Oh what irony to place Brazil in the same group as their former colonial rulers the Portuguese - although relations remain close today, that should add some spice to the match up. Brazil have a bit of history with their fellow South American qualifiers. As I have already mentioned, they took part in the War of the Triple Alliance, and also defeated the Paraguayans quite soundly. The Brazilian independence struggle was relatively bloodless, unlike some other Portuguese colonies - yes, I'm looking at you Mozambique and Angola! During the Second World War, despite the quasi-fascist leanings of the Brazilian government, Brazil entered the war on the side of the Allies, and the Brazilian Expeditionary Force was dispatched to Italy.
MAA 465 The Brazilian Expeditionary Force in World War II (that is right - its on it's way. After winning our monthly book vote by a land slide, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force is due to appear as a Men-at-Arms book in the first half of 2011)
Or to give it her official name, Côte d'Ivoire. But that is too hard to spell and accent in HTML - so Ivory Coast it will remain for the purposes of this blog. Like many of her fellow African qualifiers, the Ivory Coast has been too busy fighting for their independence and dealing with their own messy internal conflicts and civil wars to really spend much time looking outside of their borders for a bust up. In fact, at times their military appears little more than a disaster. The French (as with so many other West African countries) have an active military presence in the Ivory Coast. When civil war broke out in 2002 while the president was on a trip to Italy, the French mobilized their forces and deployed them, ostensibly to protect French citizens, but effectively halting the rebel advances and saving the Ivorian government. And how did the Ivorians thank the French? By accusing them of inflaming the situation even further. So, a couple of years later when an airstrike on supposed rebel positions went wrong and ended up in the deaths of 9 French servicemen, the French ignored the Ivorian claims of innocence. They claimed that there was nothing accidental about the airstrike, and in retribution destroyed virtually the entire Ivorian air force. Ouch!
Again I seem to be struggling here - I can't really help, but I would recommend picking up some of our French Foreign Legion titles. They are a good read.
There goes the neighbourhood! The notoriously secretive North Koreans are in town, and quite a military reputation they have too. They are of course currently still at war with South Korea, and have been for the last half century. In the war that ended up splitting the country in half, the North Koreans gave the US and UN force a bit of a bloody nose. Today, the US still have thousands of troops stationed in the South...just in case a million angry North Koreans decide to cross the demilitarized zone. North Korea may often be portrayed as a broken nation, wracked by poverty and famine, but they might just be luring us into a false sense of security. After all, rumours abound that Kim Jong Il has built an underground system of tunnels under Pyong Yang to help him (and possibly some of his citizens) to survive a sustained war. Oh yes, and they have nukes. And a missile delivery system capable of (sometimes) hitting Seoul. Or Japan. North Korea also have the fourth largest standing army in the world, with 1.2 million armed personnel, plus the Workers-Peasant Red Guard - a reserve force of up to 4.5 million people, with limited small arms training. Only recently the North Koreans flexed their military muscle and sank a South Korean vessel, but perhaps the greatest strength they have on their side is their complete unpredictability. Who knows what Kim Jong Il might decide to do next - and a full scale invasion over the smallest slight is not impossible. Often included in the Axis of Evil, North Korea is probably the only 'Axis' nation with the ability to wage anything approaching a conventional war. Watch out, Kim Jong Il might start feeling 'lonely' and decide to 'invite' a few more friends to join his closed nation.
ESS 8 The Korean War
CAM 198 The Samurai invasion of Korea
MAA 174 The Korean War
Oh dear, where did it all go so wrong for Portugal? At one time they dominated the world's oceans, they built up colonies in Africa, South America and Asia and seemed able to hold their own. They picked fights with whoever they could get their hands on - the Turks, the Spaniards (surprise surprise) the Dutch and of course the French during the Peninsular war. The Portuguese folded in the face of the initial French onslaught, but rebelled and allowed Wellesley to land troops in Portugal - which eventually led to Waterloo and the defeat of Napoleon (through many twists and turns - all of which seemingly involved Richard Sharpe, that man really got around a bit didn't he?). They Portuguese were given a bit of a hiding in both World Wars (although they remained neutral during the Second World War, and were under an essentially fascist government). What followed the Second World War was a series of uncompromising conflicts in Portugal's African colonies. Roundly beaten in Guinea, the Portuguese seemed able to hold off revolutions in Mozambique and Angola, until a political shift at home saw these countries given their independence. Despite the slow decline, their long martial history may give them a chance in this group.
MAA 202 Modern African Wars (2) Angola and Mozambique
Men-at-Arms Portuguese Army of the Napoleonic Wars (MAA 343) Part 1, (MAA 346) Part 2, and (MAA 358) Part 3
Group Winner: A tough call, but for pure dogged perseverance I had to go for the North Koreans. Their whole national policy is shaped by the 'Military First' strategy, which gives the military a higher priority than anything else - healthcare, schools, development etc can in theory all be discarded if the military come calling. The world might be against them, but the North Koreans could still pose a problem.
Runners up: Another tight race, but Portugal manage to squeeze through into the next round, by the skin of their teeth. But, if Portugal rely on their 'golden generation' for much longer they could end up drifting out of contention in the future.