Alternative World Cup PreVieW 2006




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Alternative World Cup PreVieW 2006



Group A:

(Predicted final standings: 1st-Germany, 2nd-Ecuador, 3rd-Poland, 4th-Costa Rica)
German wizard, Michael Ballack, practicing his famous right hook.

The Germans

Manager Jurgen Klinsman recently made waves in the great football ocean by picking Jens Lehman as his number one goalkeeper, displacing legendary caveman Oliver Kahn from the jersey thought to be his by default. Kahn, in a show of typically Teutonic mechanical efficiency overcame his emotional shock to remain involved in the squad, ready to step into battle if anything unfortunate happens to his chum Lehman. I thought the Germans were shit (apart from Ballack) in the 2002 world cup, but those swine ended up reaching the final. The perennial enemy of England can never be discounted as a threat, however languid their domestic league appears, the German aren’t to be trusted or underestimated.

Podolski and Klos in attack will be a handful for some sub world class defenders. Midfield Maestro Michael Ballack is a unnaturally gifted midfielder. His passing and shooting skills are spectacular. He has that special magic in his soul that makes him a potential match winner in every game he plays. Must be watched, preferably at gun-point.

Thankfully, the defence is weak, un-cohesive and hopefully destined to leak goals.

Despite the fact that I only see 5 decent players out of a squad of 24, I expect Germany to win their group, grinding out victories with their usual mix of anaemic brute grit and hyper-practised set-piece routines.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s unpredictable striker, Wanchope.
If current form is any indicator of Costa Rica’s intentions for their group A clashes with Ecuador, Germany and Poland, the central Americans can be sure they will be exiting the world cup at the group stage. A pitiful 3-2 away defeat to the fearsome Iranians has been quickly followed up with an equally morale-sapping 4-0 slaughter at the hands of the Ukraine. They do have Paolo Wanchope, who has a seriously impressive international scoring record of 43 goals in 67 games. The Costa Ricans always play with a lot of flair, but often lack grit.

Polaks

The only Pole who may get a goal, Zurawski

Striker Maciej Zurawski, who has enjoyed a relatively successful season in Scotland scoring 6 goals to help Celtic win the league, is the only potential star of the polish team.

They have a habit of conceding sloppy goals.
Ecuador-

Ecuadorian midfield enforcer, Geovanny Espinoza

If their home ground wasn’t at such a high altitude I very much doubt Ecuador could have qualified for the tournament. They did beat Brazil and the Argies, in the south American qualification process, but these victories came at an altitude which would make most of us giddy and prone to feinting. The captain, Ivan Hurtado has 130 caps and will align his experience and hatred for all non-Ecuadorians, with the determination and muscle of fellow centre back Geovanny Espinoza; together they form a shield for an early applicant for the coveted ‘busiest goalie of the group stage’ award.. Edison Mendez, who plays for Villarreal, could prove a tricky customer, especially if given the opportunity to shoot from distance.




Group B


(Predicted final standings: 1st-England, 2nd- Sweden, 3rd-Paraguay, 4th-Trinidad)

Trinidad

Marvin Andrews, serious nutcase.

Marvin Andrews scares the hell out of me whenever I see him on the TV, so for sure, his inclusion in the Trinidad starting XI will cause a few nerves to fray in opposition necks. Jordan’s ex -lover, Dwight Yorke is their major star, and he will captain a side that includes two Gillingham defenders, Ian Cox and Brent Sancho. I know those players well, and I can say with some confidence that Coxy is terribly slow, not just lacking the odd yard or two of pace, he is comparable to a lump of cement with extendable legs, positioned strategically by his co-defenders at the start of each half, then left to attack players if they stray into range…. Sancho is okay, almost a reliable centre-back. Much rests on superstar bucktoothed attacker Dwight Yorke, who hasn’t exactly set the easily combustible Australian League on fire during the last 6 months in which he has been playing for Sydney FC.


Paraguay

A true Pro, Captain Gammarra

It is a shame that Jose Luis Chilavert, the flamboyant Paraguayan goalkeeper finally hung up his boots in 2003. The new shot-stopper is reputedly less adventurous,(meaning he won’t be charging up the pitch to take free-kicks and penalties a la Chilavert), but more mentally stable than his predecessor...Star man of the team is Carlos Paredes, an all action midfielder who plays his club football for Italian outfit, Reggina. Paredese is firm in the tackle, indefatigable and always willing and able to put the goal-icing on the cake of any marzipan laced attacking endeavours. However, I for one, will be focusing my attention on a different player in the Paraguayan ranks, highly experienced defender Carlos Gamarra. He captains the team for their seventh world cup outing, and is respected and adored by his team-mates and non-playing countrymen (‘I have no time for useless chatter. When I speak, I mean every word”-Gammara) . During the 1998 world cup, the naturally stern and professional Gammarra played all four games for Paraguay without conceding a single foul, which helped to assure his place in the FIFA star XI (announced at the conclusion of the tournament). Gamarra is a true artist of Defending.

Further up the field in attack, Roque Santa Cruz will provide the main threat to opposing goalkeepers.

It will be enjoyable to see Gammara strut his military mind and mentality, but ultimately I expect the Paraguayans to finish 3rd in their group.


England

Stevie Gerrard: One of only a handful of players capable of winning games single-handedly.

