- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

Soccer writer John Haydon of The Washington Times handicaps the World Cup field:

GROUP A

GERMANY

Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

Previous Cups: 15

Best finish: Champion (1954, 1974, 1990)

Rank: 19

Star: M Michael Ballack

Skinny: This is a young team, big and athletic but lacking in star power. The critics have all but counted them out from getting to the final. But the determined Germans can’t be underestimated playing on their home soil. However, Ballack and Co. may not have enough talent to repeat the success of 1974.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

Odds: 7-1

COSTA RICA

Coach: Alexandre Guimaraes

Previous Cups: 2

Best finish: Second round (1990)

Rank: 26

Star: M Walter Centeno

Skinny: The Ticos will have it tough on European soil. There are a number of veterans on the team from the finals in Asia 2002, where in group play the Ticos earned a draw with semifinalist Turkey and missed out on advancing only because of goal differential.

Prediction: Gone in three

Odds: 350-1

POLAND

Coach: Pawel Janas

Previous Cups: 6

Best finish: Third (1974, 1982)

Rank: 29 (tie)

Star: F Maciej Zurawski

Skinny: The team will have big crowds behind it. Poland twice has finished third at the finals and once on German soil, but that was a long time ago. The team has shown a resurgence in recent years under Coach Janus. Getting out of the group would be a big accomplishment, and that looks possible.

Prediction: Second round

Odds: 100-1

ECUADOR

Coach: Luis Suarez

Previous Cups: 1

Best finish: Group stage

Rank: 39

Star: D Ulises De La Cruz

Skinny: Ecuador makes its second consecutive appearance mainly due to its amazing home form in the high altitude of Quito. At sea-level in Germany things will be a lot tougher.

Prediction: While good in the qualifying round in South America, it will struggle in Europe.

Odds: 125-1

GROUP B

England

Coach: Sven-Goran Eriksson

Previous Cups: 11

Best finish: Champion (1966)

Rank: 10

Star: M Frank Lampard

Skinny: England has not had this much talent at its disposal in a long time. However, star Wayne Rooney is struggling back from injury and may not have the hoped-for impact. Without a fit Rooney, England may no longer be a favorite. The team also faces other big questions: Can coach Eriksson motivate the team and get the right formation with his many talented midfielders? Can his talented defense of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand hold a lead? And lastly, is captain David Beckham still up to the job? Watch out for 17-year-old Theo Walcott, a surprise addition to the team who never had played any top club soccer prior to selection.

Prediction: Semifinals

Odds: 8-1

PARAGUAY

Coach: Anibal Ruiz

Previous Cups: 6

Best finish: Second round (1998, 2002)

Rank: 33

Star: F Roque Santa Cruz

Skinny: Beat Argentina and tied Brazil in qualifying. Was unlucky not to advance to the quarterfinals in 1998, losing to champion France, and in 2002, losing to finalists Germany. This time, South America’s “fourth team” is not as strong. Key striker Santa Cruz is struggling to get match-fit after a knee injury and will miss the games against England.

Prediction: Sweden or England is likely to beat them for second spot in the group.

Odds: 100-1

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

Coach: Leo Beenhakker

Previous Cups: None

Rank: 47

Star: GK Shaka Hislop

Skinny: Dutch coach Beenhakker has instilled discipline on the field, and the Soca Warriors are one of the surprise teams. Watch out for MLS-based players Cornell Glen (Galaxy) and Avery John (Revolution).

Prediction: The team is already victorious just for qualifying. Early plane home.

Odds: 750-1

SWEDEN

Coach: Lars Lagerback

Previous Cups: 10

Best finish: Runners-up (1958)

Rank: 16

Star: M/F Fredrik Ljungberg

Skinny: The Swedes have a great tradition at the World Cup and finished third in 1994. They won their group, which included England, Argentina and Nigeria, in 2002.

Prediction: Second round material

Odds: 33-1

GROUP C

Argentina

Coach: Jose Peckerman

Previous Cups: 13

Best finish: Champion (1978, 1986)

Rank: 9

Star: M Juan Roman Riquelme

Skinny: A perennial favorite to win, but this team has major problems. Phenom Lionel Messi is recovering from injury, Pablo Aimar had a bout of viral meningitis in April and defender Gabriel Heinze is fighting back from a serious knee injury. Hernan Crespo is the team’s target man, but his playing time has been limited at Chelsea.

Prediction: Getting out of the group will be a battle, but the two-time champs should advance if the defense stays tight.

Odds: 7-1

IVORY COAST

Coach: Henri Michel

Previous Cups: None

Rank: 32

Star: F Didier Drogba

Skinny: Nicknamed the Elephants, this team could surprise. There’s a lot of talent, but getting past Argentina and Holland will prove tough. Drogba, a star with Chelsea, is world class, and much will depend on his form.

