Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup Previews continued – Groups G and H

In the final instalment of a comprehensive look at the eight groups, The Round Ball Analyst examines two groups that might just contain a surprise or two for the favourites.

Group G – Surely Le Bleus can’t stumble again.

AFTER the disaster that was their 2002 campaign and a patchy qualification run that hung in the balance until the last couple of rounds, France will do well not to underestimate anyone this time around. This isn’t the French unit that marched away with World and European crowns in ’98 and 2000, but it remains to be seen if it is the same unit that were humbled so meekly by Senegal, Uruguay and Denmark in ’02 and Greece in ’04. There have been signs of improvement of late, particularly since Zidane, Thuram and Makelele came out of retirement, but they would need Zidane to turn back the clock and an immense performance from Henry to have any chance of lifting the trophy. Henry remains an enigma, a week to week legend for Arsenal, but a player who has yet to produce it in the major finals and competitions, a point re-emphasised by a couple of crucial misses in the Champions League final. Rarely will he get a better opportunity in a group that appears reasonably comfortable. The major threat will come from competitive neighbour Switzerland, one of Europe’s big improvers over the past couple of years, knocking off Turkey in the play-offs after drawing twice with France in the group phase. Senderos will be hoping to reproduce his European form, Frei is crucial up front and Tranquillo Barnetta is said to be a gun. The two other sides, South Korea and Togo, appear less of a threat, the Koreans a shadow of the team from four years ago, while tiny Togo have made a major breakthrough just by being here.
Crucial clash? The opener between France and Switzerland on June 13, likely to decide who tops the group.
Upset potential? Slim, Korea’s form has been up and down, while Togo doesn’t appear to have the quality of Senegal to spring a surprise. Expect the Europeans to progress, the only intrigue being in what order?
Most looking forward to seeing? Whether the great man, Zidane, can produce it one last time. The odds say no, but wouldn’t it be nice! Switzerland have been building nicely towards hosting the Euro’s in two years, can they keep it going?

Group F – Is there to be more pain for Spain?

THAT is the big question for one of the world’s greatest underachievers. How does a nation so blessed in football tradition and with the best league in the world not have a world title? There is little doubt this current crop has the talent, particularly in midfield, but do they have the togetherness, perhaps the key ingredient to success? Problems between Basque and Catalan have too often brought Spain to its knees, but if the likes of Alonso, Puyol, Fabregas, Iniesta, Xavi and Villa do well, who knows? There are others – Raul, Joaquin and Torres – who are there on reputation ahead of performance, so its time to repay Aragones’ faith. If there are any slip-ups, expect a united Ukraine side and a much-improved Tunisia to pounce. Both offer intrigue and the potential to surprise. Ukraine was the first nation to qualify from Europe on the back of an excellent defence, a ruthless streak going forward and some excellent coaching from a Ukraine legend, Oleg Blokhin. If Shevchenko can fire he will have plenty of support. Tunisia is also well coached by Roger Lemerre and caught the eye at the Confed Cup, particularly naturalised Brazilian Dos Santos, Australia’s nemesis. If they beat Saudi Arabia on the opening day, as they should, they will put pressure on the other two.
Crucial clash? The opening round sets things up again. If Spain stumbles against Ukraine, the pressure will be on in their second match, against Tunisia. History proves they’ve struggled to handle pressure, but Alonso could be their key if he is given the license by Aragones to control this team.
Upset potential? High, the Ukraine and Tunisia are waiting to pounce if Spain fail again.
Most looking forward to seeing? Have Spain got the unity and the bottle to do the job? The pressure will be on the likes of Aragones, Raul, Torres and Joaquin. How will they respond? Ukraine is on the big stage for the first time and where so impressive in qualifying, but can they step up at their first attempt and can Shevchenko become a World Cup hero? The battle of the managers is rivetting; can Blokhin and Lemerre outsmart Aragones?

That wraps up a preview of all eight groups, A and B, C and D, E and F and today´s look at groups G and H. So, after all that, who do you think will win? For me, the winner will come from Portugal, Holland or Brazil, with Germany likely to improve as the tournament goes on. Stay tuned for more coverage from Germany.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Pierre said...

AR-GEN-TINA!!
AR-GEN-TINA!!

all the way with Pekerman.

ps. has pinuts pethia done the blue oyster yet?

Tue. Jun. 13, 03:08:00 pm AEST  
Blogger GollyGumDrops said...

I'd love to see Spain do well, but they never seem to deliver as a team. I think they'll make it to the quarter finals then fold. A shame really as individually they're great.

Tue. Jun. 13, 08:50:00 pm AEST  

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