Thursday, June 08, 2006

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

World Cup Titles: 0
Last Time We Saw Them: Lost to South Korea in the quarterfinals in 2002.
June 14 vs. Ukraine
June 19 vs. Tunisia
June 23 vs. Saudi Arabia
The Manager: Luis Aragones is considered to be one of the more controversial managers in the world. He was caught on tape making racist comments about France’s Thierry Henry prior to a match 18 months ago. He has a volatile temperament and makes enormous demands of his players but Spain are undefeated since he took over in late 2004.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Jose Reina (Liverpool, England), Santiago Canizares (Valencia)
Defenders: Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Michel Salgado (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Mariano Pernia (Atletico Madrid), Antonio Lopez (Atletico Madrid), Pablo Ibanez (Atletico Madrid), Juanito Gutierrez (Real Betis)
Midfielders: David Albelda (Valencia), Xabi Alonso (Liverpool, England), Joaquin Sanchez (Real Betis), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal, England), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Marcos Senna (Villarreal)
Strikers: Jose Antonio Reyes (Arsenal, England), David Villa (Valencia), Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid), Raul Gonzalez (Real Madrid), Luis Garcia (Liverpool, England)
Breakdown: Another talented squad and all the expectations in the world for a team that will try to shatter the memories of failed campaigns. They have a group which they can easily win and a manager who will not accept a loss. Spain has it all. Iker Casillas is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He has won European and La Liga titles with Real Madrid and understands big pressure situations. The defense is led by Barcelona captain and center-back Carlos Puyol. Also is defense is promising youngster Sergio Ramos who earned a big move to Real Madrid last year. There is a chance that the midfield could be made up by all Premiership players. Xabi Alonso who plays alongside Steven Gerrard is an excellent holding midfielder with a strong leg. Arsenal’s Jose Antonio Reyes is a quick attacking left midfielder and possibly on the other side is Luis Garcia who generally plays behind the striker in Liverpool. Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas is one of the most talented youngsters in the Premiership. When he reaches his prime (he’s only 19), he will be one of the best midfielders in world. That quartet will be joined by Barcelona’s Xavi and Real Betis’ Joaquin. Up front, Spain has a ton of talent. Their captain Raul suffered some ligament damage in November but should be fresh and ready to go. He’s their all time leading goalscorer but does not have a good record against the likes of England, Brazil, Argentina, or Holland. Joining him will be the talented Fernando Torres who every big club wants to sign and David Villa who had a fantastic season with Valencia. With a team this strong, they should be able to win the World Cup but they always have that mental barrier. If they want success this year, they have to find a way to break that down.
Star Man: Iker Casillas – goalkeeper – Real Madrid
At 25 years old, it is very rare for a goalkeeper to have as much big game experience as Casillas has. He has all the skills to be one of the best in the world. He is not the reason why Real Madrid has been struggling to win trophies these past few seasons. If anything, he’s the reason why they are not worse.
Verdict: They should win Group H and at least get to the quarterfinals. But that’s where their run may end with a possible showdown against Brazil.

