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Thursday, June 01, 2006

World Cup Groups

Group A - Germany - Poland - Costa Rica - Ecuador

Germany have been very lucky in drawing a fairly straightforward group. However, this German side looks fragile and an early disappointing result could see them struggle to win the group.

Poland are playing on familiar territory and i expect a mini shock here. "Magic" Zurawski is electric with the ball at his feet and with Costa Rica and Ecuador not the strongest of opposition, expect Poland to surprise.

Group Winner: Poland
To qualify 2nd: Germany

Potato Pillar - Jens Nowotny brings much needed experience to the German backline; Germany need him as much as they need Ballack

Group B - England - Sweden - Paraguay - Trinidad & Tobago

England, like Germany, are fortunate to be drawn in a group bereft of true danger. While not having Rooney is a blow, you still expect this England side to dominate a group such as this.

While Larsson, Ibrahimovic and Santa Cruz are talented players, the teams in which they operate hardly match their brilliant ability.

It looks like a straight battle for the runners up spot between Sweden and Paraguay and i feel Paraguay have just enough about them to see off the workmanlike Swedes.

Group Winners: England
Runners up: Paraguay

England Enquiry - Why doesn't Eriksson play Owen Hargreaves? Surely he is a better option at defensive midfield than Carragher and Carrick

Group C - Argentina - Holland - Ivory Coast - Serbia & Montenegro

The much publicised Group of Death. Argentina must be fearing the worst after being drawn in a similarly tough group in 2002. In fact, this 2006 edition is arguably deadlier. All 4 sides will be expecting no less than a quarter final place and there are definitely 2 teams that are going home earlier than they anticipated.

Argentina are a very dangerous side and possess a player in Riquelme who is able to control the pace of a game. This will prove helpful as Holland, Ivory Coast and Serbia are 3 very different teams who offer different challenges and adjusting to that will ultimately see Argentina through.

Holland seem to lack the experience having left behind players such as Seedorf, Davids and Makaay. There are doubts that van Basten's side have enough about them to see off such high quality opposition at such an early stage in the competition.

Serbia & Montenegro will be difficult to beat as they come into the tournament with a record of only 1 goal conceeded in qualifying. However this defensive approach is more likely to give them more draws than wins and in a group expected to be so tight, this may be their downfall.

Expect Ivory Coast, if they can keep their tempers in check, to squeeze out the Dutch. The Africans have enough quality players in the centre of the team and having been tested at the African Nations Cup earlier in the year, should adjust quickly to tournament conditions.

Group Winner: Argentina
Runners Up: Ivory Coast

Argentina Anticipates: Juan Riquelme is key to his side's success. If he plays well, Argentina wins. If he doesn't, they're going home early.

Group D - Mexico - Portugal - Iran - Angola

Portugal will be very happy to be in Group D. Of all the teams seeded in the group draw, Mexico are certainly the ones they would have liked to be grouped with.

This is a Portuguese team of tremendous quality.They boast the likes of Figo, Ronaldo, Deco, Pauleta and Simao just to name a few. Whether they have enough defensive solidity at the back remains a doubt but with such talent at their disposal, they should have no problems topping this group. Having been knocked out in the group stages in 2002, they would be keen to make amends for their overconfidence last time out.

Mexico should feel they have enough about them to qualify too but they must be careful of an Iranian side which is not without skill and experience. They boast many players who have experience playing in Germany.

The less said about Angola the better. While you admire them for their surprise qualification, i'm sure i'd rather see Cameroon or Nigeria in their place.

Group Winner: Portugal
Runners Up: Iran

Iranian Impudence: Expect Iran to crash the party here and knock out the Mexicans.

Group E - Italy - Ghana - USA - Czech Republic

There are plenty of banana skins here that Italy must avoid. All the other 3 teams are dangerous and if Italy get off to their customary slow start, they might not recover in time to even qualify.

That said, they do possess a talented side with a new emphasis on attack. Del Piero and Totti will both start but this is still a side largely dependent on their defensive solidity. Cannavaro and Nesta play in their 5th major tournament together and no other team can boast of such experience.

The Czechs are the obvious favourites to qualify with Italy but i do feel that their time has passed and this is a team that is past its best. Koller, Poborsky, Galesek and Nedved are good but fading fast.

The USA were surprise quarter finalists last time out but i just cannot see them repeating it. An over dependence on ageing players like Reyna, Friedel and McBride might be their undoing.

Ghana, despite all their infighting, have enough enthusiam and skill to overcome the other ageing teams.

Group Winner: Italy
Runners Up: Ghana

Captain Courageous - At 33, Fabio Cannavaro is still, in my opinion, the finest centre back in world football.

Group F - Brazil - Australia - Croatia - Japan

Brazil are overwhelming favourites for the Cup. They should have no problems in a group where the teams simply do not possess enough experience in big matches to cope with the occasion of playing them.

I just feel that Australia will surprise and despite Croatia and Japan being technically superior, Hiddink's men more than make up for it with their teamwork and aggression.

Group Winners: Brazil
Runners Up: Australia

Brazilian Blemish - With Edmilson out, the tiny doubts about their suspect defence just got bigger.

Group G - France - Switzerland - South Korea - Togo

Zidane, Thuram, Makelele. 3 returning players for France hailed as their saviours. However, their hopes rest on one man - Thierry Henry. He has never produced his best for his country and if France want to win, they better pray that Henry is in the mood.

Switzerland are a team with no star players. They operate as a team whether attacking or defending. It will be interesting to see if this approach to the tournament will see them through.

South Korea, without home advantage and Hiddink, aim to prove that 2002 was no fluke. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to have the benefit again of that referee who was in charge against Italy in 2002.

Togo are a team in disarray having fired the coach who took them to the World Cup and should be the group's whipping boys.

Group Winner: Switzerland
Runners Up: France

French Folly - I'm sorry, no team which has Boumsong in it will top a group.

Group H - Spain - Ukraine - Tunisia - Saudi Arabia

It's become so normal to associate underperformance with Spain that you almost feel foolish to label them as darkhorses for the tournament. I picked them to win in 2002 and while they were unlucky to lose to South Korea, they were hardly setting the world alight then.

2006 represents a chance to stop the rot for the Spaniards and a group which includes Saudi Arabia and 1st time finalists Ukraine should be cause for optimism.

Ukraine are adamant that they are not a one man team but teams now don't have to travel to freezing conditions in Kiev to play them. Expect Shevchenko to have a field day against the Saudis but qualification is by no means assured.

Tunisia is a dangerous side with plenty of flair and experience. If Ukraine underestimate them, expect a surprise here.

Group Winners: Spain
Runers Up: Tunisia

Saudi Sadness - They have qualified for the 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 editions and yet opposing sides still drool at the prospect of giving them a thrashing.

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