Never before have I felt as British as my current circumstances dictate. I am in Australia, a million miles from the action but the world cup excitement and hysteria is palpable in every second that passes. I don’t remember dreams very often, unfortunately the ones I do catch are generally horror-shows of persecution and execution, but if a dream catcher was employed by a man who can make use of that kind of mystical tool, then he would surely pull out my mind stories of a fit again Rooney scoring wonder goals from every possible angle on the pitch, Beckham nonchalantly curling in a few 35 yard screamers, a young Walcott emerging from the bench to show the world that he can run faster than Thierry Henry....These are just dreams, that I am sure I have experienced, but just don’t/can’t remember.

Since 1990, when Bobby Robson took the squad to within a whisker of the world cup final, the England team has been in a transitional phase. Admittedly 16 years is a long time, but I have this unique feeling that the wait for success will soon be over…(that is over for another 16-20 years)


Paul Robinson (goalie) is beefy, agile, brave with great reflexes. John Terry and Rio Ferdinand make up the pairing for central defence and both players are exceptionally talented dogs of war. At left back, Ashley Cole, has improved his timing, and appears more reliable with each game that he plays. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher aren’t particularly exciting right-backs, but both bring dependability and an acceptable level of distribution to the base of the right flank.

The quartet of Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard and Joe Cole, is the most magnificent midfield combination that I have been alive to see England play. Fashion-conscious, squeaky voiced captain Beckham has a passing ability second to NONE. He can piss in a pint glass from 50 yards with unnatural consistency(Beckham delivered the highest amount of goal-assists out of all the players plying their trade in the Spanish primera liga last season). And when you consider what he is capable of producing from free-kicks, there can be no questioning his instant-inclusion in the starting XI whenever fit. This is the first international tournament, I can recall, which Stevie Gerrard looks fired up for, both mentally and physically. Anyone who saw the Liverpool talisman’s two goals in the recent FA cup final will not need to be told of Gerrards devastating ability to score from any distance, deliver cross field curling passes that seemingly he pulls between keeper and defence on invisible string connected to his brain, and also and perhaps most importantly, his tendency to score Big goals when Big goals are all that will break an opponent. A fit Gerrard will be one of the most powerful players in this years tournament. Frank Lampard is coming off another respectable and successful campaign with Chelsea, and hopefully he can transfer some of that admirable club form to the national team. He is a box to box energetic workman, who can tackle, shoot and pass with commendable athleticism and technique. Joe Cole, Lampard’s Chelsea buddy, is often a joy to watch when bewildering defenders with brazilian-esqe ball control and inventive eastern-European passing reminiscent of the Hungarian great, Puskas.. Though weak defensively, Joe Cole the Goal, has the ability to make things happen. Any player who plays consistently for Chelsea must be regarded with at least a professional level of respect due to their dominance in the English premiership this last 2 seasons. If Beckham gets tired, there is the exciting, defenders-nightmare Aaron Lennon to fill the right wing slot, who is bursting at the brim with youthful exuberance and lightning pace..

It is in attack is where the potential failure or success of this English team will be decided….

Wayne Rooney represents the traditionally British mix of grit, determination, natural talent and emotion, that has been missing since we saw Pearce, Gazza and big Tony Adams wearing the three lions with pride. At only 20 years old, Rooney is already a world star, destined for a career of perhaps unprecedented success. He is the kind of player who will fight to the death from the start to the finish of every game. He has a one track mind which is WIN WIN WIN. But it is the manner in which he can take a match by the scruff of it’s neck and transform it into something wonderful, which puts him in the revered company of Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho. Rooney is by no means the finished article, neither as consistent or established as those two illustrious greats mentioned in the previous sentence, but there is a part of me which feels strongly that Rooney’s peaks may reach higher than anyone else in this generation of players, certainly more jagged (peaks), and in different areas than say Ronaldinho, but yes, I have a gut-feeling that the damage Wayne Rooney is capable of delivering is more severe than any other player involved at this years world cup.


Unfortunately, not just for English supporters but also for any football type who enjoys watching special players, Rooney was injured at the end of April. He has been healing as well as can be realistically expected, but there is still a major chance that he will NOT be able to play any part in the world cup. We will know, for sure, on 7th June, when the decisive scan is scheduled to take place. I cannot underplay the importance of Wayne Rooney. If reports are to be believed, he will definitely not be playing in any of England three group matches, but there IS a possibility that he will be able to play some part in the second round matches should England get that far.
Michael Owen will always score goals. He is fast and very direct, but only recently back from injury which doesn’t bode well for a player who is notorious for needing plenty of games to regain match sharpness. Peter Crouch, the giant Liverpool striker will start against Paraguay, after impressing with a well taken hatrick against Jamaica in England’s last friendly before the tournament begins. There is also 17 year old The Walcott, who apparently is ‘faster than a cheetah’ which would been nice to clarify.

Strength in depth: Sol Campbell, Stuart Downing, Michael Carrick, Wayne Bridge.


England should make mince-meat of both Trinidad and Paraguay, two victories which will deliver enough points to buy a ticket into the second round knock-out phase. If Wayne Rooney is fit enough to play from the second round onwards, I reckon he will win the world cup, with help mainly from Gerrard, Beckham and John Terry, who I suspect to be potential stars of the tournament. Essentially, England- with Rooney- are my world cup favourites. Though I must concede that some- but not all- of that prediction is rooted in patriotism and hope.