World Cup Titles: 0
Last Time We Saw Them: This is their first appearance in the World Cup.
June 14 vs. Spain
June 19 vs. Saudi Arabia
June 23 vs. Tunisia
The Manager: Oleg Blokhin was the European Player of the Year in 1975 and currently serves as a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. He has attained cult status for taking this team of underachievers and making them into a solid unit. When he took over in 2004, he made the promise that their time has come. This is one promise that the politician has come through on. It is interesting to note that he is not being paid for the job he is doing as manager following a court decision.
Goalkeepers: Oleksander Shovkovsky (Dynamo Kiev), Andriy Pyatov (Vorskla Poltava), Bogdan Shust (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Defenders: Andriy Nesmachny (Dynamo Kiev), Vladyslav Vashchyuk (Dynamo Kiev), Olexander Yatsenko (FK Kharkiv), Volodymyr Yesersky (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Andriy Rusol (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Dmytro Chigrinsky (Shakhtar Donetsk), Vyacheslav Svidersky (Arsenal Kiev)
Midfielders: Anatoly Tymoshchyuk (Shakhtar Donetsk), Oleg Gusiev (Dynamo Kiev), Ruslan Rotan (Dynamo Kiev), Serhiy Nazarenko (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Oleg Shelayev (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Andriy Husin (Krylya Sovietov Samara, Russia), Sergei Rebrov (Dynamo Kiev), Maxim Kalinichenko (Spartak Moscow)
Forwards: Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan, Italy), Andriy Voronin (Bayer Leverkusen, Germany), Artyom Milevsky (Dynamo Kiev), Andriy Vorobei (Shakhtar Donetsk), Olexiy Belik (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Breakdown: This will be Ukraine’s first major football tournament since they attained independence 14 years ago. They were the first European nation to qualify and did not have an easy group. It featured Euro 2004 winners Greece, 2002 World Cup semifinalists Turkey, and the consistent team from Denmark. This is team is confident because of the man they have up front. Andriy Shevchenko is one of the best strikers in the world and is the focal point of this attack. He has been getting over a knee injury but should be ready to go. Andriy Voronin of Bayer Leverkusen and Dynamo Kiev’s Ruslan Rotan will the key players who will provide him the ball in spots where he can score. The wild card is Sergei Rebrov who returned to Kiev after a disappointing couple of years abroad including a stint with Tottenham Hotspur who made the forward their most expensive signing in their history. When Rebrov and Shevchenko were at Dynamo Kiev together, they were unstoppable. Their biggest concern will be the fitness and form of goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy. The Dynamo keeper was outstanding in qualifying not allowing a goal in 636 minutes. However, he suffered a broken collarbone in April and it remains to be seen if he will have the form that he did in qualifying.
Star Man: Andriy Shevchenko – striker – Chelsea
Chelsea’s new £30 million signing is about as complete a striker as there is in the world. His 27 goals in 63 appearances gives him an outstanding ratio. He has twice led Serie A in scoring and will be one to watch in Germany. He will be a safe bet to win the Golden Boot as the tournament’s leading scorer.
Verdict: Tunisia and Saudi Arabia should not be a problem for Ukraine. The June 14 matchup will be one of the best matches of the group stage. If Shevchenko catches fire, they are going to the quarterfinals.

World Cup Titles: 0
Last Time We Saw Them: They failed to make it out of the first round in 2002.
June 14 vs. Saudi Arabia
June 19 vs. Spain
June 23 vs. Ukraine
The Manager: Roger Lemerre led the team to the African championship two years ago and France to the Euro 2000 title. He was an assistant under Aime Jacquet in 1998 as France won the World Cup. Unfortunately, he was dismissed after France’s disastrous run in the 2002 World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Ali Boumnijel (Club Africain), Hamdi Kasraoui (Esperance Tunis), Adel Nefzi (US Monastir)
Defenders: David Jemmali (Bordeaux, France), Hatem Trabelsi (Ajax, Holland), Mehdi Meriah (Etoile du Sahel), Anis Ayari (Samsunspor, Turkey), Alaeddine Yahya (Saint-Etienne, France), Radhi Jaidi (Bolton, England), Karim Hagui (Strasbourg, France), Karim Saidi (Lecce, Italy)
Midfielders: Jawhar Menari (Nuremberg, Germany), Adel Chedli (Nuremberg, Germany), Mehdi Nafti (Birmingham City, England), Sofiene Melliti (Gaziantespor, Turkey), Hamed Namouchi (Rangers, Scotland), Karim Zdiri (Rosenborg, Noeway), Yassine Chikhaoui (Etoile du Sahel), Riadh Bouazizi (Kayserispor, Turkey), Chaouki Ben Saada (Bastia, France), Kais Ghodhbane (Diyarbakirspor, Turkey)
Forwards: Francileudo Santos (Toulouse, France), Ziad Jaziri (Troyes, France)
Breakdown: For a team that has never had much success in the World Cup, this team has a great deal of self belief heading into Germany. Goals will not be a problem for Tunisia as they averaged 2.5 per game during qualifying. The only African country that averaged more was Egypt. This is thanks to striker Francileudo do Santos who scored five in qualification. Santos happens to be a naturalized Brazilian. The Carthage Eagles defense is solid as they are led by Ajax’s Hatem Trabelsi and Bolton’s Radhi Jaidi. There will be an open competition for the starting midfield spots as many players now play in Europe. The quality of the Tunisian players is higher than it has ever been before.
Star Man: Francileudo do Santos – striker – Toulouse
The Brazilian born striker was a key part of Tunisia’s victorious African Cup of Nations team in 2004 and in their World Cup qualifying run. He has scored 17 goals in 27 games for his adoptive nation and is dangerous inside and outside the box.
Verdict: They will push hard to make it out of the group stages but will fall short.

