Monday, June 05, 2006

World Cup Previews - Groups A and B

Group A – The host gets lucky with the draw

NO this isn’t the Germany of the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ’90s, the team that dominated world football thanks the likes of Beckenbauer, Schumacher, Muller, Matthaeus, Littbarski, Voeller, Rummenigge and Klinsmann, but, as always, you write them off at your own peril. A stuttering preparation, dominated by question marks over whether Klinsmann would spend more time at home, his young defence and who would win the battle of the keepers (deservedly won by Lehmann after a stellar season with Arsenal), will likely be forgotten by the time they notch up their first win against Costa Rica on Friday. Klinsmann has rebuilt since Euro 2004, introducing youngsters like Podolski, Hanke, Huth and Mertesacker and mixing them with experienced players like Klose, Ballack, Frings, Schneider and recently recalled defender Jens Nowotny, drafted in to sure up a leaky defence. Ballack is the undoubted star, but who will emerge from the pack to join him? By virtue of a soft draw and the fact they should be too physically imposing for their opposition, the host should progress comfortably to the second round, the big issue being who will join them? There is little between the likes of Poland, Ecuador and Costa Rica, so for one of them it will be major achievement to get to the final 16. Neighbours Poland had big wraps on them last time round and failed, due to lack of pace and quality. It appears to be their Achilles heel again, and their warm up form has been patchy. Ditto Ecuador and Costa Rica, two teams made up largely of home based players who do well at home, not so well on the road. Ecuador was undefeated at home at altitude in the qualifiers, but managed just one win on the road, against last placed Bolivia. Neither of the three convince, so it will almost be a case of last man standing.
Crucial fixture? Poland v Ecuador on day 1 in Gelsenkirchen. A result either way could decide who goes through with Germany.
Upset potential? Fairly limited, although Ecuador has the technical players to make an impression and Klinsmann is untried at this level, so how will he handle things tactically?
Most looking forward to seeing? Who emerges from the pack to join Ballack as a German star - Podolski, Schweinsteiger, Hanke or one of the young defenders?

Group B – England also get a fairly soft group

THIS time it’s England who is the recipient of a favourable draw. The big test, as it always seems to be for England, is Sweden, who are joined by South America’s Paraguay and Dwight Yorke’s Trinidad & Tobago, who would appear to be out of their depth. In midfielders Lampard and Gerrard, England have the class to do well, but winning it is a massive step, for which they’d need a fit and firing Rooney. With a tight defence, there’s little doubt they should get through the group comfortably, but England traditionally struggle against teams who pass the ball well, like Romania in 2000, Brazil in 2002 and Portugal in 2004, and while Paraguay aren’t in that class, they could ask a few questions of England in the opening game. Sweden could offer some problems, but with the poor form this season of Ibrahimovic and the injury concerns for Ljungberg, they would need Wilhelmsson and Larsson firing to do well. Paraguay have also had some mixed warm up results, and like Ecuador, weren’t overly convincing on the road in the qualifiers, and might struggle to make it a hat-trick of second round appearances.
Crucial fixture? June 15, Sweden vs Paraguay in Berlin, should be a close game, potentially deciding who goes through with England.
Upset potential? Again slim, the Soca Warriors don’t have the quality, having lost to Wales, Slovenia and the Czechs in the past week or so. It would be a major major shock if it wasn’t England and one other.
Most looking forward to seeing? Much of the attention will be around whether Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham and Cole can gel in midfield, but equally as interesting will be how much time Paraguayan midfielders Dos Santos and Barreto get as both were part of the team that finished second at the 2004 Olympics. For A-League fans, how will Yorke go? And can Ibrahimovic rediscover his goal-scoring touch?

What do you make of these two groups? Will Germany and England romp through them? Post a comment and do revisit tomorrow, where The Round Ball Analyst will take you through two of the hot groups, C and D.


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