2006 World Cup: Leftover teams
A fighting chance
Croatia: This team was the sensation of the World Cup in 1998, but since then nobody has taken them lightly anymore and while Croatia has always performed well on the pitch, they have never again duplicated the success of 1998. They have an excellent forward in 31-year-old Dado Prso, who plays professionally in Scotland, but the Croats probably do not have enough gas to get out of round one. Some think I am wrong to rank Australia over Croatia, but that’s what is fun about the predicting business. Let’s wait to see what happens on the field.
Czech Republic: An aging team with a world class midfielder in 33-year-old Pavel Nedved. Nedved has fought injuries this year. This is a team that played brilliantly in the European tournament in 2004 but two years have passed, and in soccer years, two years means a lot of wear and tear. Because the tourney is near to home in Germany, and the Czechs have vast international experience and some great players, I rate the Czechs as having a decent shot of outpacing either the Italians or the Americans and getting into round two, but don’t bet on it.
Ecuador: Ecuador’s head coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, is talking about how he expects his young team to win. I love this mentality and leadership and it is exactly this type of coach who can lift a team. Ecuador is outgunned for sure, but if Poland isn’t careful, Ecuador could easily slip by them and into round two
Poland: The Polish team is not noted for superstar talent, but they play a tight team game and usually do well in international play. They need to avoid the injury bug because they are not deep in talent. Poland faces Ecuador, Germany and Costa Rica in round one and I believe the Poles will make it to round two, where they shall bow out gracefully, fighting gallantly but as always, it will not quite be enough.
Japan: Not much to talk about here. A few good players like Nakata. In the 2002 Cup, Japan impressively reached the quarterfinals and bowed out, but the home field advantage certainly was the key that helped Japan advance past round two. In 2006, a round-one exit is the likely outcome but Japan will certainly not embarrass themselves and a round-two appearance is not out of the question.
Ghana: A long time power in African football with a few players who play in the highest levels of European football, such as Michael Essien of Chelsea in the English Premiership. Ghana is undermanned and inexperienced. To beat Ghana, Italy, USA and Czech will need to be prepared because Ghana will not lay down and simply take defeat, but don’t expect much more than a moral victory from this side. Moral victories are nice but only real victories get you out of round one.
Ivory Coast: A team loaded with talented players has some people predicting that the Ivory Coast will be the surprise of the World Cup. I just don’t see it. The team is filled with players who play in Europe but many of them are bench warmers and the majority play in the French league, which is the weakest in Europe. So the group lacks experience and furthermore, the political instability back home has to weigh on these kids. The pressure and lack of experience combined with a tough round-one group that includes Holland and Argentina mean a near sure first-round exit for this team.
Mexico: Same story as always here. Mexico always puts out a talented team that can compete with any side in the world, and still they always walk off the World Cup field losing. Mexican players don't believe they can win and in 2006, once again, they won't.
Paraguay: The scouting reports on the Paraguay side say they are fast with good precision and a lot of heart but they have very few players that have European league experience. The intangibles probably will not be enough to help this team out of round one.
Serbia & Montenegro: This squad has one of my favorite players, Dejan Stankovic, a left footed midfielder who is tough and precise and plays with real passion. He is also slow and too emotional and that is the problem with this entire squad. Slow of foot, too little experience, not to mention Argentina and Holland in their round-one group, all add up to a likely first-round exit for Serbia & Montenegro.
Switzerland: The Swiss tourist bureau has targeted female tourists worldwide with a successful ad campaign stating that women who are not interested in the World Cup should travel to Switzerland where men are interested in other things besides football. I think that says all we need to know about Switzerland’s chances. That said, the Swiss face two very weak teams in their round-one group with the likes of Togo and South Korea to contend with. Therefore barring a major breakdown, the Swiss will enter round two and their players will promptly lose so they can return home to chase all the female tourists.
Trinidad & Tobago: A very talented group here but not talented enough to advance to round two.
Tunisia: Tunisia has a big name coach, former French coach Roger Lemerre, who was an assistant on France’s World Cup winner in 1998 and led France as head coach in 2002. Lemerre will certainly have a well prepared team and he might even have a trick or two up his sleeve, but Tunisia just does not have the talent to do more than give a few nervous moments to Spain or the Ukraine.
Angola: A team with little talent that has been playing very poorly in the run up to the World Cup. A surefire recipe for a round-one exit.
Costa Rica: Costa Rican coach Alexandre Guimaraes declared in 2002 that he considered the fact that his team was even in the tournament to be "an extraordinary achievement." His players got the message and made a prompt round-one exit. Put Guimaraes in the category of Marty Schottenheimer, a big-name coach who simply does not know how to lead his troops in the big games. The expectations for this team are low and the coach seems to be the leading underachiever.
Iran: Forget about a political propaganda score for Iran here because to have a propaganda score, Iran will have to score a few goals on the field. No way that will happen -- this team is simply bad.
South Korea: No hometown referees and home-field advantage in this tournament. Welcome to reality, guys.
Saudi Arabia: Really a lousy side but of note is that their players all play professionally in Saudi and many of them on two teams (Al Hilal and Al Ittihad). However, the potential advantage in cohesiveness is simply dwarfed by their tremendous lack of talent. Getting into round two is the dream for these guys, and they won't do it.
Togo: A coaching change only months ago after a terrible showing in the recent Africa Cup. The best Togo can hope for is to not embarrass themselves. A sure fire bet to lose in round one.
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