Saudi Arabia
World Cup Titles: 0
Last Time We Saw Them: They were embarrassed by Germany 8-0 in the first round of the World Cup and failed to make it out.
June 14 vs. Tunisia
June 19 vs. Ukraine
June 23 vs. Spain
The Manager: Marcos Paqueta led Brazil’s Under-17 and Under-20 teams to world titles in 2003. He helped Riyadh side Al Hilal win the Saudi league and Cup double two seasons later. He takes over from Gabriel Calderon who was sacked in December after leading the team to an undefeated record in qualifying.
Goalkeepers: Mohammad Al-Deayea (Al-Hilal), Mabrouk Zayed (Al-Ittihad), Mohammad Khouja (Al-Shabab)
Defenders: Ahmad Al-Doukhi (Al-Ittihad), Redha Takar (Al-Ittihad), Hamad Al-Montashari (Al-Ittihad), Ahmad Al-Bahri (Al-Ittifak), Mohammad Masaad (Al-Ahli), Nayef Al-Kadhi (Al-Ahli), Hussein Abdul Ghani (Al-Ahli), Abdul Aziz Al-Khathran (Al-Hilal)
Midfielders: Saoud Kariri (Al-Ittihad), Mohammad Nour (Al-Ittihad), Mohammad Amin (Al-Ittihad), Khaled Aziz (Al-Hilal), Omar Al-Ghamdi (Al-Hilal), Nawaf Al-Temyat (Al-Hilal), Mohammad Al-Shalhoub (Al-Hilal)
Forwards: Sami Al-Jaber (Al-Hilal), Yasser Al-Qahtani (Al-Hilal), Mohammad Al-Anbar (Al-Hilal), Saad al-Harthi (Al-Nasr), Malek Maath (Al-Ahli)
Breakdown: The Saudis will try to forget the events of the 2002 World Cup when they were thrashed by Germany 8-0 during the group stages. Paqueta will try to build on the team’s strength during the qualifying which was their defense. Saudi Arabia allowed only one goal during qualification as they won their group which included South Korea. Up front, Sami Al-Jaber might be 34 years old and made over 150 appearances but he is still the regular first choice striker in the side. However, their general lack of quality is going to be a problem.
Star Man: Hamad Al-Montashari – defender – Al-Ittihad
At 34 years old, he might have lost some of his pace but Al-Montashari makes it up with his experience and know-how. He is the leader of a backline that allowed only one goal during qualification. He won the Asian Player of the Year award in 2005.
Verdict: They may have allowed only one goal in qualification but that was against the likes of Uzbekistan and Kuwait. Shevchenko and Raul are looking forward to this matchup.

Group H Predicted Order of Finish
Saudi Arabia

German Football Term of the Day
Weltmeister – World Cup winner


Blogger Steve said...

Awesome job with the preview. Tunisia might be better than people think but I agree they'll probably fall short. I wouldn't be surprised if Spain flames out in the Round of 16 though...

10:03 PM  

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