Thursday, June 08, 2006

FIFA World Cup Preview- Group B

Okay, we know it has been way too much time since our last preview. There was a desperate need to change the format to avoid having a sudden influx of 32 posts about 32 teams. Hence, we have decided to limit our discussion to each group, and predictions relating the individual groups, and teams where applicable. If the readers want some detailed analyses of the strengths, weaknesses, and chances of each team in the competition, please do say so in the comments and we shall do what we can.

Okay, now coming to Group B, featuring England, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and Sweden. On the face of it, it seems there is no need for discussion about which teams will go through from this lot. England and Sweden are both world class teams and are more than capable of beating any team in the world on their day.
England boasts of talents such as skipper David Beckham, PFA Player of the Year Steven Gerrard, FIFA World Player runner up Frank Lampard, former European Player of the year Michael Owen, and the first ever FIFA Youth Player awardee Wayne Rooney, coupled with the most expensive defence in the world. As I write this report, Rooney has just returned to training after a serious injury to his metatarsal, and rumours are filtering through that he has been cleared to play at the World Cup after a fitness test. This is very good news, even if unconfirmed, for a nation that was plunged into gloom after the talismanic forward's injury. Much hope was placed on the broad shoulders of one who is till a mere 20 years old, and with this good news, there is a renewed sense of expectation in a country where football is everything.
However, the Swedes are among the most talented players in the world. Henrik Larsson has an unmatched goalscoring record, and is in fine fettle after leading Barcelona, almost singlehandedly, to a win in the Champions League final. Juventus forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic enjoys a cult status in Turin and also back home, and with his vision, skills, and ability to get crucial goals, plays the perfect foil to Larsson's predatory style. Freddie Ljungberg is a tricky customer to deal with, with blistering pace and a good eye for goal. On his day, he can be a handful for the best of defences. He has, however, had a below par season with Arsenal, with indifferent form and plenty of injuries. In midfield, the Swedes' lynchpin is Rennes midfielder Kim Kallstrom. A great passer of the ball, the playmaker possesses great vision and will be crucial to the Scandinavians if they are to go far in the tournament.
Of course, it isn't like the Swedes and English will have it all their way. Trinidad and Tobago are a talented side boasting names like former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, veteran Russell Latapy, keeper Shaka Hislop, Stern John, and also talented youngsters like Chris Birchall. The team is simply in the tournament to enjoy their first taste of the game's greatest stage, but that doesn't mean they are going to roll over. The big two have a greater problem on their hands in the form of Paraguay. The team has dealt well with the retirement of longtime captain and keeper Jose Chilavert, the flamboyant custodian who scored dozens of goals through setpieces during his career. The injury prone Bayern Munich striker Roque Santa Cruz is their main target man, and has proved his pedigree in every top level competition he has played in, against top opposition. The captain's armband has been handed to defender Carlos Gamarra, the country's most capped player, and the team appears to be in safe hands.
As I said before, Sweden and England are likely to progress, but there is always a possibility of a shock, especially from a team of the calibre of Paraguay. England appears a bit more capable of slipping up, with plenty of injuries to deal with, and also facing their bogey team Sweden. However, they have a few aces up their sleeve, even if Rooney struggles, in the form of giant striker Peter Crouch, and speedy North Londoners Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon, who could prove more than a handful in the dying minutes. If England wrap up qualification after the first 2 matches, Sven Goran Eriksson could even attempt to let Theo Walcott have a good chance of becoming the youngest scorer in the history of the competition. The main attraction of this group is that there is a genuine possiblity of a mouth watering clash between old rivals England and Germany in the second round if either team finishes second in its group.

ASSESSMENT/PREDICTIONS- England and Sweden to go through, there will be bitter fight in the last match of the group stage to avoid a meeting with home team Germany.

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