Without Rooney, maybe the 1/4s or even semis with a large dose of luck.


Sweden

Capable of sublime invention, Swedish striker, Zlatan Ibrahimivic..

The Swedes are always dangerous. Who can forget the burly but magical frame of Tomas Brolin, the devastating aerial threat of Kennet Anderson or the clinical finishing of Martin Dahlin???...Nowadays, effervescent Freddi Lungbrg, Aston Villas neanderthal defensive colossus Mehblerg, and of course the often unstoppable, Henrick Larssonn, are the names which put a sparkle in the eyes of adolescent Swedish fans who dream of their team going all the way to the pinnacle. There is also the sporadic genius of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who in all honesty has had a pretty poor season for Juventus. His confidence seems low, but when he plays for Sweden perhaps- as many players do e.g. Milan Baros- he will feel re-invigorated. If he does become re-energized in some way, Ibrahimovich , together with Larson will be capable of unlocking all but the most criminally resolute defences.

Dangerous.

Due to their physical similarities, the Swedish players are often impossible to man mark. Their names, generally end with –‘son’, and to a bird-brain defender like big Rio (Ferdinand), all those chaps with light blond hair and elf like faces will blend into one large, un-markable target; a very possible situation which for a mind like Rio’s would spell disaster….

If you can knock the breath out of their chests, take an edge of that famous Scandinavian vitality; the Swedes will be unable to compete. But allow them time and space and a free rein in the physical aspects of a match and those bastards will run you down like wild dogs.
Group C

(predicted final standings: 1st-Argentina, 2nd-Ivory Coast, 3rd-Serbia &M., 4th-Holland)

The Argies

Legendary superstar Diego Maradonna recently offered a few words of wisdom and two lines of coke, to Argentine midfielder, Senore Messi.

The full strength Argentine XI is the only team who I have seen comprehensively and deservedly beat the full strength Brazil XI. The two south American footballing Greats finished equal on points in the qualification process, with brazil edging 1st place on goal difference.

The manager, Jose Pekerman, knows the majority of his squad from his days as coach of various Argentinean youth teams(Under 21, Under 17), during which he won 3 World Youth cups (1995/97 and 2001).

Like England, they have a midfield of almost unrivalled quality. Villarreal’s Riquelme works seamlessly with Aimar, Gonzalez and the delightful dribbling escapades of Lionel Messi. Barcelona youngster Messi is likely to be one of the most exciting players at this years world cup. He possesses mesmerizing ball control which has prompted comparisons with the greatest Argentinean of all time, Diego Madonna..

Javier Mascherano sits in front of the defence in the anchorman position, protecting the capable defence of Coloccini, Scaloni(who you might have seen playing for West Ham in the recent English FA Cup final) and captain Juan Pablo Sorin, whose adventures down the left flank are an integral part of Argentineans’ attacking options.

In attack Crespo, Cruz and Tevez are all extremely clinical finishers who aren’t afraid to launch shots from seemingly impossible angles/distances.


The main weakness of the team is the obvious lack of depth. If for example Messi and Riquelme are horrifically crunched in a Makele/Viera sandwich, the admittedly world class Argie attack would be bereft of the supply of chances needed to turn hope into victory.
Messi is the latest of a long line of players to be burdened with the Diego-heir label, and though my personal view is that no player will ever emulate Maradona, (because the coke-loving gangster wasn’t human when he danced those dainty feet on a field of grass),I am sure the 18 year old has the ability to light up this world cup into a fantastic explosion of goals and mad skill. If fit, much like Rooney, he has the potential to win the world cup for his country.

Without him, I still think the team could go all the way, but they would need to avoid England, Brazil and Italy. Messi is needed to beat those teams.



IVORY COAST

Kolo Toure is a tower of strength in the Ivory Coast defence.

This will be the Ivorians first appearance at the finals, after failing in their previous 7 attempts to qualify. They topped what many considered to be the most competitive African qualifying group and have a sold team which excels in defence with Arsenal’s Kolo Toure leading the troops, and in attack where Chelsea’s, Didier Drogba wins most , if not all, aerial challenges and has a clumsy Steve Claridge-like habit of scoring goals even when he looks like he has fucked it right up..



Regarded by many experts as the strongest of the African nations in the tournament, the Ivory coast have unfortunately fallen into a group that includes the ultra dangerous Argies and Van Basten’s vibrant flying Dutch-men. If they can beat Serbia and Montenegro, and nick a couple of draws against Holland and the Argies, they may have a chance of making the second round, but I doubt very much, that is unless their defence is a line of four Kolo Toures, that they can keep a clean sheet against the likes of Crespo, Cruz, Messi, Van Nistelroy, Van Bommel,....

Likely to be very hard to beat. Solid and tough. Having seen how the Dutch players got physically beaten down by the Australians in last night’s 1-1 friendly draw, I now fancy the Ivory Coast to beat Holland and take 2nd spot in the group.



The Dutch

Ruud Van Nistelrooy: He rarely misses.

Lets start in attack, where I can instantly recognize teachers-pet Robben, and Alex Ferguson’s latest enemy, Ruud Van Nistelroy, whose goal-scoring record is world class(26 from 50 appearances for the national team). Arjen Robben, is a whining, diving , irritable cry-baby, but he does have the ability to charge past opponents then score executioner style goals with his accurate left boot. He is also very quick. To complete a formidable forward line there is Dirk Kuyt, who has scored 51 goals in his last two seasons playing for Feyenord in the Dutch league.

