Friday, April 14, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

8 weeks to the start of the World Cup Finals 2006 in Germany, and I feel duty bound to spread the word about the planet’s most popular sport’s biggest festival, so I will post every Friday until after the tournament is over.

Now it’s time to go over the eight first round groups one by one and try and predict how I think they will pan out. The results I predict here will eventually become real bets with PaddyPower.com as I try to put my money where my analytical mouth is.


GROUP B : COULD THIS BE ENGLAND’S YEAR?

With four world-class players at key positions, it’s hard not to consider England as one of the tournament favourites.


Naturally, no sport is ever played on paper. However, as any fan anxiously awaits the start of a particular event, it is the only available playing field.

Having examined the 32 teams, and having committed myself to going out on a limb and predict an overall winner of the tournament, I won’t make many fans here in Ireland when I say I think this is the year England can go all the way. It’s quite ironic that I hold this view really, since this is a weekend when Ireland is celebrating 90 years since a band of rebels tried to get rid of the English from these shores for good!

Maybe I am biased as I follow the English club league week by week, but I reckon this is definitely the best squad they have brought to the finals in all the years I have been watching them. And they appear to be at their strongest in all the central positions, as you can see from my picture, and it is said that all the great teams have world-class players down the middle.

It is also said, however, that just one player can make the difference to any team between success and near success, and this year, I feel England have that player in one Wayne Rooney. I have seen him play again and again over the last couple of years and I am in no doubt that he has all of the ability to become one of the game’s all time great players. And if you are in any doubt as to how can handle the highest level, you need only look back at the European Championships back in Portugal in 2004.

At the tender age of 18, he was the leading light of England’s charge through that tournament, and amazingly the moment he was injured and could not continue, they were eliminated. I remain convinced to this day that if he had remained fit, England would have won, and would be natural favourites this year.

In many ways I suppose it suits them that many presume they will under-achieve. English soccer fans have had to get used to year after year of disappointment at the highest level since their World Cup victory on home soil back in 1966, and every year they seem to have one incident to point to by way of an excuse for their demise, be it the lottery of a penalty shoot-out or of course, the famous “Hand of God”.

Although the knockout stages are notoriously hard to predict, given the relative ease of their first round group, with the only real challenge apprearing to come from Sweden, which is ironically the birthplace of England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, I can see them building up a head of steam in the first couple of games which will make all opponents wary should they have to face them.

Of course I mean no disrespect to any Paraguayans or Trinidadians out there!

Given all of this, I present to you my predictions for Group B.


June 10 England v Paraguay 2-0
June 10 Trinidad & Tobago v Sweden 1-1
June 15 England v Trinidad & Tobago 1-0
June 15 Sweden v Paraguay 1-1
June 20 Sweden v England 2-1
June 20 Paraguay v Trinidad & Tobago 4-1


One of the quirks of these four-team groups is that in the first four out of six games, if you win your two while the other two end in draws, you clinch first place before anyone plays their third game. I predict this will happen to England so they can rest their top players for their final encounter with their coach’s fellow countrymen, who will grab the second spot. Though any seasoned World Cup tipster will claim that you rule out the so-called “weaker” nations at your peril, I don’t see a surprise coming from this group.


Next week – GROUP C : THE GROUP OF DEATH

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