Prediction: The heart says they can advance, but the head says no way.

Odds: 66-1

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO

Coach: Illija Petkovic

Previous Cups: 7 (as Yugoslavia)

Best finish: Semifinals (1930)

Rank: 44

Star: M Dejan Stankovic

Skinny: The team was stunning in the qualifying round, going unbeaten and conceding just one goal. It’s a young team, confident with good chemistry, and has the potential to upset the big boys in the group. It could be Europe’s toughest defensive line.

Prediction: Could be the sleeper team at the finals if it gets out of the group.

Odds: 80-1

NETHERLANDS

Coach: Marco Van Basten

Previous Cups: 7

Best finish: Runners-up (1974, 1978)

Rank: 3

Star: F Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Skinny: Van Basten thinks his team lacks experience, but in 18 games under the new coach the Dutch have lost only once, to Italy. The team has been overhauled; 80 percent of the old-timers are gone. Van Basten has brought in a new generation of players. Getting past Argentina, Serbia and the Ivory Coast will take a big effort, but if they advance they will be tough to stop.

Prediction: Semifinal material

Odds: 12-1

GROUP D

MEXICO

Coach: Ricardo La Volpe

Previous Cups: 12

Best finish: Quarterfinals (1970, 1986)

Rank: 4

Star: F Jared Borgetti

Skinny: The Tricolor can play great soccer on any given day, as witnessed when it beat Brazil at the Confederations Cup. However, Mexico still has a tough time against European clubs.

Prediction: Should easily advance

Odds: 40-1

IRAN

Coach: Branko Ivankovic

Previous Cups: 2

Best finish: Group stage

Rank: 23 tied

Star: M/F Mehdi Mahdavikia

Skinny: Ivankovic has put together a team said to be Iran’s greatest. The core of the team involves a number of Germany-based players, which may give the team a slight advantage playing on German soil.

Prediction: Will be tough to get past Portugal and Mexico.

Odds: 250-1

ANGOLA

Coach: Luis de Oliveira Goncalves

Previous Cups: None

Rank: 57 (tie)

Star: F Fabrice Maceio Akwa

Skinny: The Black Antelopes are one of the surprise teams, having dispatching favorite Nigeria in qualifying.

Prediction: Three games and home.

Odds: 500-1

PORTUGAL

Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari

Previous Cups: 3

Best finish: Third (1966)

Rank: 7

Star: M Deco

Skinny: Portugal cruised through qualifying, winning nine of 12 games, drawing three and scoring 35 goals. This could be Portugal’s best squad, loaded with young talent: Ronaldo up top, Deco in the midfield and Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho in the back.

Prediction: Could face a tough game against Holland or Argentina in the knockout stage.

Odds: 22-1

GROUP E

ITALY

Coach: Marcello Lippi

Previous Cups: 15

Best finish: Champion (1934, 1938, 1982)

Rank: 13

Star: M Francesco Totti

Skinny: Much will depend on the fitness of Luca Totti, the team’s brilliant playmaker. The Italians are perennial favorites and were runners-up to Brazil in 1994. However, an investigation into a major cheating scandal in Italy could be a distraction.

Prediction: Will lose or beat Brazil in the semis.

Odds: 8 -1

GHANA

Coach: Ratomir Dujkovic

Previous Cups: None

Rank: 48

Star: M Michael Essien

Skinny: Ghana, the African champion in 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982, finally has made it to the big party. It’s possible the Black Cats could cause an upset, but this is a tough group for the newcomers.

Prediction: Early plane home or a surprise place in the last 16 for mystery team.

Odds: 250-1

UNITED STATES

Coach: Bruce Arena

Previous Cups: 7

Best finish: Semifinals (1930)

Rank: 5 (tie)

Star: M/F Landon Donovan

Skinny: Stunned many with quarterfinal finish in 2002, but the going will be harder this time around. Italy and the Czech Republic must be favorites to advance with their talented and experienced lineups, but don’t count out Arena and his hard-working bunch. The Americans have loads of experience and are no longer underestimated.

Prediction: Three and out unless the injury-plagued Czechs slip.

Odds: 80-1

CZECH REPUBLIC

Coach: Karl Bruckner

Previous Cups: 8

Best finish: Runners-up (1934, 1962)

Rank: 2

Star: M Pavel Nedved

Skinny: The highly ranked Czechs have a solid lineup but are blighted by injuries. The team blew it against Greece in the semifinals of the 2004 European Championship. The team will be determined to not make that mistake again.

Prediction: Second round bound and beyond if key players are fit.

Odds: 33-1

GROUP F

BRAZIL

Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira

Previous Cups: 17

Best finish: Champion (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)

Rank: 1

Star: F Ronaldinho

Skinny: It’s Brazil’s to lose. Brazil could field at least three World Cup teams, the nation has so much talent available. The only weakness could be its aging defenders in Roberto Carlos and Cafu. Brazil has won five titles but only one — its first — on European soil in 1958.