The midfield duo of big hitting Van Bommel and Van De Vart, provides industry, guile and a solid base from which the teams attacking manoeuvres can be orchestrated.

Edwin Van de sar, the goalkeeper, is tall, po-faced, extremely skilled at anticipating play and one of the most dependable custodians in the competition.

The Dutch defence, apart from Giovanni Van Bronkhurst, looks fresh and excitable, though not necessarily reliable.

Van Basten’s charges will have to show steel against the Ivory coast to claim second place in a tough group.



Serbia & Montenegro

Cheeky Kezman, the main Serbian threat.

Metaja Kezman, the former Chelsea player who scored a fuckload of goals in Holland before signing for Mourinho’s substitute regime(2004), is an often hard to manage, intelligent striker and since moving to Athletico Madrid, the technically blessed marksmen has regained his scoring touch. The inter Milan midfielder, Dejan Stankovic, is a skilful, adventurous type who is comfortable running at players, with a fiery cocktail of pace and skill which often creates goal-scoring opportunities. Contrary to my repeated personal opinion that the Italians have the best defensive unit, Serbia & Montenegro have the official reputation of ‘meanest backline in Europe’, which was carved out through a qualification campaign which yielded no defeats and first place in a group that included Spain.

The captain, Mladen Krstajic, commands his troops from the heart of defence.
Holland better beware, because second place in the group is not beyond S & M.(Serbia & Montenegro, not Sado-Masochism)

Group D

(Predicted final standings: 1st-Mexico, 2nd-Portugal, 3rd-Iran, 4th-Angola)

Iran

Iranian hero, Ali Karimi, often stops during play to whisper sweet nothings into vulnerable opponents ears which understandably causes great upset and sadness throughout the enemy ranks…..

2004's Asian player of the year, midfield lynch-pin Ali Karimi, was a dazzling figure-head in Iran’s comfortable world cup qualification. Second on the Iranian danger-men list is striker Ali Daei, third is a long haired, brutish looking bulldozer named Vahid Hasemian.

Their current form is well above my perception of their true ranking; a respectable 2-2 draw with Croatia followed a 3-1 victory over Costa Rica.

I see them finishing 3rd in group D, but as the Portuguese are often so lethargic who knows what may happen when the two sides meet to decide second place.( My assumption there is that Mexico will win the group, Angola last)



President Ahminejad recently altered Iranian law to allow women to watch this years tournament on TV. However the kind move was overruled by the Grand High Ayatollah of Iran, the religious leader who has more power than the president himself, so despite the fact that Iran are playing at only their fourth world cup in their history, only the Iranian men will be allowed to view the games on TV...

I am not sure if the restrictions stretch to the radio waves......Either way, that is a bastard’s move, yet another indication of how fucked up religion can be.


Mexico

Off you go, Marquez, you dirty bastard!I told you before: No head-butting!’says the ref.

When I think of Mexico my mind jumps to a repulsive but eye-catching goalkeepers jersey that was worn by Campos, the ex-Mexican number one . The central Americans always bring a lot of colour and entertainment to the finals and this years crop of players looks set to continue the tradition of exciting each other and spectators alike. The midfield is run by the tenacious Jaime Lozano, who loves to shoot and battle. In the centre of defence stands captain Rafael Marquez, who has recently helped Barcelona win both the Spanish Primera title and the champions league. He is a top-class defender. Reports suggest that goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez is “in the form of his life”.

With volatile striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, ruthlessly omitted from the squad, most the goal-scoring responsibility will fall to Bolton’s reserve forward, the ageing but able Jared Borgetti.
The Mexicans are my tip for winning group D. But how far can they go? Their path to the glory will be halted by one of the following world class teams: England, Argies, Italy, Brazil or France.

Portugal

Christiano Ronaldo-undoubtedly talented, but also an egotistical gimp.

Coach Luis “shrimp dick” Scolari has won the World cup once before , as manager of brazil in 1994. He has also taken the Portugese team to a European championship final, only to see them lose to the despicable 5-5-0 formation of the Greeks(2004), and it is largely the majority of that team, which make up the squad for this years World cup finals. Luis Figo has come out of international retirement to add experience and sluggish legs to the Portuguese attacking routine. Manchester United’s Christiano Ronaldo is exquisitely blessed with flair and technique but he blows hot and cold and is prone to petulance and acute selfishness. It is not uncommon to see the pretty winger screwing his shots 50 yards wide of the goal, though he does have the expertise needed to score the odd delightful long range thunderbolt.

Pauletta will be dangerous in attack, but he often fails to impress in the final stages of international competitions. If the lightweight Vitor Bai isn’t chosen between the sticks, there will be a chap ridiculously named Quim, who will take up the job of goalkeeper.
Lacking solidarity, consistency and world class talent.

A poor man’s Spain.

Second place in Group D beckons for the Portuguese.

Angola

Looking for the goals, Fabrice Akwa.

Captain Fabrice Akwa was the catalyst for Angola’s first successful world cup qualification campaign. His goals, leadership and experience helped his team overcome tight battles with Nigeria and Rwanda. In attack there is also the lively Benfica striker, Pedro Mantorras, whose obvious potential has been subdued of late due to a knee injury.

