By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
The BASN 2006 World Cup Preview: Groups A-D
Group A: Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador
Codename: As the Hosts Turn
Germany: The hosts will kick off the World Cup on June 9th against Costa Rica. The 3-time World Champions now coached by former forward Jurgen Klinsmann have been a continuing soap opera since he was named. The media has blasted the rookie coach’s decision to prepare the team while living in California, questioned his all out attacking philosophy and caused an uproar with his decision to remove long time standout GK Oliver Khan from between the pipes and hand the gloves over to Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann.
Michael Ballack, who recently questioned some of Klinsmann’s tactics as well, was the star of the 2002 World Cup as he led Germany to the finals. He will be counted on again to lead the side which also features the likes of Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and two Black players Gerald Asamoah (born in Ghana but raised in Germany) and David Okonor, a suprise last minute selection.
Costa Rica: The Ticos aquitted themselves well in 2002, losing out on a Round of 16 spot on goal differential. However I’m not sure this team is as strong as the last edition. They were very slow out of the gate during qualifying and only found their stride in the last few matches. ***image13***
Paulo Wanchope (who as an exchange student once scored 47 points in a California high school basketball game) is the all time leading scorer and using this tournament as his international swan song. He can still get it done but he’ll need help from the likes of Walter Centeno, Mauricio Solis and Jervis Drummond in the back.
Poland: The Poles are making their 2nd straight World Cup. The finished bottom of their group in 2002 and will be looking to the strong support they’ll get from the large contingent of Polish fans that will be in Germany.
Gone is Emannule Olisadebe, the country’s first Black player but the side that finished 2nd to England in their qualifying group will look to Maciej Zurawski to score the goals and hope their defense holds up.
Ecuador: It’s the second time around for Ecuador who finished 4th in S. America’s qualifying zone to get to the Big Show.
A team that features several Black players, they are led by Augustin “El Tin” Delgado who helped put Ecuador on the international football map and Edison Mendez. A solid defensive team, they are led Ivan Hurtado at the back. Nice interpassing team that lacks experience but not spirit.
Group A outlook: Germany and Poland are safe picks but I will not be suprised to see Ecuador sneak in
Group B: England, Trinidad and Tobago, Paraguay and Sweden
Codename: Starring Wayne Rooney and his Metatarsal
England: At the end of last year I said that the 2006 World Cup was a put up or shut up year for ever boastful England. This is their most talented team since 1990 and have several players playing their best soccer. However, the end of season injury to their most influential and creative player, Wayne Rooney, means that England will do without the young Manchester United striker for at least the group stage.
The goal scoring onus will then fall on Michael Owen, himself trying to recover from injury, and 6’7″ Peter Crouch. Look for Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to be influential but I expect a big tournament out of David Beckham. He had a very good year for Real Madrid and will be looking to silence his many critics in England (Big Soccer) and the media (BBC). Several Black players such as Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole and will be on display for the 3 Lions who are looking to add to their single international title, the 1966 World Cup played on home soil.
Trinidad and Tobago: The Soca Warriors are the Caribbean’s sole representative at the World Cup having grabbed the one of the final qualifying spots in a two match playoff with the Asian country of Bahrain. Old school artists Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy will look to lead the midfield and provide Stern John will opportunities to score.
Dennis Lawrence helps stabilize the backline in front of Clayton Ince a very athletic shot stopper. Look for the matchup of Chris Brichall, TnT’s first white player in 60 years and his idol Steven Gerrard when they meet England. It’ll be a tall task for TnT to advance but they’ll do the twin islands proud with their effort.
Paraguay: Have established themselves as a very good S. American side. Gone is charismatic GK Jose Luis Chilavert but the team has put together a solid team behind Bayern Munich striker Roque Santa Cruz.
Carlos Paredes played extremely well in the midfield during qualifying. They had a memorable Round of 16 match in 98 against the eventual champions, France and equalled the feat four years later. The question is can they negotiate their way out of this group and then get over the hump in the quarterfinals?
Sweden: The Sven Goran Eriksson derby will on once again when Sweden takes on England, coached by Sweden’s best known coach for the second straight World Cup. Semfinalists in 1994, they lost in the Round of 16 to upstarts Senegal last time around after advancing out of the Group of Death.
Longtime hero Henrik Larsson made a retirement u-turn but the front line will be led by the talented Zlatan Ibrahimovic who stars with Juventus in Italy. Their defense is pretty solid but the health of Arsenal’s Freddie Ljungberg will help determine how far they advance.
Group B outlook: England should advance and Sweden should beat back a strong challenge from Paraguay for the 2nd spot. However there is the opportunity for a England-Germany Round of 16 match up as England hasn’t beaten Sweden in a long time.
Group C: Argentina, Cote D’Ivoire, Serbia-Montenegro, Netherlands-
Codename:Group of Death
Argentina: Two-time champions Argentina will be out to exercise the demons of the 2002 World Cup. They came into that tournament as favorites but were unable to adavance out the Group of Death, suffering a 1-0 loss to hated rivals England along the way. After finishing a comfortable 2nd in World Cup Qualifying, claiming a comprehensive 3-1 win at home over Brazil along the way, they once again find themselves in a tough group but one they should be able to navigate out of. ***image9***
Boasting an array of talent that includes Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo, defensive stalwarts Juan Pablo Sorin and Micahel Ayala, a couple of extremely talented playmakers in Juan Roman Riquelme and Carlos Tevez this could be the year the albiceleste (white and sky blue) breaks through and adds to their silverware. Coach Jose Pekerman needs to decide on a partner for Crespo up top but with Tevez, Javiar Saviola and emerging star Lionel Messi to chose from it’s clear that this team has the goods.
