Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup Previews continued – Groups E and F

Groups A and B plus C and D have already been dissected. Now for the groups that offer most intrigue for Australia, first the one we’re a part of, followed by the one that contains a potential second round opponent, fingers crossed.

Group F – Lessening the expectation is Australia’s best bet

CAN the Socceroos mix it in this elite company? That’s the million dollar question. On their showings against Uruguay in Sydney and Greece in Melbourne, they can. On their showings against Holland and Liechtenstein in Europe, they will struggle. Which Socceroos will turn up? As I wrote following the impressive showing against Greece, it’s one thing to control games at home, another to do it on foreign shores. That’s the biggest concern, can our boys deal with eyes of world watching? Some players rise, some struggle, but in their corner they have one of the most experienced chess-men around. Australia is a newcomer at level (’74 aside) and our best bet is to lessen the expectation, to adopt the underdog role Australia plays so well. The problem is that the name Hiddink alone creates expectation and hope that Australia can achieve something at this level. For me, the Socceroos will have been successful if they make a positive impression, regardless of whether that takes us out of a tough group containing Brazil, the emerging neighbour Japan and tough Croatia. Lets face it, it is one of the three toughest groups (along with E and C) and Australia will have achieved a great deal if it is playing well in it, and that means looking comfortable at the back, controlling the opposition for parts of the game in midfield and creating and taking chances in the front third. The other issue exposed by Holland was a lack of class depth. If the Socceroos are to make an impression, a fit and firing Kewell and Cahill are crucial, particularly against a Japan side said to have deficiencies out wide and in dealing with crosses. Beyond a first 11 of Schwarzer/Kalac; Emerton, Moore, Neill, Chipperfield; Culina, Grella; Kewell, Cahill, Bresciano; Viduka, there are few game-breaking options for Hiddink. Aloisi and Skoko offer genuine first 11 alternatives, while Kennedy and Thompson can expect to see some minutes depending on whether Hiddink needs a late aerial/physical threat or an injection of pace and trickery. More consistency is expected from Sterjovski, who, after impressing against Greece has failed to take his opportunities against Holland and Liechtenstein, while Popovic and Lazaridis appear past their best. To make a genuine impression, the Socceroos need consistency from their core group of 13 or 14 players and the likes of Grella, Culina and Bresciano to emerge as genuine world class players. It’s not only the Socceroos presence which excites about Group F. Obviously the world will watching the samba kings and whether the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano can handle the expectation and illuminate this tournament. One of the intriguing aspects will be just how effective the two fullbacks Cafu and Carlos are. Is their best behind them? Or will the fact they can’t get as forward as they once did work in their favour defensively, providing the steel which these days is so necessary to win tournaments. This Croatian team isn’t the one that made the semi finals at France ’98, but they will be hard to beat and offer excitement through the likes of Niko Krancjar and Ivan Klasnic, while Japan will look to play a quick passing game full of movement and flair, and the prospect of seeing Nakamura and Nakata in midfield is exciting. If Australia’s can crowd and dominate the Japanese and Croatian midfields, there is every hope they can get out of this seemingly tough group.
Crucial clash? For Australia it’s undoubtedly the first, against Japan in a couple of days. Lose and there’s little hope of a second round, win and the destiny could be in Australia’s hands come the final game against Croatia. If the Croats take anything off Brazil in their opener, then life becomes that much tougher for the Socceroos.
Upset potential? Let’s hope so. Brazil will do well not to underestimate any of its opponents. Japan and Croatia will be disappointed if they don’t make the second round, but for Australia it would be an incredible achievement. Hiddink, who has already made the impossible possible by qualifying, would
Most looking forward to seeing? Finally, the Socceroos at a World Cup. Does it get any better? Let’s enjoy the ride.

Group E – Action everywhere, a group set to thrill and excite

ONE of the three stand-out groups along with C and F, it features European powerhouses Italy and the Czech Republic, a very good USA and Africa’s great underachiever Ghana, finally at its first World Cup. USA will probably feel the hardest done by, a team that has been rapidly improving since hosting the World Cup in 2004. Last time round it made the quarter-finals after a brilliant display against Portugal, full of pace, athleticism, width and surprisingly good technique and coaching. Four years on an all those ingredients remain, with the addition of exciting youngsters like Eddie Johnson. The difference this time around is a group that contains world number two Czech Republic, semi finalists at Euro 2004, Italy, cleverly rebuilt over the past two years by Marcelo Lippi, and a Ghana side with one of the best midfields around. The Czechs pack class, togetherness (a vital ingredient for any would-be world champions) and are led by veteran Karel Bruckner, loved by his nation and players. Nevded, driving from the midfield, is the jewel, but there are others – Cech, Rosicky, Koller, Ujfalusi and Jankolovski. Their inspiration however, could be the ageless Poborsky, driving and penetrating down the right, still one of the world’s best wide men. While there are question marks over whether Nedved, Poborsky and Koller can sustain it for a month, at the very least we’ll be guaranteed technical and free-flowing football. The Azzuri meanwhile are more cagey and tactical, relying on a strong but aging defence, but there are signs, with the emergence of Fiorentina striker Luca Toni and Roma’s attacking midfielder Daniele de Rossi, that they might be able to entertain and succeed. The prospect of seeing them link up with Totti is intriguing. But the Italians, Czechs and America will do well not to underestimate a well coached Ghana that contains a hot trio in midfield – Essien, Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah. The latter two have an Italian connection, making game one fascinating. Add Sammy Kuffor and strikers Matthew Amoah and Asamoah Gyan, and the Black Stars could make up for some lost time.
Crucial clash? In a hot group, every game will be worth watching, but the final match between Italy and the Czechs, on June 22, could decide who tops the group and avoids a potential second round date with Brazil.
Upset potential? Very strong, but if the USA and Ghana don’t take anything from their first games, against the Czechs and Italy respectively, then it’s unlikely they will progress.
Most looking forward to seeing? Just how good are de Rossi and Toni and are they good enough to take Italy all the way? Has Poborsky still got it and can the Czechs conquer the injury concerns over Nedved and Koller? Blessed with good teams, have Bruce Arena and Ratomir Dujkovic got the tactical smarts to outwit Lippi and Bruckner? Everything about the group spells potential, don’t take your eyes off.

Off to Germany now, but The Round Ball Analyst will bring you a first post from Frankfurt in the next couple of days, including a preview of the remaining groups, G and H, as well as a look at the vital Socceroos v Japan game from Kaiserslautern.


Post a Comment

<< Home