Other than those two players, not much is known of the Angolans though every World Cup there is a underdog who surpasses all expectations...Last time round it was those sneaky South Koreans under the guidance of the tactically perfect Gus Hiddink. I reckon it is time the ‘underdog’ tag went back to Africa, so I will tip Angola to bash a few skulls, score a few good goals, collect numerous red cards, then fizzle out to a respectable 3rd place group-phase finish.

Group E

(Predicted final standings: 1st-Czech, 2nd-Italy, 3rd-Ghana, 4th-USA)

Italy

The galaxy’s greatest Keeper, Santo Buffon.

For the last two years I have been saying “Italy and the Argies are my favourites” whenever the exciting prospect of the world cup has entered any conversation that I have been involved in or merely overheard. I am repeating the same statement, now, only 6 days from the start of what promises to be an exceptionally exciting tournament. Italian teams are always extremely well organized defensively, and despite what many cliché-addicts will say to the contrary, Italian defenders rank amongst the most cynical and intelligently violent players in the world game...Captain Fabio Cannavaro epitomises this classy aggressive style of play for which Italian centre backs have become renowned over the centuries; Baresi, Bergomi, Gentile,Costacurta...Alessandro Nesta, the friendly looking giant, is another cultured thug, and when you put him next to Cannavaro, together in front of a keeper with the cat-like agility, cobra reflexes and Nostradamus taught predictive abilities of Gianluigi Buffon, well, the best way to describe the Italian rearguard would be ‘Nasty, Solid, Fast enough, Highly experienced, essentially the best defensive trio in the world cup.’.

Pirlo provides the creative spark in midfield, and also is pretty damn spectacular from free-kicks as any Welsh fan will testify. Playing the Makele role is a man I admire and always feel a great affinity towards, the General, Gennaro Gattuso. A grunting, constantly irritated, vicious Sicilian dwarf who charges from two footed lunge to ankle slicing tackle as if the world is about to end, or perhaps he assumes that at any moment the dwarf police may appear with the warrant for his arrest....Whatever his immigration status is on the planet surface is irrelevant for the next 5 weeks. Gattuso is a Latin pit-bull. More than willing to fight anyone to the death. I recall watching him ‘square up’ to the giant Inter Goalkeeper, Toldo...No fear is the General’s approach. No fear, Kill all.
Admittedly, the right side of the Italian midfield is a potential weak-spot because Lippi continues to defy logic by selecting the Argentinean stool pigeon Mauro Carmoneresi. He is shit for Juventus and he is shit for the Azzurri. One day we shall see the news in the daily sports papers that yet another bribery scandal has been uncovered which involves Lippi being ordered to play Carmoneresi or face execution by Gattuso Biting squad. Some choice to make. If that is the reason why Lippi continues to include the argentine in the squad, I can accept it. The left side of midfield is perfectly covered by the suspiciously oriental-looking Gianluca Zambrotta, whose passing, stamina and tackling are all of a world class nature. Definitely one to watch. I have seen him play matches in which he dominates one whole side of the pitch. Not many players have that presence.

In attack, there are many intriguing options:

Luca Toni- >great in the air. Scored a lot of goals in qualifying campaign. Passionate. Good touch for a big man.

Del Piero-> Ageing Juve hero who has never managed to bring his often magnificent club form onto the international stage. This is undoubtedly his last chance to shine, but whether the delicate, emotionally sensitive striker is given that opportunity is a separate matter.

Totti-> I used to think he was an ignorant, uneducated, racist, rat-bastard, but everyone deserves a second chance, so I am wiping the dirty Totti slate bleach clean. He has been injured for a few months but recently returned to full training and is expected to be fully fit for the opening game against Ghana. Totti has a variety of talents : he can create a killer pass/score a wonder goal from 40 yards/ cross the ball without glancing up, telekinetically landing the ball plum on a team-mates boot/ spit at opponents’ faces. It is the last ‘talent’ that list which worries me somewhat, but such are Totti’s overall powers that he must play a part in Italy’s world cup fortunes if the Azzurri are to stand any chance of winning the tournament outright.


Inzaghi-> Accomplished AC Milan striker. Goal poacher extraordinaire. He is very fast to react, and his lightweight frame allows him to slip into spaces, gliding onto a rebound or through an offside-trap, to score goal after goal after goal...If you give him decent service he can be a phenomenal goal machine.

Italy are unbeaten in their last 18 matches.



Czech Republic

Half wolf, Half footballing demi-god, Pavel Nedved

The offspring of a bizarre tryst between Frankenstein and Herman Munster, Jan Koller, has regained fitness in time for the finals; his physical stature and practised technique will present problems to every defender unfortunate enough to find themselves lumbered with the suicidal mission of marking ‘the big lad’. Pavel Nedved is nearing the end of a 6 year peak as one of Europe’s most consistently powerful midfielders, and given his 32 years of age, this could be the Czech captain’s last chance to win a cup for his country. In goal, Chelsea star Petr Cech provides the kind of assurance only Buffon could match. If Milan Baros can hit the ground scoring, and form a meaningful partnership with giant Koller, the Czechs could win Group E, with only the Italians offering a real test of pedigree. How far they go after that will depend on the form of Nevded. He is the heart of this team. Also worth mentioning are : ex man-united winger Karel Poborsky, who still has the directness and trickery to upset defenders, and also Tomas Rosicky who has impressive shooting technique. ‘Rosicky’ translates to ‘dumplings’.

