Monday, June 05, 2006

Sportszilla's World Cup Preview - Group E
By Imtiaz Mussa

United States of America
World Cup Titles: 0
Last Time We Saw Them: 2002 was their best ever performance in the World Cup as they eventually lost to Germany in the quarterfinals. The Americans were the better team in that match. Even the German media thought the better team went home.
June 12 vs. Czech Republic
June 17 vs. Italy
June 22 vs. Ghana
The Manager: Bruce Arena was successful in stints with the University of Virginia and DC United before becoming the US boss in 1998. No manager in this tournament has been with their team longer than Arena has. He is highly regarded as a players manager.
Goalkeepers: Kasey Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach, Germany), Tim Howard (Manchester United, England), Marcus Hahnemann (Reading, England)
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham, England), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96, Germany), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Chris Albright (LA Galaxy), Eddie Lewis (Leeds Utd, England), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege, Belgium), Eddie Pope (Real Salt Lake), Gregg Berhalter (Energie Cottbus, Germany)
Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven, Holland), Bobby Convey (Reading, England), Clint Dempsey (New England Revolution), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids), John O'Brien (Chivas USA), Ben Olsen (DC United), Claudio Reyna (Manchester City, England)
Strikers: Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Wizards), Brian McBride (Fulham, England), Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), Josh Wolff (Kansas City Wizards)
Breakdown: There are mixed expectations for the USA going into this World Cup. In 2002, no one took them seriously and they were able to make a run to the quarterfinals. There will be no more sneaking up on anyone as the United States is now ranked fourth in the world. Arena has decided to put together a largely veteran squad led by captain Claudio Reyna who has had some hamstring problems but should be ready to go for June 12. In goal, Kasey Keller will be in familiar territory as he is currently playing in Germany. Since getting to the Bundesliga, he has arguably been the goalkeeper in the league. The defense is a huge question mark. Many people believe that Oguchi Onyewu will be the breakout player of the tournament and will earn himself a big money transfer from Belgium. At 6’4’’ and 210 pounds, he is certainly big enough to deal with the likes of Jan Koller and Luca Toni. Either Eddie Pope or Carlos Bocanegra will partner with him in the center of the defense. With Cory Gibbs out, Eddie Lewis appears likely to start at left back even though he has spent most of his career in the midfield. Arena has tried him at the position in wins over Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago and he played well. Plus he can make runs from that spot and provide some lethal crosses. Though he’s undersized, Steve Cherundolo has found a way to last seven years in Germany. The midfield has the potential to be explosive with the likes of Beasley, Convey, and Donovan all providing a ton of speed. John O’Brien is the best passer of the group and when he plays, the United States look remarkably better. Reyna is the driving force in the middle but if he can’t play, Pablo Mastroeni will come in to play the holding role which will allow the rest to go forward. Clint Dempsey is the X-factor since he provides so much energy and can play anywhere on the field. Up front, Brian McBride will be the target man for the crosses. If Eddie Johnson is in form, he is very dangerous. Overall, this is the most talented team the United States has ever put together but they must answer questions about their terrible record against European teams.
Star Man: DaMarcus Beasley – midfielder – PSV Eindhoven
Landon Donovan might be the poster boy of American soccer but his good friend DaMarcus Beasley is the true superstar of this team. He understands big game situations in Europe having played in the Champions League. The hostile atmosphere won’t be a problem for him but his speed will be a problem for the opposition. His crossing has tremendously improved since making the move to Holland and playing under Guus Hiddink.
Verdict: This is the toughest group in the draw and United States has the ability to either win the group or fall flat on their faces. They will finish second in the group but will leave Germany after losing to Brazil in a repeat of 1994.

