- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

PLAYERS TO WATCH

The speedy midfielder impressed in his first season with Bayern Munich and lifted the French through qualifying with six assists. While France is loaded with stars (Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, William Gallas), Ribery is the only one currently in top form. His pace down the flank will go a long way in getting Les Bleus out of a tough group that includes Italy, Netherlands and Romania.

“El Nino” took full flight with Liverpool this season, scoring 24 goals in 33 games. His emergence, coupled with a solid corps of attacking players, has Spain looking like the favorite. However, the Spaniards are traditionally underachievers and have not won a trophy since 1964.

The Italian forward has remarkable skill for his 6-foot-5 frame and looked re-energized in his first season with Bayern Munich. He scored two goals to help Italy claim the 2006 World Cup but will be without running mate Francesco Totti this summer. His performance will dictate how far Italy will go.

After missing nine months at Chelsea with ankle problems, the German captain helped push his club to the verge of English Premier League and Champions League glory. The midfielder organizes an attack as well as anyone in the world and looks to take his country to the trophy for a record fourth time.

After scoring 42 goals and winning the EPL and Champions League with Manchester United, there is no ignoring Ronaldo. Four years ago the Portuguese fell to Greece in the final. With a more mature and potent Ronaldo, the Portuguese should be favored in any match.

A dominant scorer throughout his career in the Dutch, English and Spanish leagues, van Nistelrooy will be alone up front for the Dutch this summer. Manager Marco van Basten, who has butted heads with the striker, switched from a traditional 4-3-3 formation to a 4-2-3-1 to better use personnel in the midfield. Van Nistelrooy must find the net, or the Dutch will make a quick exit.

GOAL OF THE WEEK

England’s John Terry vs. the United States

A week after missing a penalty that lost Chelsea the Champions League title, the English defender was handed the captain’s armband and delivered his national team’s first goal in a 2-0 win over the United States. While the English captainship remains up for grabs, Terry’s performance eventually should help him claim one of the most prestigious titles in the game.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=Wg3wvC3AAfU

MATCHES TO WATCH

Houston Dynamo at D.C. United Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., CSN

Both teams struggled in the early going but have played better of late. The game marks Bobby Boswell’s return to the District after being traded during the offseason.

United States vs. Spain Wednesday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN2*

After a lackluster performance against England, the United States faces a Spanish team tuning up for Euro 2008.

* same-day tape

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