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Sports Features of Thursday, 8 June 2006

Source: Ahmed Shiraj (shirajleonardo@yahoo.com)

Germany ?06 World Cup Verdict (Part II)

GROUP E : Italy / Ghana / United States / Czech Republic

Objectively, I see the Black Stars of Ghana as potential second round ticket holders from here. Dismal showcase in eight matches after qualifying marked a seemingly gloom era for Ghana but the impact of returnees Michael Essien, Sulley Ali Muntari, Asamoah Gyan, Eric Addo, Otto Addo and Derik Boateng has left many with conviction; some rating the country?s midfield as one the best four in world football.1-1 against Turkey and 3-1 win over South Korea, all semi-finalist at the last World Cup, with another 4-1 drubbing of Jamaica demonstrates Ghana?s proven ability. Africa never won the Under-17 FIFA World Cup (not U-16), or picked up medal at the Olympics and FIFA World Youth tournament before Ghana made its debut and changed history in the afore stated three scenarios. It could happen at the senior level also because most the players played against the same players of the so-called big guns at the youth level and outclass them. Ghana has the chance to transcend its glory from the age to the mainstream level of world football.

Italy of course is a household name in world football, whilst the Czech Republic and United States are both holders of good international ratings. History may favor Czech because they were part of the former Czechoslovakia(Runners-up 1934 and 62) and with Petr Čech, Jan Koller, Tom?? Rosick?, Pavel Nedvěd, Milan Baro? , Karel Poborsk?, and David Jarol?m, they surely are good. Italy has name but its form in midfield has been suspicious of late despite a long range of wins against quality sides.

The last time there was a major scandal in Italian football, 1982, Italy won the World Cup, so that aside. Coach Marcello Lippi?s Azzurri (sky Blues) have an embarrassment of quality upfront- Francesco Totti, Alberto Gilardino, Alessandro Del Piero, Luca Toni and Filippo Inzaghi- and as usual a good defense. The United States has shown good tactical form of late but it lacks conviction and I doubt their ability to claim one of the two tickets. There is serious doubt for midfield conviction after series of high profile injuries. Restricted now to three, I am confident to a high degree of probability that it will be Ghana and Italy. I wouldn?t however, be surprise to see Czech Republic replace because the Ghana goal drought syndrome could manifest again.

GROUP VERDICT: Ghana ahead of Italy.

GROUP E: Brazil / Japan / Croatia / Australia

A group with the biggest possible winner, Brazil-the holders. With Ronaldo de Assis Moreira "Ronaldinho", Ricardo Izecson Leite "Kak?", Ant?nio Augusto Reis Junior "Juninho", Jos? Roberto da Silva Junior "Z? Roberto", Emerson da Rosa and Gilberto Silva, the Sele??o have the best midfield in world football.Up front absolutely no fumble:Ronaldo Naz?rio de Lima, Adriano Leite Ribeiro, Robson de Souza "Robinho" and Frederico Chaves Guedes "Fred" whilst in defense, same can be said. The remaining tickets is to be contested for by Croatcia, Japan and Australia. Croatia at the 1998 event finished third, in a campaign led by Golden Boot winner Davor ?uker but with 2002 having being a disappointment and current form not fully convincing, I write them off.

Australia is in since 32 years ago under experienced Coach Guus Hiddink but admittedly, they have one of the most unconvincing defensive play amongst all competition nations and I doubt if Hiddink can plot them well on the rout to the knock-out stages. Admittedly, Australia has quality in English Premiership stars Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell. The ticket possibly will go to Japan, the team with a plethora of hard-working, fast paced, skillful and resilient players. The reigning Asian champions, who are coached by Brazil legend Zico, would have to find antidote to the struggle by defenders against top flight opponents. Hidetoshi Nakata still holds Japan?s inspiration.

GROUP VERDICT: Brazil ahead of Japan

GROUP G: France / South Korea / Switzerland / Togo

Not much has been said about the Les Bleus of France but I see their upcoming exploits potentially explosive. The high profile Frenchmen have history of letting down their nation and if it should disappear this time around for us to see the best of Thierry Henry, Djibril Ciss?, Zinedine Zidane, David Tr?z?guet, Gr?gory Coupet, Louis Saha, Patrick Vieira, Claude Mak?l?l? and Lilian Thuram, France could recover the superb form of 1998.

Switzerland qualified via a play-off in an away goal aided victory over Turkey but a recent 1-1 draw with the Ivory Coast exposed their team as one incapable of impressing in the absence of injurer player Hakan Yakin and Murrat. Flying home early looks too imminent for the Swiss. South Korea under Dutchman Dick Advocaat have being far from impressive in build-up friendly tiea but their agility in defense is the only questionable. Fairly good attack and a very good midfield, led by Park Ji-Sung of Manchester United, the Koreans are worth more than an early exit. The Hawks of Togo-invaded by many foreign born players- could place last. With full compliment of players, Togo never won a match at the African Cup of Nations, losing in friendly ties and it is now under a new coach. As debutants, and under German Otto Pfister -without Stephen Keshi, the man who led to qualify-the Togolese cannot withstand any of the other three. Emmanuel Adebayor, the best of the side cannot do it alone. A ball full of goals could be sent back to Lome in early July to teach the Togo Football Federation that it is unwise to sack coaches of Keshi?s caliber months to a huge tournament.

GROUP VERDICT: France ahead of South Korea

GROUP H: Spain/ Ukraine / Saudi Arabia / Tunisia

Spain has good materials but its inability to transcend success at club level and age competition into the national team is ambiguous. Currently 5th on the FIFA/Coca Cola Rankings, Spain is clear favorites to progress to the knock-out stage. The identities of ?ker Casillas, M?chel Salgado, Carles Puyol, Raul, Xavi, Jos? Antonio Reyes, Luis Garc?a, Andr?s Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Cesc F?bregas and Fernando Torres are enough to prove Spain?s quality. Coach Luis Aragon?s is hoping for a true reflection of the ability of the Spanish to manifest in Germany. Ukraine became the revelation of 2005 in European football, after storming to a run of highflying results; thanks to playmaker Andriy Shevchenko. There is so much quality in Oleg Blokhin?s side and if there are to be major upsets, Ukraine could be among the causal agents. Saudi Arabia received a record 0-8 defeat against Germany in 2002 and are without a big name and coached by a man with less credentials, Brazilian Marcos Paqueta. Feeling of trepidation, again, is not far for Saudis. Tunisia finished at the last World Cup without scoring a goal and I do not expect them to perform exceedingly better than four years ago. At the Nations Cup they showed promise of compactness in midfield and defense and it looks possible that Tunis will be able to celebrate over victory against only Saudi Arabia.

GROUP VERDICT: Spain ahead of Ukraine.

QUARTER-FINALS VERDICTS: Germany vs. England
Argentina vs. Portugal
Brazil vs. Ghana
France vs. Spain

SEMI-FINALS VERDICTS:

Germany vs. Argentina
Brazil vs. France

GRAND FINAL VERDICT:

Argentina vs. Brazil

THIRD PLACE VERDICT:

Germany

WINNER VERDICT:

Argentina