World Cup Titles: 3 (1934, 1938, 1982)
Last Time We Saw Them: They were one of the most disappointing sides of Korea/Japan getting beat in the second round.
June 12 vs. Ghana
June 17 vs. United States
June 22 vs. Czech Republic
The Manager: Marcello Lippi was one of the most successful managers in Serie A with Juventus. He led the team to five Serie A titles, the Champions League, and an Intercontinental Cup before taking over the Azzurri from Trapattoni in 2004. He is considered to be a supreme tactician who has scoped out his opponents to the very last detail. In regards to preparation, there may be no one better in the world. The nation is fully behind him as he led the Italians to a 4-1 victory over Germany in March.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Angelo Peruzzi (Lazio), Marco Amelia (Livorno)
Defenders: Massimo Oddo (Lazio), Cristian Zaccardo (Palermo), Marco Materazzi (Inter Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Palermo), Alessandro Nesta (AC Milan), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Gianluca Zambrotta (Juventus), Fabio Grosso (Palermo)
Midfielders: Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan), Simone Perrotta (Roma), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Simone Barone (Palermo), Francesco Totti (Roma)
Forwards: Luca Toni (Fiorentina), Alberto Gilardino (AC Milan), Filippo Inzaghi (AC Milan), Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Udinese)
Breakdown: Ever since Roberto Baggio sent that ball over the crossbar in the penalty shootout against Brazil in the 1994 World Cup finals, it appears that Italy has been going in reverse. They went to the quarters in 1998 and the second round in 2002. However, this Italian team is extremely talented. When Gianluigi Buffon is on top of his game, he is the best goalkeeper in the world. The defense which features stalwarts Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, and Gianluca Zambrotta is extremely tight and will make life difficult for the strikers. In the midfield, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi are both excellent passers. Up front, Luca Toni has been brilliant for Fiorentina this season as he was Serie A’s leading goalscorer. He will start alongside Alberto Gilardino who had a breakout year last year and turned it into a big move to AC Milan. Neither is as good as Francesco Totti who has become the face of Italian football. He is in a race to get fully fit after breaking his fibula and suffering ankle ligament damage in February. The country held their collective breath when the injury happened. Empoli defender Richard Vanigli was left in tears after making the tackle. The playmaker will be one to watch in Germany. However, there is now a big cloud over the Italian team as scandal has broken out back home. Members of the Italian Football Association have resigned in light of charges of match fixing. It is so serious that many managers and players have been brought in for questioning and Juventus could lose their Champions League place and get relegated to Serie B.
Star Man: Gianluigi Buffon – goalkeeper – Juventus
The most expensive goalkeeper in the world (Juve bought him for £33 million from Parma in 2001) is the anchor in the back for Italy. The 28 year old is very agile, intelligent, and has tremendous reflexes. He can single handedly keep Italy in the game however with the scandal taking place and Buffon being in the middle of it, it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.
Verdict: They were set to break out of their funk since they have so much talent on this squad but the scandal changes everything. What is going on in Italy is very serious and will affect some of the players. If they lose to the United States, they are going home after the group stage.

Czech Republic
World Cup Titles: 0
Last Time We Saw Them: This is their first World Cup as the Czech Republic.
June 12 vs. United States
June 17 vs. Ghana
June 22 vs. Italy
The Manager: Karel Bruckner is expected to retire after the finals. He took over after the Czech Republic failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup and is considered to be an inspirational figure among his players. He got this team through qualifying, convinced Pavel Nedved to come out of international retirement for this World Cup, and the team is now ranked second in the world.
Goalkeepers: Jaromir Blazek (Sparta Prague), Petr Cech (Chelsea, England), Antonin Kinsky (Saturn Ramenskoye, Russia)
Defenders: Zdenek Grygera (Ajax Amsterdam, Holland), Marek Jankulovski (AC Milan, Italy), Martin Jiranek (Spartak Moscow, Russia), Radoslav Kovac (Spartak Moscow, Russia), Pavel Mares (Zenit St Petersburg, Russia), David Rozehnal (Paris St Germain, France), Tomas Ujfalusi (Fiorentina, Italy)
Midfielders: Tomas Galasek (Ajax Amsterdam, Holland), David Jarolim (Hamburg SV, Germany), Pavel Nedved (Juventus, Italy), Jaroslav Plasil (Monaco, France), Karel Poborsky (Ceske Budejovice), Jan Polak (Nuremberg, Germany), Tomas Rosicky (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Libor Sionko (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland)
Forwards: Milan Baros (Aston Villa, England), Marek Heinz (Galatasaray, Turkey), Jan Koller (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Vratislav Lokvenc (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria), Jiri Stajner (Hanover 96, Germany)
Breakdown: This might the Czech Republic’s best chance to make a huge impact at the World Cup. Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, and Tomas Galasek are 33 while all time leading goalscorer Jan Koller are 32. These veterans are accompanied by some impressive youngsters starting with Petr Cech in goal, Tomas Rosicky in midfield, and Milan Baros up front. The big problem for this team is in defense as they will have to improve on allowing 12 goals in 12 qualifying matches. Petr Cech’s spot is locked up but the men in front of him have to do a better job. The midfield of Galasek, Poborsky, Nedved, and Rosicky is a strength. It all banks on whether or not Jan Koller can back from his knee injury. In Euro 2004, his partnership with Milan Baros helped Baros win the Golden Boot award as top scorer. Baros seems to turn it up a notch in international play. He has been a disappointment in the Premiership. If he’s healthy and in form, there will be problems for the opposition.
Star Man: Tomas Rosicky – midfielder – Arsenal
Arsenal’s newest signing who is nicknamed ‘Little Mozart’ emerged from Nedved’s shadow and was the leading figure in qualification. He will play in the attacking midfield position behind the strikers and will provide them their passes and if the opposition isn’t careful, he will score a goal.
Verdict: They are the best team in the group and have the talent to go to the semis. It will depend on whether or not they can shore up the defense.

