2006 World Cup: Cinderella teams
One of these teams could well catch fire and land in the quarter or semifinals.
Holland: Holland has a few critical question marks that could mean paradise or disaster in this tournament. The young coach of Holland, Marco Van Basten, has gone against conventional wisdom and left many big name stars off his national roster, preferring a team that mirrors him, young and hungry. I love his courage but experience is critical in such a high-pressure environment and I think Van Basten went a bit overboard by selecting so many young players. A guy like Clarence Seedorf or Patrick Kluivert would have certainly come in handy in a big pressure game.
Key player: 29-year-old Ruud Van Nistelrooy is still young enough to fit Van Basten’s youth movement but experienced enough to lead this squad. Van Nistelrooy has been filling the opponent goals for years now in the English Premiership and his forward scoring skills will be crucial to the success or lack thereof for Holland.
Match-up notes: In their group, Holland faces Argentina, Serbia & Montenegro, and the Ivory Coast. I believe Holland’s youth will serve them in this group and their energy will allow them to squeeze out a second-place group finish. In round two, they likely face Portugal, a team capable of losing the game no matter who they match up with. If Portugal falls apart, Holland can inch past Portugal and it would be England in the quarterfinals, which would be the end of Holland’s Cinderella run.
Ukraine: This team is the team I predict will be the surprise of the tournament. They did not even qualify for the 2002 World Cup so not many folks are taking the Ukrainians seriously.
Key player: Andrii Shevchenko. The 29-year-old forward Shevchenko is at the peak of his career and has led AC Milan in scoring for several years running. He has a soft, precise touch around the goal and is also capable of powering his way through aggressive defenses and sending the ball into the net with authority. The Ukraine side has little international experience so Shevchenko needs to show a lot of leadership to help lift the play of his teammates.
Match-up notes : The Ukraine is grouped with Spain, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia in round one so surely they will enter into round two. The real question is can Ukraine upset the apple cart and edge past Spain, finishing first in their group in round one? If Ukraine wins this group, it will give them a likely easy round-two opponent in Switzerland and a near sure berth into the quarterfinals. If Ukraine finishes second, they will likely have to play France, a much harder assignment for an inexperienced but ambitious side.
United States: Obviously I would love for US team to have a good showing in Germany but after the run in the 2002 World Cup by the Americans, this team is not going to sneak up on anyone. This team has several players banged up right now, including midfielder Claudio Reyna. If Reyna can stay healthy, and Josh Wolff and his teammates can step up, the USA has a great chance to advance to round two.
Key player: Bruce Arena. Okay, okay, I know Arena is not a player; he is the coach. But guess what: In my opinion, Arena is the best coach in the tournament, and he’s also the longest serving national coach in the world. This guy took the Americans to the quarter finals of the 2002 Cup and he did it by defying conventional wisdom in two major matches. Against Portugal, the USA scored early and often as the shocked Portuguese were left speechless. Convention and tradition rule in Europe; play the odds because you have too much to lose if you do not. While the Portuguese expected outmanned Americans to line up and play defense for 90 minutes, Arena had his team on the attack. Surprise! Same story against Mexico: Arena changed his lineups to get good tactical match ups and his team simply outhustled and outfoxed the more talented Mexican side.
Match-up notes: The USA have a terribly tough round one, facing Italy, Ghana and the Czech Republic. The USA need a great tactical plan by Arena to get into round two, but Arena has proven he knows how to get his team past the first two rounds of the World Cup. Let’s say I am worried about round one for the US but there is no reason to believe they can’t do it.
Questions or comments? Visit SRSoccer.com to be heard.