They are good enough to reach a 1/4 final or maybe even a semi...Though if they were to reach that stage, the semi-finals I mean, and avoid Brazil, Argies, France or a warmed-up Italy, the Czechs, yes, could go to the final and win it. There is logic to that conclusion. The final is a special once every four years match in which talent and form lose ground to fortune, bravery, determination and spirit. Anything can happen.



Ghana

Live-wire, midfield savage, Stephan Appiah

Captain Stephan Appiah, nick-named the Tornado, I assume in reference to his amusing to watch tendency to perform tackles which result in opposing players being flung high into the air, epitomizes the Black Stars mix of African determination, pride and vision. Appiah, together with Chelsea hard-man, Michal Essien and Sully Muntari, form a physically immense midfield but the rest of the team, though hard as nails, is decidedly average and of no established class.

Their muscle may well upset the Italians elegant, lightweight creative types like Totti, Pirlo and Del Piero, and though I can’t see them scoring against the Azzurri, I do see the Black stars achieving a respectable draw with the technically superior Italians.

Likely to lose against the Czechs, I expect the clash with the US will prove merely a fight to decide 3rd and 4th places in group E.

(NB- This is Ghana’s first appearance at the finals)

United States

The main Yankee creative force, Luke Donovan’s son, Landon.
The main star of Americas expected qualification success was ex-Bayer Leverkusen striker, Landon Donovan, who is now deployed as playmaker for his country, due to his 48 year old, fast deteriorating, legs. Kasey Keller and Tim Howard are both highly experienced shot-stoppers. Claudio Reyna is the preferred captain of the Yankee staring XI, but worryingly, the captaincy band changed arms seven times during qualifying, which doesn’t give the impression of a settled team leader. Brian McBride has proven himself to be a handful for defenders, over the last few years in the UK, and his former team-mate at Fulham, Carlos Bocanegra, offers pace and solid defensive cover. Though their team is fairly solid, there are no individual superstars.
Prediction- Bottom of Group E (will lose to Ghana)

(The US fifa ranking of 5th is attributed more to the ridiculously weak opposition –such as Panama and Guatemala-in their world cup qualification section, than to consistent victories over top class teams)



Group F

(Predicted Final standings: 1st-Brazil, 2nd-Australia, 3rd-Japan, 4th-Croatia)

Brazil

The belly of an Englishman, with the touch of Pele, Ronaldo.

Everyone knows about brazil. They are most pundits favourites for the title and deservedly so. The durable hulk, Dida, isn’t the greatest custodian in the tournament but he is by no means the worst. Defenders Lucio, Cafu and Roberto Carlos, with support from Emerson at the base of midfield, create a solid rearguard which changes shape and personnel as play dictates i.e. if brazil are playing against a team with a weak left back, Cafu will roam forward, vice versa with Carlos on the left flank. The attacking unit is flawless. Kaka, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Adriano. Genius cunning, god-given flair, clinical finishing. Very few teams will be able to cope with Brazil. To stand a chance of beating them, a team requires world class defenders, quality attackers and a collected sense of team solidarity and determination.

Their defensive rearguard is not unbreachable, but even if you can score a goal, still that undeniably amazing quartet must be contained. And I don’t think that it’s possible to keep them quiet for a whole game.


I expect the Brazilians to reach the final and win, that is unless they meet Wayne Rooney or a firing-on-all-cylinders French team(who know from history that they can beat the samba boys)

Argentina can also beat Brazil and I am sure that an in-form Italy could hold them to a draw.

One to watch: Robinho. Every time I have seen any coverage of this player, his goals have been delightful.

Aussies

Mick Dundee will be joining the Aussie squad as official killer along with team mascot ‘death-jaws’.

Much rests on the shoulders of English based Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell if Australia wish to progress past the group stage. Also there is Parma’s Mark Bresciano, who could play an important role for the Gus Hiddink controlled Socceroos. The Australians, who have waited 32 years for their second crack at the world cup whip, go into the finals with typical brashness and cave-man mythology . Mark Schwarzer is a capable keeper. Lucas Neil and Craig Moore are solid defenders. Ultimately what the team lacks is class.

I rate their manager, Hiddink, as the finest football mind involved in the finals and his tactical awareness will no doubt prove invaluable when the Socceroos meet Japan and Croatia in the battle for second place in Group F.

If they do make it to the second round I am sure their adventure will end right there.


Japan

Shinji Ono looks to the skies for the answer to his premature hair-loss, which began after his involvement with infamous detective Kojak, who was shot dead in a duel with fellow gumshoe, Italian ace, Colonel Columbo.

Any team managed by former Brazilian great Zico- who was once dubbed ‘the white pele’ due to his enchanting dribbling, sublime shooting and ninja-like ability to ghost between players into unguarded space and opportunities- should be worth watching. Japans recent 2-2 draw with Germany shows they are no sumos. The midfield partnership of Nakamura and Nakata will damage teams with their intricate, direct passing, if given the time and space, and the whole team are a bunch of high speed runners with boundless energy and enthusiasm for the aerobic aspects of the game. The japs can play. No question about it.

The central defensive duo of Miyamoto and Nakazawa is robust and experienced.

