World Cup frontrunners, best World Cup teams

2006 World Cup: Frontrunners

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These teams all have an excellent chance to reach the semifinals.

Germany: The Germans go into the World Cup with an aging and relatively untalented side but in any case, it is astonishing the degree to which the German side is being discounted. In my 2002 Bullz-Eye World Cup preview, I predicted an early exit for the South Koreans in spite of home field advantage. This turned out to be one of the few blemishes on my forecast, because as we all know, the South Koreans, despite having a team completely devoid of talent, landed in the final four and that is because they were playing on their home field in front of their home fans. Home field advantage is huge in the World Cup and therefore you simply cannot put Germany anywhere but in the front runner category. Furthermore, the Germans have experienced internationals and they almost always perform well on the world stage, meaning they should never be overlooked.

Key player: Goal scoring will be a problem for the Germans, and the one true superstar on this team is midfielder Michael Ballack. Ballack won’t have much help but surely the Germans will succeed to hold their adversaries to very few goals so Ballack doesn’t have to feed his mates more than a few astounding passes for Germany to have success in this World Cup.

Match-up notes: Germany face Costa Rica, Poland and Ecuador in round one so they will surely win this group. In round two they will likely face Sweden and therefore a quarterfinal appearance is probable for the home team. In the quarterfinals a potential classic match of Germany against Argentina awaits us!

Brazil: I do not stand in unison with football pundits who label Brazil as the favorites to win this World Cup. I think Brazil will need not only talent but a good bit of luck to come out on top in this tournament. Fan support is a crucial element in a football match and you can bet that the German fans at these events will not give any boost to the Brazilians.

With all that said, let’s talk about this team and its incredible skill level. The list of superstar talent with amazing skills is seemingly endless: Emerson, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano, Kakà, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Julio Cesar…. All of these gentlemen are stars on leading European teams and all of them can take over a game at any minute.

Key player: Midfielder Ronaldinho has everything you could dream of in a football player. He has been named the world football player of the year, the American equivalent of MVP, for two years running. Ronaldinho is fantastic but I think the key for Brazil will be Kakà. Okay, please drop the jokes about the name, because I assure you this kid does not stink in any way. Kakà is a midfielder who plays in the Italian league during the season and will handle the midfield side opposite Ronaldinho. Kakà has shown a maturity and precision that are notable but most interesting is Kakà’s tendency to step it up in the big games. Kakà was a sub who had only a brief appearance in the 2002 World Cup. In 2005, Kakà arrived on the major football scene and created a sensation with AC Milan with his clutch goals, ability to defend and advance the ball and his precision passing. In 2006, with so much attention on Ronaldinho, watch for plenty of Kaka’s crosses to the likes of Ronaldo and Adriano. If these crosses are well placed, Brazil could waltz into the finals quite easily.

Match-up notes: Brazil could have a second-round match up with Italy, which would make for great drama as the Italians are playing badly right now, but they are one of the few teams that seem to enjoy playing against Brazil. More importantly, the Italians play without fear against Brazil.

France: France has one of the world's best football players, midfielder Zinedine Zidane. His precision and decision-making are simply astounding. Zizou, as the French fans affectionately call him, leads a squad of aging players who are still serious contenders to win this tourney.

Key player: Zidane. France has great players up and down the pitch. On the attack, Theirry Henry and David Trezenguet are experienced goal scorers. Lilian Thuram of Juventus is still one of the world’s best defenders. Aiding Zizou in the midfield are Makelele and Vieira. But it all comes back to Zizou. Zidane plays in the Spanish league and, while he was great this past season, he was nothing near his once grand old self. If the World Cup atmosphere can provoke a sort of fountain of youth-like recovery in Zidane, he is capable of lifting his team to the championship.

Match-up notes: France has the easiest first round facing Switzerland, Togo and South Korea. This will help French coach Raymond Domenech keep his best players fresh heading into round two, where France is likely to face Spain or the Ukrainian squad.

England: The English, as always, have a deep and dangerous squad. Most analysts believe Brazil will win this tournament but because their position in the Grouping should yield the easiest ride to the final four, I consider England the prohibitive favorite to win this World Cup. Wayne Rooney is one of the best forwards in all of football but an injury will probably keep him out of round one; however, the English are loaded with great players like the amazing David Beckham, talented leader and midfielder Steven Gerrard, experienced scorer Michael Owen, a great defender in Rio Ferdinand, but even more importantly, the English are full of talented role players like Joe Cole and Frank Lampard, who selflessly sacrifice themselves for the better of the team. Sven Goran Ericksson is one of the world’s best coaches and the English have come oh so close in the last few years to a major success. In this tourney, I see the British as having the best chance to win it all.

Key player: Beckham is the key player for England. When he is on his game, he raises the performance of those around him to another level. I really hope that American fans will get to see a sterling performance by Beckham in this World Cup because this guy is one of the few players on the globe that can do things when he is on his game that are simply mind boggling.

Match-up notes: England has a fairly easy first round with a good but not great Swedish team in their group but little feared Paraguay and Trindad & Tobago also in Group. The English should win this group and will likely face Poland in round two, another fairly easy assignment. In the quarterfinals, England again should have an easy assignment, likely going against Portugal or Holland. From there, this well-rested team will be in an ideal state to challenge in the semifinals against possibly France or Spain and onto the finals.

Argentina: In the 2002 World Cup, everybody’s favorite to win was Argentina, who instead had an embarrassing round-one exit. As a result, some experts are discounting Argentina this time around. In 2002, in the pages of Bullz-Eye, I was a lonely voice who went against conventional wisdom and accurately predicted a first-round loss for Argentina. This time, I will once again buck the odds. Most people do not see Argentina getting into the final round, but I predict a likely final four shot for Argentina.

Key player: My favorite player in the world plays for Argentina, 26-year-old midfielder Estaban Cambiasso. This is one guy American fans will love. Cambiasso is not your traditional Argentine prima donna, who strolls leisurely up the field after a good play on offense. This guy hustles and gives 100% for the full 90 minutes. Furthermore, Cambiasso rarely, if ever, makes a bad pass. Granted, Cambiasso rarely takes risks while tradition is that the Argentinean midfielders always go for the big play, but I think Cambiasso’s cautious approach is exactly what Argentina needs. Why make long and risky cross field passes when you have some of the best players in the world at nearly every spot? I have always felt that if Argentina were patient, and would work the ball accurately up field and cross it into the scoring area every time up the pitch, these guys might just dominate. Cambiasso is exactly that kind of player, a second coach on the field who is constantly directing his teammates. One more note: If you watch this guy, pay attention to how he addresses the ball. He has a very low center of gravity and the most amazing thing is that his upper body seems to be mounted to his hips via a 360-degree swivel. It is a pleasure to watch Cambiasso for his hustle, leadership and precision, and because of his presence I predict Argentina will advance to the final four.

Match-up notes: Argentina will have little trouble winning their group and will therefore likely face Mexico in round two, another easy match and hence a near sure arrival to the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, Argentina could find themselves matched up against Germany. I see this match potentially as the best game of the entire tournament. The result is really a tossup. Undermanned Germany will try to use the home advantage and aggressive defensive play to frustrate Argentina and take them off their game. Germany’s target would be a 0 – 0 tie and a penalty shootout. If we get this match, for sure it will be filled with passion and drama and will be a match not to miss.

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