Friday, June 09, 2006

Your Guide to... Group A

And they're off!

As I write, the World Cup is due to start in just under 8 hours time with Germany v Costa Rica as the first match, followed swiftly by Ecuador v Poland. But what can you expect from Group A as the competition unfolds before your very eyes? Who should you be looking out for and who will succeed where others fail? Here are the facts you need to know...

  • Unlike previous World Cups, Germany have no real leader on the pitch. Forget Beckenbauer, Matthaeus and Rummenigge - a 2006 comparison doesn't exist for them.
  • In their favour is a relatively easy first round group and shed loads of home support, plus the fact that host nations reach at least the latter stages of the competition
  • Germany's one true star player, Michael Ballack, is injured and won't play in the opening game, but his strike partner Miroslav Klose has had a good season with Werder Bremen and could net a few goals for them instead.
  • Their defence is decidedly leaky and no-one's quite sure what the starting line-up will be - 14 players were tried out in defence in the 18 months leading up to the Finals.
  • When it comes to the crunch, Germany could come unstuck. They haven't beaten one of the world's top sides since 2000 when they beat England at Wembley.
Costa Rica
  • Their star player is without doubt Paulo Wanchope, who continues to score regularly, as was seen during Costa Rica's qualifying matches.
  • Costa Rica favour a short, snappy passing game, generating attacks from midfield.
  • Their goalkeeper and defence is somewhat unreliable. A 4-0 friendly defeat to Ukraine recently highlighted the problem despite claims that the defence has been improved since the last World Cup.
  • The Poles are decidedly schizophrenic on the world stage. In qualifying they were free-scoring and difficult to beat, but in major competitions they often underachieve and disappoint.
  • With a rickety defence and no real ball-winner in midfield, Poland will look to keep the ball as long as possible before getting it to their useful front line.
  • Poland have never beaten Germany, but if they get through to the second round they may face England who they notoriously always struggle to beat too.
  • A 3-0 victory over Ecuador at the end of 2005 gives hope of at least three points being collected in Round One.
  • Famously adept at playing at high-altitude on home soil, Ecuador aren't so good when playing away in unfamiliar territory.
  • Ecuador have one or two familiar names from the Premiership (De La Cruz of Aston Villa and Delgado of Southampton) that generally play better for their countries than their clubs.
  • Ecuador nowadays favour a direct style playing down the wings, ditching their previous intricate passing game which proved unsuccessful.
  • In a bid to tighten their defence, so much emphasis has recently gone on improving the back line that attacking play may take a back seat when the action starts in Germany.

Tomorrow: Group B...

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