Group F, which features Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia.

GROUP F

FIFA Rankings
No. 5: Italy
No. 30: Paraguay
No. 38: Slovakia
No. 78: New Zealand

Best World Cup Finish
Italy: Championship (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006).
New Zealand: 0–3 (1982, only appearance).
Paraguay: Second round (1986, 1998, 2002).
Slovakia: Runners-up. (1982, as Czechoslovakia).

Best Player
Italy: Andrea Pirlo, midfielder
New Zealand: Ryan Nelson, defender
Paraguay: Christian Riveros, midfielder
Slovakia: Marek Hamsik, midfielder

Coach (and Sideline Garb)
Italy: Marcello Lippi. Ranked as the seventeenth best manager of all time by the Times, Lippi is leaving his post at the end of the World Cup. Considering he just won one with Azzurri in 2006, he'll remain beloved no matter what happens here. (Athletic gear.)
New Zealand: Ricki Herbert. Everyone's pretty stunned that New Zealand actually qualified, and much of it is thanks to the country's own Herbert, who took over the team in 2005. He has very rarely coached outside his own country and is considered one of the least experienced coaches in the Cup. (Athletic Gear.)
Paraguay: Gerardo Martino. Martino has worked to make La Albirroja more of an attacking team, which, in this Group, is extremely rare. Look for this Group to have the fewest goals. (Suit, no tie.)
Slovakia: Vladimir Weiss. The second of three generations of internationally playing Vladimir Weisses, he played for Czechoslovakia in the 1990 World Cup. (Suit and tie.)

Broadcaster-Worthy Anecdote
Italy: They won the Cup four years ago but are much older now. Also, every team that plays them ends up hating them. Ask Zidane.
New Zealand: Quite possibly the worst team in the tournament, enjoy the inevitable erroneous references to various Australian traditions. As Flight of the Conchords taught us, New Zealanders just love that.
Paraguay: Salvador Cabanas, one of the team's top strikers, was shot in the head in January but still has a chance to make the team.
Slovakia: It's the country's first World Cup as an independent nation. They haven't won since beating the USA in a friendly back in November.

Schedule
June 14, 2:30 p.m.: Italy vs. Paraguay
June 15, 7:30 a.m.: Slovakia vs. New Zealand
June 20, 7:30 a.m.: Slovakia vs. Parguay
June 20, 10 a.m.: Italy vs. New Zealand
June 24, 10 a.m.: Italy vs. Slovakia
June 24, 10 a.m.: Paraguay vs. New Zealand

Prediction
1. Italy
2. Paraguay
3. Slovakia
4. New Zealand

Previously:
World Cup Preview: Group G
World Cup Preview: Group H

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Photo: Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images, Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images, Ian Walton/Getty Images, Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images