Friday, June 30, 2006

Sportszilla's World Cup Quarterfinal Primer
By Imtiaz Mussa

These past two days have given me a perspective as to what life will be like without the World Cup. Frankly, I hate it but life moves on and after this one is over, I will start counting down to South Africa 2010.

This year, there is no real Cinderella story in the quarterfinals. But if you think that it makes for some boring storylines, forget about it. There is a rematch of the 1990 and 1998 World Cup finals; a manager is looking for his third straight win over a country in a major tournament; and a striker who must pull a few surprises since he has played with and against his opposition for years. It starts tomorrow with Germany and Argentina. A match billions of people will admit will have the quality to be the World Cup final.

Friday
Germany vs. Argentina (11:00am EST)
History: Germany has played Argentina on 16 previous occasions. The Germans have won five times and Argentina seven. Four matches have been drawn. The two nations have met on four previous occasions in World Cups including the finals of 1986 and 1990. Germany has the upper hand with two wins to one. The 1966 fixture was drawn.

News: Germans Michael Ballack (swollen ankle) and Miroslav Klose (tendonitis) missed Tuesday's training session but both returned on Wednesday. Argentina's Luis Gonzalez has recovered from a groin injury and should be fit to play at right midfield. Nicolas Burdisso is still doubtful with a knee injury, while Leandro Cufre is likely to come in for Lionel Scaloni.

Referee: Lubos Michel (Slovakia)

Italy vs. Ukraine (3:00pm EST)
History: Italy have played Ukraine on three previous occasions. The Italians are unbeaten having won twice and drawn once. The stalemate, which was goalless, came in a friendly just one week prior to the World Cup, on June 2.

News: Italy defender Alessandro Nesta will miss Friday's quarter-final against Ukraine because of a groin strain. Marco Materazzi is suspended so Andrea Barzagli, Italy's only other available center-half is likely to start alongside Fabio Cannavaro in defense. Ukraine striker Andriy Voronin will miss the rest of the World Cup because of a thigh injury. Sergiy Rebrov is likely to come in to the midfield, meaning Andriy Vorobei will play further forward. Meanwhile, both teams were prevented from training at Hamburg's stadium on Thursday because of poor pitch conditions. The pitch will ready for game-time.

Referee: Frank de Bleeckere (Belgium)

Saturday
England vs. Portugal (11:00am EST)
History: England and Portugal have met 21 times. Overall, England have an overwhelming edge, having won nine and drawn nine, whilst losing only three times. In competitive matches, the sides are evenly matched at two victories apiece, whilst recording four stalemates. These nations have each recorded a victory over the other at the World Cup. In 1966, hosts England defeated Portugal 2-1 in the semi-finals. Twenty years later, the Iberians avenged the defeat by beating England 1-0 in the group phase.

News: England defender Gary Neville says he is fit and available to play in the quarter-final clash after recovering from a calf injury. The 31-year-old has not played since England's opener against Paraguay. Portugal will miss Costinha and Deco on Saturday after they were sent off against Holland in the second round. Armando Petit may come in for Costinha, with Luis Figo taking over in central midfield from Deco, while Cristiano Ronaldo hopes to shake off his injury.

Referee: Horacio Elizondo (Argentina)

Brazil vs. France (3:00pm EST)
History: Brazil and France have met each other 12 times in history with Brazil winning five and France winning three. However, the only time Brazil have beaten France in a competitive match was at the 1958 World Cup, when they triumphed 5-2 in the semi-finals. They've met each other three times in the World Cup. The most recent was in 1998 when the French won 3-0 in the final. In 1986, France eliminated the Brazilians at the quarter-final stage. After the match ended 1-1, France prevailed 4-3 in the penalty shoot-out.

News: Brazil could start with Gilberto Silva and Juninho in midfield against France, as Kaka and Emerson battle to shake off injuries. Both have knee and ankle problems, with doctors declaring them "70% fit". Lucio has recovered from a knock, while Robinho (thigh) is making progress. France has suffered a late scare after veteran midfielder Zinedine Zidane sat out training on Thursday. The 34-year-old has a sore foot but is expected to play in an unchanged team.

Referee: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain)

Other World Cup News
Aragones Out?
Luis Aragones is set to resign as Spain's national team coach. Despite their World Cup exit, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) wants the 67 year old Aragones to mastermind their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Janas Resigns
Poland coach Pawel Janas has resigned after a disappointing World Cup. Group A defeats against Ecuador and Germany ensured Poland were the first team to exit the tournament. Janas had been due to meet the PZPN on July 14 to discuss his future, but he has opted to resign rather than wait for an official decision.

One and Out for Viduka?
Australia striker Mark Viduka has reiterated that he may retire from the international scene to spend more time with his family. The 30-year-old was a key figure for the Socceroos as they reached the last 16 of the World Cup in Germany. But the Middlesbrough player told his club's website: "I will be nearly 35 come the next World Cup in 2010… I haven't seen much of my kids in the last six months. They don't know who their dad is and that's hard to take."

South Korea has New Boss
South Korea has appointed Pim Verbeek as their new coach to succeed fellow Dutchman Dick Advocaat. The 50-year-old was an assistant to Advocaat, who will leave to coach Russian side Zenit St Petersburg. Verbeek was also the number two to Guus Hiddink when South Korea reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2002.

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