World Cup Titles: 0
Last Time We Saw Them: This is their first trip to the World Cup.
June 12 vs. Italy
June 17 vs. Czech Republic
June 22 vs. United States
The Manager: Ratomir Dujkovic has managed sides such as Venezuela, Burma, and Rwanda who he helped win the 2004 African Cup of Nations. Although he helped Ghana to their first World Cup, he has come under pressure after Ghana exited in the first round of this year’s African Nations Cup.
Goalkeepers: Sammy Adjei (Mohadon Sports Ashdod, Israel), Richard Kingston (BB Ankaraspor, Turkey) George Owu (AshantiGold)
Defenders: Addoquaye Pappoe (Ashdod Tel-Aviv, Israel), John Painstil (Hapoel Tel Aviv, Israel), John Mensah(Rennes, France), Issa Ahmed (Randers, Denmark), Sammy Osei Kuffuor (AS Roma, Italy), Hans Adu Sarpei (Vfl Wolfsburg, Germany), Dan Quaye (Hearts of Oak), Habib Mohammed (King Faisal), Shilla Illiasu (Asante Kotoko)
Midfielders: Stephen Appiah (Fenerbache, Turkey), Michael Essien (Chelsea, England), Sulley Ali Muntari (Udinese, Italy), Haminu Dramani (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia & Montenegro), Eric Addo (PSV Eindhoven,Holland) Derek Boateng (AIK Solna, Sweden), Otto Addo (FSV Mainz 05, Germany)
Forwards: Asamoah Gyan (Modena, Italy) Matthew Amoah (Borussia Dortmund, Germany), Razak Pimpong (FC Copenhagen, Denmark), Alex Tachie-Mensah (St. Gallen, Switzerland)
Breakdown: This is a difficult draw for a team that is making their World Cup debut. One thing is for certain; they will not let anyone push them around. Michael Essien is probably the best young defensive midfielder in the world. Essien will get his fair share of cards only after he leaves some players hurting. He will be joined in the midfield by the steady Stephen Appiah. Ghana will be missing Laryea Kingston on the right. He has been suspended four games after a spat with Senegal’s Habib Beye. Bayern Munich’s Sammy Kaffour is the only experienced man on the backline. Up front Matthew Asmoah and Asamoah Gyan are a young and inexperienced tandem. In a strong goup, Ghana is not expected to do much and should play loose.
Star Man: Michael Essien – midfielder – Chelsea
Africa’s most expensive footballer has been everything Ghana has hoped for. He is a tough tackler who is not afraid of anyone, he goes forward well, and technically astute. He scored some key goals for Ghana during their qualifying run. He will get his fair share of cards.
Verdict: Not much is expected of them so they can play loose. With that being the case, they have the potential to cause a major upset in the group. They will most likely to finish bottom in Group E.

Group E Predicted Order of Finish
Czech Republic
United States

German Football Term of the Day
Gelbe karte – Yellow card


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