Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Your Guide to... Group H

Today sees the last of the 32 teams playing their opening games in the 2006 World Cup. Here's the form on the four teams of Group H...

  • Spain hope their reputation for failing to deliver in the World Cup will come to an end this time with an experienced squad
  • Coach Luis Aragones has favoured players who have picked up experience at club level from all over Europe, including Xabi Alonso (Liverpool) and Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
  • He's also a big fan of captain Raul, however he may finally drop him to allow Fernando Torres and David Villa to play together after Raul's poor form over the last few years
  • Spain's defence is settled and in midfield Joaquin and Arsenal's Reyes feature prominently on the wings
  • Xavi is the creative focus in the middle of the pitch, dictating the pace of the game, using astuteness to make excellent passes.
  • Striker Andrii Shevchenko is without doubt the big name in the team, but coach Oleg Blokhin has created harmony amongst his players by not making him the focus of their gameplay
  • Shevchenko receives plenty of quality support from Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, Oleh Husiev and Andrii Voronin, while the return to form of Serhii Rebrov provides an excellent alternative to Shevchenko on the bench
  • Blokhin sees physical ability as being as much of a priority as technical ability, particularly in midfield where his players are required to chase and work hard
  • Reliable first-choice keeper Shovkovskyi is back in the team after breaking his collar bone in April.
  • Ukraine play in a defensive style, similar to that of Tunisia who also appear in Group H.

  • Tunisia have an experienced and well-drilled squad that like to play a counter-attacking game
  • In defence, they have two reliable performers in Hatem Trabelsi of Ajax and Radhi Jaidi of Bolton Wanderers
  • In midfield, Tunisia have rarely used the same four players, so familiarity and understanding could be lacking between them at times
  • The Tunisians can rely on a steady supply of goals if their strike partnership of Guemamdia and Dos Santos click into gear - between them they scored 10 goals during qualifying
  • Though a tough unit, Tunisia appear to lack something special - an element of inspiration that can transform a game.
Saudi Arabia
  • Argentinean coach Gabriel Calderon guided the Saudi Arabians to qualification but was promptly sacked and replaced by Brazilian Marcos Paqueta after a poor performance in the West Asian Games last November
  • The Saudi defence conceded only one goal in qualifying, helped largely by the return of veteran goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Deayea to the team
  • Sadly their attack is not so reliable - Sami Al Jaber is their one recognised striker, but at 34 his best years are probably behind him.

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