By Jay Mwamba
Confidence is what all the camps in Ireland’s Group E were exuding after the World Cup draw in Pusan, Korea, last weekend.
“You can say we [are] lucky because other groups, especially the one with England, are much, much tougher than ours,” observed German coach Rudi Voeller.
“We should beat Saudi Arabia,” he added. “Ireland will be tough, but we can manage that. Cameroon with [German coach] Winfried Sch’fer will be very exciting. It will be fun.”
Voeller, whose three-time champions, like the Republic, had to go through a playoff series to qualify, said the key to a good campaign was to make a winning start against Saudi Arabia in the first group match on June 1.
“Starting with a victory would ease the pressure for the matches to come,” he noted.
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German legend Franz Beckenbauer, who captained the then West Germany to the 1974 title and later managed the 1990 championship side, said it was Germany’s “duty” to qualify from Group E.
“Cameroon will be strong and there are no easy opponents, but I think it is a duty for a Germany team to survive such a group. After that anything can happen and we will need a bit of luck,” he added.
In the Irish camp, McCarthy talked of Germany being easy to scout since England played them in the qualifiers.
Of Cameroon, McCarthy said the Africans, whom Ireland open against in Niigata on June 1, had surprise value because they could display “absolute brilliance” or turn in shaky performances.
Much of his confidence is unquestionably derived from Ireland’s brilliant form in the qualifiers, where they emerged unscathed against the more fancied Portuguese and Dutch.
Cameroon, for their part, were confident of reaching the second round in this, their fifth appearance at the finals.
“Our group is very challenging but competitive,” said Prince Esoka Ndoki Mukete, assistant secretary general of the Cameroon Football Federation. “We are going to be challenging very good sides, but I don’t see any major hurdles.”
The Africans are the defending Olympic champions and seasoned World Cup campaigners, albeit their only venture past the first round was at Italia ’90, when they, along with Ireland, reached the quarterfinals.
And the Saudi Arabians seemed to give their mere participation more currency than ambition.
“The important thing is that the Saudi team, God willing, appears at the finals in a way that would reaffirm its worthiness of representing the Gulf, Arab and Asian football in an honorable way,” said Prince Sultan bin Fahd, president of the Saudi FA.
Argentina, who must survive the minefield that is Group F to advance to the second round, were installed as 4/1 favorites to lift the 2002 World Cup by London bookies Will Hill immediately after the draw.
Italy were quoted at 5/1, cup holders France at 11/2, and both Spain and Brazil at 8/1. Ireland remain long shots at 66/1, behind two of their Group E rivals, Germany (10/1) and Cameroon (33/1).
The complete post draw odds are: Argentina 4/1, Italy 5/1, France 11/2, Spain 8/1, Brazil 8/1, Germany 10/1, England 10/1, Portugal 11/1, Cameroon 33/1, Paraguay 40/1, Poland 50/1, Nigeria 50/1, Croatia 50/1, Sweden 66/1, South Africa 66/1, Ireland 66/1, Mexico 66/1, Korea Republic 66/1, Japan 66/1, Ecuador 66/1, Russia 80/1, Belgium 80/1, Turkey 100/1, Uruguay 125/1, Denmark 125/1, USA 150/1, Slovenia 150/1, Tunisia 250/1, Senegal 250/1, Costa Rica 250/1, China 250/1 and Saudi Arabia 300/1.
No free pass
Should Ireland defy the odds and win the World Cup, they will still have to qualify for the 2006 finals in Germany. This follows a decision by FIFA executive committee, which met in Pusan before the draw, to discontinue the champions’ privilege of automatic qualification to the next tournament.
FIFA president Joseph Blatter said this would free up on extra place in the finals for member confederations.
As part of its elaborate security arrangements for the finals, FIFA will test all food, drink and medication designated for players and coaches at the finals for anthrax.
Director of FIFA Security Committee Antonio Matarrese said the organizers would also declare no-fly zones over training grounds and stadiums.