Thursday, June 08, 2006

World Cup 06 Preview

I began the idea for a World Cup preview with a slight fear that I’d be considered insensitive and not funny. While the not funny part still applies, Pioneer Press' Tom Powers’ tasteless article on Monday assured me I was on safe ground.

Even if you are not a soccer fan, an event held every four years that is the biggest sporting event in the World is worthy of your casual attention. To help out, here is a cheat sheet of what to look for beginning on Friday. An asterisk denotes the top two advancing teams from each group. The odds replace FIFA’s rankings, which are very inaccurate.

Group A:
*Germany-The host Germans surprised many in 2002 by making the final game. This time they are very young and it is unknown how skilled. If they don't advance, Jurgen Klinsmann might be exiled to California. One questionable decision was choosing goalie Jens Lehman over 2002 star Oliver Kahn.
Key players: Michael Ballack, Lukas Podolski
Odds: 8/1

*Costa Rica-Their nickname is the Ticos. It’s good enough for me to send them through to the second round.
Key Player: Paolo Wanchope
Odds: 500/1

Poland- Poland scored a lot in qualifying, but a goalie scored on them in their last warmup match.
Key player: Maciej Zurwaski
Odds: 150/1

Ecuador-If Ecuador can find a stadium in Germany 10,000 ft above sea level, they are in business. Otherwise they’re done very early.
Key Player-Ulises De La Cruz
Odds: 125/1

Group B:
*England-They always have premier talent, but never fulfill insane expectations. Star striker Wayne Rooney has a fractured foot and will miss at least the first two games. If Rooney returns and they get good goalkeeping, they could be sound.
Key Players-Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry
Odds: 13/2

*Sweden-Unlike England, the Swedes tend to overachieve in most World Cups. Their offense is very good and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be a star.

Key Players-Ibrahimovic, Freddie Ljunberg, Henrik Larsson

Paraguay-Traditionally the team is predicated on strong defense and boring offense. They are an emerging South American power behind Brazil and Argentina. Will challenge Sweden or a sluggish England to advance.
Key Player: Roque Santa Cruz
Odds: 200/1

Trinidad&Tobago-Making the World Cup is a huge achievement for the Caribbean nation the size of Delaware with a population of one million. With British ties, the England game might be fun. How can you not cheer for them?
Key Player-Dwight Yorke
Odds: 2000/1

Group C:
*Ivory Coast-An African nation has made the second round each Cup since 1990. The Elephants field many European based players, but are in the toughest group in the tourney.
Key Players: Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue
Odds: 80/1

*Netherlands-The Dutch always boast great talent but sometimes chemistry gets in the way. This team is younger, but still very talented. A serious contender for their first Jules Rimet trophy.
Key Players: Ruud Van Nistelroy, Arjen Robben,
Odds: 16/1

Argentina-Anything less than a World Cup trophy is considered disappointment to Argentines. They have too much talent to make it work up front and that will be their downfall.
Key Players: Hernan Crespo, Carlos Tevez, Juan Roman Riquelme,
Odds: 7/1

Serbia/Mont: They play good defense and beat Spain in qualifying. The Group of Death is too much for the Serbians, the Montenegrans or their combined talents.
Key Player: Dejan Stankovic
Odds: 80/1

Group D:
Portugal-They played well in Euro 2004, but were a flop in the 2002 WC. Should win the group, barring ill-timed red cards.
Key Players: Pauleta, Cristiano Ronaldo
Odds: 25/1

Iran-I raaan, I ran so far away. Lame joke aside, they will be tougher than expected with several players that play in the Bundesliga.
Key player: Rashidi Karimi
Odds: 250/1

Mexico-Mexico has plenty of talent, but has not played well in Cup friendlies. It is an easy draw, but their first game versus Iran will decide their lot.
Key Players: Jared Borgetti, Rafael Marquez, Oswaldo Sanchez
Odds: 40/1

Angola-Formerly colonized by Portugual, it will make for a spirited match. Rivalry aside, the Angolans do not pose much of a threat.
Key Player: Lebo Lebo, Akwa
Odds: 500/1

Group E
*Czech Rep-The Czechs are slightly banged up heading to Germany, but are primed for a deep run. They have world class talent front to back, including keeper Peter Cech.
Key Players: Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky, Peter Cech,
Odds: 33/1

*Italy-The Azzurri are always a favorite, but this year is a little different. A widespread match-fixing scandal in Italy has things quite scrambled. The Italians still have immense talent and should advance, but injuries and distractions could take a toll. If they can’t win the group they will get Brazil in round 2.
Key Players: Gigi Buffon, Francesco Totti, Luca Toni,
Odds: 10/1

USA- Like 2002, they can make the second round if everything goes right. Placed in Group E is not a good sign. The US will need to find consistent offense from somewhere.
Key Players: Demarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu
Odds: 100/1

Ghana-The Black Stars have a very good midfield that will also be asked to score goals. It is a young and rising team, but it will be very tough to advance from this group.
Key Players: Joseph Appiah, Michael Essien
Odds: 150/1

Group F:
*Brazil-Brazil is everyone’s favorite to win it all. They could field two or three squads for the World Cup. Ronaldinho is the World’s best player and he leads a ridiculously potent offense. The defense is good, but can be beaten. Only one South American team has won the World Cup in Europe (Brazil 1958).
Key Players: Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Adriano, Kaka,

*Croatia-A very good defensive team that can also score. Their star Dada Prso also has a terrible ponytail.
Key Players: Igor Tudor, Dada Prso, Darjo Srna

Japan- Japan is coached by Brazil legend Zico and that's about it. At least they’re the reigning World Baseball Classic champs.
Key player: Hidetoshi Nakata

Austrailia- The Aussies are called the Socceroos which sounds delicious. Guus Hiddink is a good coach, but not enough talent to pass Croatia.
Key Player: Harry Kewell

Group G:
*South Korea-Made the Semifinals in 2002 as host, but it will be tougher this time. Midfielder Ji-Sung Park is beginning to emerge at Manchester United and will be required to organize the Koreans.
Key Players: Ji-Sung Park, Ahn Jung-Hwan.
Odds: 2501

*Togo-Togo may be the lowest ranked team in the tourney, maybe they're the George Mason of soccer. A total longshot, but they do have a threatening goal scorer in Abdeyor.
Key Player-Emmanuel Abdeyor
Odds: 400/1

France- France disappointed in '02, losing in the first round and not scoring. Now they are all four years older, which should work out well.
Key Players: Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet
Odds: 12/1

Switzerland-A younger team that hasn’t been to the WC since 1994. In a weak group they have a fair chance to make the knockout rounds.
Key Players: Hakan Yakin, Alexander Frei
Odds: 125/1

Group H:
*Spain-Spain is the Michigan Wolverines football of FIFA: Limitless talent, but always underachieves. This group is very weak and when Spain is rolling can be explosive.
Key Players: Iker Casillas, Raul, Fernando Torres, Carlos Puyol
Odds: 12/1

*Ukraine: The first World Cup for Ukraine. Everything starts and ends with forward Andrei Shevchenko. He should carry them to the second round. A very good candidate for a surprise run.
Key player: Shevchenko
Odds: 66/1

Saudi Arabia-The Saudis make every World Cup due to their weak draw in Asia. They have a chance to give up a lot of goals.
Key Player: Sami Al-Jaber
Odds: 400/1

Tunisia-At least they’re better than Saudi Arabia, but no where near Spain or Ukraine.
Key Player: Dos Santos
Odds: 200/1

Final Four: Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic, England.