If Shinji Ono is fit enough to complete Asia’s most gifted national midfield, the Japanese team may claim second place in a group which offers two beatable opponents in the shape of Australia and Croatia(whose form is nothing short of pathetic)



Croatia

Eternally aggravated and pretty damn special on football manager2005, Bosko “don’t fuck with me” Balaban

Baby-faced Igor Tudor and Munich-trained assassin, Robert Kovac provide a volatile and brutal defensive unit, but the rest of the Croatian team is starved of quality and un-inspiring. I once signed Bosko Balaban for Gillingham in a Football Manager League one campaign; the ace striker broke the record for most goals scored in one season with a phenomenal 45 league strikes. Whether that is an indication of Balaban’s real-life credentials remains to be confirmed.


Most likely to finish last in Group F, But they have the potential to beat Australia, though I doubt also Japan, whose fly-like speed and movement will prove too much for the turgid Slavic tribesman.
Group G

(Predicted final standings: 1st-France, 2nd-Swiss, 3rd-Togo, 4th-South Korea)

France

Franck Ribery, le magician the frogs call him ‘Le Magicien’, I call him Franky Ribery.

Zidane may be old, but he possesses football wisdom which nobody else has even heard about let alone managed to absorb and understand. Thierry Henry is currently the most consistently lethal striker on the planet, and he plays in arguably the most competitive league; the English premiership. The Arsenal forward has electrifying pace and the ability to shoot with both feet from anywhere in the final third with a degree of accuracy which would make a long-distance sniper cry with pride. Trezeguet is perhaps one of the finest headers of the ball in Europe, and his feet aren’t bad either. Robert Pires wouldn’t look out of place in a gay-bar theatrical production of Dogtanian and the 3 musketeers, but he can supply gilt-edged goal scoring chances for his team-mates and put the fucker in the net through use of his own two boots. Power play isn’t his style, more elegance. The fast as fuck Louis Saha, has returned to full fitness and looks like a viable ‘best partner’ for Henry in the French attack. Patrik Vieira and Makele are two of the worlds greatest defensive midfielders, both able to serve as dependable and untraversable walls imposed between their defenders and opposition players. Strong, savage in the tackle, fast, able to create, score, defend like lions. Those two give a very strong base from which Zidane can launch his trademark forward forays. The defence -of decaying but adequately psychopathic Lilly Thuram, the robust Man United player Mikael Silvestre, Newcastle’s often mentally fragile Boumsong and Wigan sensation Chimbonda- looks very safe and secure.

For some strange reason ,that is still unknown, coach Raymond Domenech, chose clue-less Fabian Bartez over ace stopper Gregory Coupet, as the French number one. This (Bartez) is a serious weakness for a French squad which otherwise looks supreme and capable of going far in the tournament.

One to watch is Ribery. A creative genius with bags of energy, charisma and flair. He may well upstage the soon to be culled Zidane.



Togo

Faster than Ben Johnson on meth, Togo striker Adebayor

Pacey Arsenal revelation, Emmanuel Adebayor, knows where the goal is and never hesitates when presented with a chance to show off his TNT packed shooting boots. The Captain is Jean-Paul Abalo Dosseh, who brings leadership, experience and burning patriotism to the centre of defence, from where he radiates tranquillity and waves of positivity to his Togan comrades. In goal, Kossi Agassa, nicknamed ‘magic hands’ is brave, forged from granite and a formidable barrier between the sticks. France will win Group G and the Togans will have a war-like scrap with the Swiss to decide who takes second place and qualification for the second round.

If they do scrape through, the first world class team they meet will send them home.

South Korea

you want some?”squeals midfield dynamo, Park Ji Sung.

Though they have qualified for the last 5 world cups, achieving a remarkable 4th place finish as hosts in 2002(though I would put that down more to bribery of referees and Hiddink’s tactical mastermind than talented players), South Korea have only one player of any real quality; Manchester United’s lively attacking midfielder, Park Ji Sung.



Without the opportunity to bribe officials, and lacking Gus Hiddink’s obviously divine powers of football-deduction and analysis, South Korea are destined to finish last in Group G


Swiss Cheeese

Give me the fucking ball” roars Frei…….

Phillip Senderos and Alexander Frei are the two instantly recognisable names in the Switzerland squad. Brick-faced defender, Senderos, has shown maturity beyond his years whilst keeping Sol Campbell’s place warm in the heart of Arsenals defence(Campbell was injured for a large amount of last season), while Frei has been banging in goals with exceptional regularity for French club Rennes. Swiss football is said to be on the upwards exit curve of a 12 year slump, offering an exciting combination of youthful innocence and desire.

Frei’s goals could well claim second place, but I doubt the Swiss could go any further than that.
Group H

(Predicted final standings: 1st-Spain, 2nd-Ukraine, 3rd-Tunisia, 4th-Saudi Arabia)

Spain

Puyol responded “anybody got any king skins?” when asked by Spanish reporters why he was photographed-last week- laughing like a hyena in a coffee shop in Amsterdam.
Can a leopard change its spots?

Any team possessing the combined talents of Torres, Raul, Joaquin, Puyol, Reyes, Cassilas and Salgado, cannot be totally discounted as serious contenders. However the Spanish have a habit of failing to gel as a team. Their total output is regularly less than the sum of their individual parts. Luckily for the Latin paella lovers, the draw was very kind in offering Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Ukraine as group H buddies. Only a terribly poor Spanish side could fail to top the group. I hope they get through to the second round then get maliciously pummelled by Italy in revenge for Luis Enrique’s shocking fake nose-bleed in the 94 world cup quarter final which got friendly ape Tassotti, an eight match international ban, essentially signalling the premature end to a glorious career.