Cote D’Ivoire: One of 4 African World Cup debutants, the Elephants have the talent to pull an upset and move on the 2nd round. While most soccer fans are familiar with Chelsea’s Didier Drogba who scored nine goals during qualifying, this is by no means a one man team. Aruma Kone is coming off a solid campaign with PSV Einhoven and Kolo Toure was a backline stalwart during Arsenal’s run to the Champions League.
Bonaventure Kalou has been a long time stand out on this team and will probably be captain. Cote D’Ivoire made it to the Big Show only through a missed 90th mintue penalty by Cameroon’s Pierre Wome against Egypt. However they have been solid in their pre-World Cup exhibitions and have enough talent and belief that they can negotiate this tricky group and go through to the next round.
Serbia-Montenegro: Part of what’s left of Yugoslavia, this is S&M’s first trip to the Big Show under this banner. They did appear as Yugoslavia at France’98.
One of Europe’s best defensive sides, they finished ahead of Spain in their qualifying group conceding one goal in twelve matches thanks to a stellar backline featuring Mladen Krstajic Manchester United’s Nemjana Vidic and Dragoslav Jervic in goal. Offensively, there no slouches either. Dejan Stankovic and Mateja Kezman spearhead the attack and will be looking to score and set up 6’8″ Nikola Zigic. Another very strong team that will fancy their chances of progressing as well.
Netherlands- Losing finalists in 1974 to W. Germany and 1978 to Argentina, the Netherlands are back in the World Cup after missing out in 2002. Former Dutch striker Marco van Basten has returned to coach the team who ran through qualifying without dropping a single match. Van Basten took over the team after Euro 2004 an immediately rang in the changes bringing several younger players like Dirk Kuyt and jettisoning stalwarts such as Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf.
However, he still has Ruud van Nistelroy who will be hungry to show he’s got the goods as it appears he’s out at Manchester United. Exciting winger Arjen Robben will look to terrorize defenders from the left side and Rafael van de Vaart will be counted on the pull the strings in the midfield. The calming influence of Edwin van de Saar in goal will make this a tough team to beat if inexperience does not cost them.
Group outlook: The Argentina-Netherlands match on the final matchday of the group is one of most anticipated matches of the tournament. The history between these two teams includes not only the ’78 final but also a classic match at the ’98 World Cup won on a brilliant goal by Dennis Bergkamp. However Cote D’Ivoire and S&M are no pushovers. There are no gimmies in this group and while I figure Argentina will be one of the teams to move on, none of the other three will be a suprise member of the Ultimate Sweet 16.
Group D: Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal-
Codename: Looking for Redemption
Mexico-Given the Mexicans usual lack of sportsmanship against the United States, it’s getting easier and easier to revel in their misfortune. That said, this side has the potential to advance pretty far after getting their first seeding in team history, a fairly easy group to navigate. Ricardo LaVolpe (Victor Newman’s illegitimate brother?)has been battling the press and former Mexican legend and current resident playa hata, Hugo Sanchez over tactics and callups. Yet LaVolpe has turned Mexico into a quick passing, athletic side with enough individual quality to truly go far in this tournament. All-time leading scorer Jared Borgetti, quite possibly the best header of the ball in the world will look to link up with Kikin Fonseca.
The experience & stellar play of Rafael “Surface-to-Air-Missle” Marquez will be key to their success as well as the attacking options represented by Omar Bravo and Gerardo Torado. The exclusion of Cuauhtemoc “Quasimodo” Blanco and the talented Jamie Lozano raised serious questions, no doubt, but this team will be looking to erase the bitter memories of their 2002 exit at the hands of the US and reach the quarterfinals. Though the Eurocentric Reuters has picked Portugal to win this group, don’t sleep on Mexico.
Iran- Many consider this side much better than the team that competed at the 1998 World Cup and scored a victory over the United States. Led by Ali Daei who scored nine times during qualifying, Iran will also count on German based
Ali Karimi and midfield star Mehdi Mahdavika. However this is a very inexperienced side overall and it remains to see if their youth exuberance will be enough to carry them to victory against any of the top two sides.
Angola- After decades of civil war, Angolans united and celebrated as the Palancas Negras shocked the football world by qualifying ahead of Nigeria. Riding a strong defense, Angola played consistently throughout qualifying and got timely goals from the likes of Fabrice Akwa and Pedro Mantorras.
Luis Oliveira Goncalves will also count on the likes of Figueirido Maurito and Ze Kalanga to help lead the attack. The team is verty much looking forward to its first round matchup against its former colonizer, Portugal, especially as many player ply their trade in Portual’s various leagues. Escaping the group is a tall order but Angola will display a team unity and pride that will enable the debutants to acquit themselves well.
Portugal- Another side looking to redeem themselves, Portual suffered a shock 3-2 loss to the United States in the 2002 editiion and were unable to advance after losing to to S. Korea in their final group game. Luis Figo retired from the national team but has returned to help lead the attack with dancing midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United. Portugal absolutley breezed through qualifying behind the goal scoring of Pauleto who overtook Eusebio as all-time scoring leader and will be ably backed up by Luis Boa Morte.
Barcelona’s Deco will appearing in his first World Cup for his adopted country. Nuno Gomes and Nuno Valente will bring some added experience to a side that, like Mexico, has the potential to make some serious noise in this tournament. If they can solve their goal keeping issues and overcome the loss of Black defender Jorge Andrade, Portual might actually fulfill the potential they’ve shown for years.
Group outlook: If Mexico and Portual don’t progress out of this group they will have to be permanently affixed with the overrated tag. Many still question Mexico’s receiving a seed over the US given that they finished second behind the US in qualifying and have only have a even record against them head to head. This is Mexico’s big chance.
Tune in next time for: Groups E-H, featuring USA, Brazil and France