Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup Predictions
By Imtiaz Mussa

So here we are. The World Cup starts in less than twelve hours. More than one billion people worldwide will the tuning in over the next month to watch the beautiful game. It is a sporting event more meaningful than the World Series, Super Bowl, or Olympic Games. I have had the pleasure of previewing each of the groups for Sportszilla and giving my predictions for each. Now, it is time for me to give my picks for who is going to win the entire thing along with other things.

Tomorrow’s Fixtures
Germany vs. Costa Rica – Noon EST – ESPN2
Poland vs. Ecuador – 3pm EST – ESPN2

Best Player: Ronaldinho (Brazil)
What he has done with the ball has never been seen before. Brazilian legend Pele thinks he could be the best ever. In 2002, he came out of nowhere to amaze the fans. In the four years since, he has shown that the World Cup was no fluke by winning the World Player of the Year award twice. He won’t surprise anybody this time but he will continue to amaze.

Breakout Player: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
A right thigh tear kept him out of the Champions League final so the world will have to wait just a little bit longer to see what he can do. Playing alongside Ronaldinho in Barcelona, he must have learned a few of the magician’s tricks. However, what makes Messi really special is his blinding speed. There may be no one faster in the World Cup. That element of speed will be another weapon for Argentina’s attack to along with Riquelme’s playmaking ability in midfield and Hernan Crespo’s goalscoring presence.

Golden Boot: Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Holland)
The best finisher in the world has something to prove after being bench in the latter part of the season by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Strikers who typically have a chip on their shoulder often times come through to have great performances. Plus it helps to be on a team that can go far.

Story to Watch: Racism in the Stands
FIFA has already stated that they will have no problem abandoning matches if fans get out of hand. In continental Europe, much of this has to do with racism. Many of the African and Middle Eastern players who play in places such as Spain, Italy, and Germany are often subject to verbal attacks from conservative fans. Sometimes, those fans are of their own team. How is this possible? First, there is not much diversity in much of Europe and secondly, there has never been a Civil Rights Movement in Europe because of that. Players like Thierry Henry have taken a stand and have made efforts deal with the issue. It remains to be seen how the crowd reacts when the African nations take to the pitch at this World Cup. One can only hope that the actions of some stupid fans do not ruin the World Cup for an entire world.

2006 World Cup Final: Brazil vs. Holland
As Group C winners, Holland will have the opportunity to avoid Group F winners Brazil until the finals. I really believe that the Dutch have the right combination of youth and veterans to go to the finals. I expect Ruud to have a great World Cup and if he doesn’t, they can easily turn to Dirk Kuyt, Arjen Robben, and Rafael Van Der Vaart. They have a solid team. Brazil has more talent than anyone else in the field. It’s not just about Ronaldinho. Kaka might be the second best attacking midfielder in the world to his teammate. Ronaldo, Adriano, and Robinho will score plenty of goals. Cafu and Roberto Carlos are probably playing in their final World Cups and will play their hearts out. It will make for one great final.

2006 World Cup Winner: Brazil
The Samba Kings will hoist the trophy for the sixth time.

Other News
Ballack Out for German Opener
Germany captain Michael Ballack has lost his battle to be fit for the host's World Cup curtain-raiser against Costa Rica on Friday. The new Chelsea midfielder sustained a calf injury in a friendly against Colombia on June 2 and was forced to pull out of training on Wednesday. Without their best player, this match could end up being a draw or even an upset.

Cisse Out, Govou In
France have called up Lyon forward Sidney Govou to replace Liverpool's Djibril Cisse, who was ruled out of the World Cup finals on Wednesday. Cisse broke a leg in the warm-up game with China after missing most of the 2004-05 season with a similar injury. Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet are the regular starters so Govou will have to come off the bench.

Rooney Might Play in Group Stages
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is ready to risk the wrath of Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson and plunge Wayne Rooney into the World Cup group stages. The 20-year-old will play no part in Saturday's opener against Paraguay. But it is understood Eriksson has not ruled out Rooney playing against Trinidad and Tobago or Sweden if he feels he is fit. Ferguson is demanding that Eriksson wait until Rooney is fully fit before sending him out there. In all likelihood, Rooney won’t play until the Sweden match since England should not have a problem in the first two games.

Mexico’s Sanchez Flies Back Home
Mexico keeper Oswaldo Sanchez has flown home from the World Cup following the death of his father. However, the Mexican Football Federation has said that he will return to Germany in time for his country's opener against Iran on Sunday. The mentality of Sanchez will go a long way in determining Mexico’s success. They remain a good bet to be upset in the group stages.

Isaksson to Miss Sweden's Opening Match
Keeper Andreas Isaksson will miss Sweden's World Cup opener with Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday after suffering a concussion in a training accident. He was hit in the face by midfielder Kim Kallstrom's ferocious shot in Wednesday's session and became concussed when his head hit the ground. The Swedish team's doctors expect the 25-year-old to be out action for three to five days. Former Arsenal keeper Rami Shaaban or John Alvbage will replace Isaksson.

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