My Spanish mate ,Chimpy, told me last week ‘Italy are as good as out’, well, I guess I feel exactly the same way about his heroes.

Saudi Arabia

Defying the years, midfield king, Sami Al Jaber

A cut-throat defence commanded by Hamad Al Montashari offers adequate protection for Asia’s finest goalkeeper, Mabrouk Zayed, who is hoping to impress European managers in this years finals. The main Man of the last 16 years of Saudi football has been and still is Arab flair merchant, captain-courageous Sami Al Jaber, whose experience will be essential for the attacking thrust of a largely skill-less and ill-tempered Arabian arrangement.

In a group that boasts only the talented- though often lacklustre- Spanish as definitely dangerous, the Saudis could take second place, but that would mean beating Ukraine, and the chances are that Mr Montashari won’t be able cope with the insidious awareness and finishing of Andrei Shevchenko

At best the Saudis will steal second spot.


Tunisia

Wolverine look-a-like, Riadh Bouazizi

The north Africans are certainly not goal shy, with stealthy attacker, Franclieduo, notching an impressive six goals in the 7-0 demolition of Malawi(during qualifying). Chedli is another competent striker who may cause the Saudis trouble, but probably won’t bother any defenders of a more established class. Their captain is a big haired tough guy called Riadh Bouazizi who provides the backbone of the Tunisian team from his central position in midfield. Ajax defender Trabelsi deserves a mention but only because he is the only member of the squad who I have seen play( though, he has never impressed me), but I can’t see the Tunisians mustering much more than a full-blooded war with Ukraine and the Saudi’s for the coveted second spot in Group H. If they do sneak through, they will surely be eliminated at the next hurdle.


Ukraine

Certainly one of the top five strikers in our solar system, Shevchenko.

Everybody knows Andrei Shevchenko. The marksmen has been prolific in his seven years at the San Siro, and will most likely prove a success at Stamford bridge now that he has signed for Premiership champions Chelsea. His finishing is of the highest standard; ANY chance that he gets is likely to end up in the net. His old buddy, Sergei Rebrov is still about and willing to play the Hilary Clinton role to Shevchenko’s limelight hogging Bill Clinton routine ...Delivering the Monica Lewinski cameo in this fucked up stage play re-enactment of that fateful incident with the Cuban cigar, could be Rusaln Rotan, another eastern European with an eye for goals.

If the old Rebrov/Shev partnership can be rekindled at the beginning of the group stage, I see Ukraine finishing second, or maybe even first. If they adopt a traditionally communist approach, their team spirit should see them past the languishing libidos of Spain and into the knockout phase where they will meet their maker.

Shevchenko has pace, skill, anticipation, wonderful technique,swiss timing and the concentration required to take advantage of even a whiff of an opening. Without him, Ukraine are toothless and boring to watch.


it’s this big” says Czech monster, Jan Koller


World Class Teams:
Brazil, England, Argentina, France and Italy make up my list of favourites for the title. There is the traditional chance that Italy will prove woeful and fail to make it out of the group stage. If that happens, I will chuck Nedved and his Czech wolf-pack in the mix. If Italy can for once play someway near to their obvious potential, they will be extremely hard to beat. Their potential success depends on a good start and the behaviour of Totti. It is a similar story with England who must be match-ready by the time they face the Swedes. If Rooney is ready for the second round, I strongly believe that we(England) can win the cup. My heart pines for a dream semi-final line up of Brazil, Italy, Argentina and England, but my head tells me that a Brazil/ Czech/Argies/ France final four seems more likely. All of the world class teams mentioned in this paragraph are capable of taking the title.

Potential Golden-boot winners: (top scorer)

Crespo (argies)

Henry (frogs)

Ronaldo (brazil)

Toni (Italy)

Inzaghi (italy)

Crouch (England)

Gerrard (England)

Koller (Czech)


Potential Foul-Play winners: (most professional hacker)

Patrik Viera (France)- Due to a recent robbery, during which Patrick and his family were gassed into a noxious chemical sleep, I figure the lion will be very eager to roar and bite anyone who triggers his pent up rage.

Jan Koller(Czech)- His aesthetic impact is enough to curdle the bile of most human stomachs. If a player gets in the way of Koller in full stride, invariably the encounter will result in unbearable pain and suffering.

Cannavaro(italy)- An extremely cultured , professional thug. (One of my favourite defenders).

Marco Matterazzi- I wrongly assumed that his shocking disciplinary record for Inter would rule him out of contention for a world cup berth. A truly nasty man, lacking the class and composure of Cannavaro, but bigger and meaner.

Essian (Ivory Coast)- Any player who in the space of ten days can injure rat-face Dietar Hamann and the equally venomous Ben Haim, deserves to be on this list.



Potential white-washes…..

Brazil v Australia

Sweden v Trinidad

England v Trinidad

France v South Korea

Brazil v Croatia

Brazil v Japan
Player most likely to pull a knife:

Matterazzi (italy)

Gattusso (Italy)

Appiah( Ghana)

Marquez (Mexico)

Marvin Andrews (Trinidad)





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