Prediction: Victory

Odds: 9-4

CROATIA

Coach: Zlatko Kranjcar

Previous Cups: 2

Best finish: Semifinals (1998)

Rank:23 tied

Star: F Dado Prso

Skinny: It will be tough to emulate the class of 1998. But Croatia is one of the best unseeded teams and had a stunning qualifying round: It finished undefeated and beat out Sweden for the top spot.

Prediction: This group, excluding Brazil, is wide open.

Odds: 50-1

AUSTRALIA

Coach: Guus Hiddink

Previous Cups: 1

Best finish: Group stage

Rank: 42 (tie)

Star: F Mark Viduka

Skinny: The ambitious Aussies lack experience on the big stage, but with Viduka, Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Schwarzer, the Socceroos might sneak out of this group.

Prediction: The Socceroos might just squeeze into the last 16.

Odds: 125-1

JAPAN

Coach: Zico

Previous Cups: 2

Best finish: Second round (2002)

Rank: 18

Star: M Shunsuke Nakamura

Skinny: The team, guided by Brazilian great Zico, has a decent midfield but little offensive punch and lacks a commanding central defender. On home soil in 2002, the team topped its group before losing to semifinalist Turkey.

Prediction: Goal differential could be a decider.

Odds: 150 -1

GROUP G

FRANCE

Coach: Raymond Domench

Previous Cups: 11

Best finish: Champion (1998)

Rank: 8

Star: F Thierry Henry

Skinny: This team is desperate to put behind them the horrid memory of 2002, when the champions failed to score a single goal and went home early. France has an aging squad that needs rebuilding, but it also still has magical players like Henry, Patrick Vieira and Zinedine Zidane.

Prediction: A quarterfinal battle with Italy.

Odds: 12-1

SWITZERLAND

Coach: Koebi Kuhn

Previous Cups: 7

Best finish: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954)

Rank: 35

Star: M Johann Vogel

Skinny: The Swiss went undefeated and qualified out of a tight group, which included France, Ireland and Israel. They then edged Turkey in a two-game playoff series marred by violence among the players.

Prediction: With plenty of visiting fans behind them, the Swiss should advance.

Odds: 100-1

SOUTH KOREA

Coach: Dick Advocaat

Previous Cups: 6

Best finish: Semifinalist (2002)

Rank: 29 (tie)

Star: M Park Ji-Sung

Skinny: It will take a herculean effort to regain the semifinal slot this team earned on its home soil in 2002. The Koreans need to tie the Swiss and beat Togo in order to advance — a real possibility. The team unfortunately is without injured striker Lee Dong-gook.

Prediction: Will need a big effort to get past France and the Swiss.

Odds: 150-1

TOGO

Coach: Otto Pfister

Previous Cups: None

Rank: 61

Star: M/F Emmanuel Adebayor

Skinny: One of the surprise teams after qualifying ahead of 2002 sensation Senegal, but things haven’t gone right since. The Hawks lost all three games at the African Cup of Nations in January and coach Stephen Keshi, a national hero, was replaced by 68-year-old Pfister.

Prediction: No luck for Togo: three and out.

Odds: 350-1

GROUP H

SPAIN

Coach: Luis Aragones

Previous Cups: 11

Best finish: Fourth (1950)

Rank: 5 (tie)

Star: F Raul

Skinny: Soccer’s biggest underachievers and one of the best teams never to win a World Cup. There’s so much talent and so many big names it’s hard not to see them doing well.

Prediction: Likely to come up against Brazil in the last 8.

Odds: 14-1

UKRAINE

Coach: Oleg Blokhin

Previous Cups: None

Rank: 45

Star: F Andriy Shevchenko

Skinny: Won qualifying group with just one loss. Shevchenko is the key, but he recently has been struggling with a knee injury.

Prediction: If Shevchenko gets the service he could make a major impact.

Odds: 66-1

TUNISIA

Coach: Roger Lemerre

Previous Cups: 3

Best finish: Group stage

Rank: 21

Star: F Silva Dos Santos

Skinny: Tunisia scored 25 goals in 10 qualifying games, led by Brazilian-born striker Santos.

Prediction: Looks like just three games again.

Odds: 200-1

SAUDI ARABIA

Coach: Marcos Paqueta

Previous Cups: 3

Best finish: Second round (1994)

Rank: 34

Star: F Yasser Al Qahtani

Skinny: The Sons of the Desert are at their fourth consecutive Cup and looking to make an impact on the big stage after past disappointments — failures such as an 8-0 drubbing by Germany in 2002. The team gave up just two goals in 12 qualifying games, but coach Gabriel Calderon was replaced by Brazilian Paqueta.

Prediction: Spain and Ukraine will be tough to get past.

Odds: 500-1

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide