2006 World Cup: Group B preview
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TEAMS: England, Sweden, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago
Group B is automatically my favorite group since my favorite team is in it. Unfortunately, my favorite team isn’t all they’re cracked up to be–as usual. England is arguably a whisker better than they were 4 years ago, but they remain delicate and are already being hampered with injuries. Sweden always gives England fits, and it should be those two teams fighting it out to win the group, with Paraguay (who are not Uruguay), and Trinidad and Tobago rounding things out.
England would have had to be one of those teams you’d consider just good enough to be able to beat anyone on their day–with a healthy Wayne Rooney. Rooney’s broken foot has taken care of those kinds of thoughts. He’s now expected to be able to play, but it’s much easier to have visions of him hobbling around ineffectually, than being the difference in a match. The ever optimistic Steven Gerrard will have to pick things up in Rooney’s absence. He has said England would have no chance at all if Rooney was out. Frank Lampard, runner-up FIFA player of the year–who votes for these things?–should solidify the midfield. He’s useful enough, but c’mon. England has also taken a couple of long-shots on unproven kids Aaron Lennon and 17-year-old Theo Walcott. That almost smacks of desperation.
The always tough to beat Sweden is one of the countries that England just can’t seem to handle. They even took a Swede as coach and it hasn’t helped. The main reason is, of course, that Sweden is a pretty decent team. Henrik Larsson is getting up there, but he’s still playing very well at 34, and Zlatan Ibrahimovich should do plenty of scoring as well if he can put the season he just had at Juventus behind him. This team could go a long way or they could have an early exit. The key might be on how well pretty-boy Freddie Ljundberg does. I know if I was a Sweden supporter I wouldn’t want my hopes resting on his shoulders–even if they are capable ones at times.
Paraguay are no longer the defensive minded stalwarts you may remember. Roque Santa Cruz should head a fairly potent offense, but they’re likely to leak more goals than they put in. They’re not a bad young team, and any major slips from the top two teams will see them into the second round.
Trinidad and Tobago are just happy to be there. They will be loose and laughing and having a good time. With an old Dwight Yorke and Stern John in the squad, their main objective for the tournament will be to beat England. If they manage that they’ll consider it a huge success, but they’re going home happy regardless. They’re the smallest country to ever qualify for the World Cup.
If England and Sweden don’t advance, it’ll be considered a huge upset. But those are the things that happen in the World Cup and this is one group where it looks imminent. The England/Sweden match is the last to be played. I can see the loser of that one heading home and Paraguay slipping through to the next round. This could be one of those groups that are fun to watch and could supply a surprise or two.
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