A few weeks ago, Soccer Scene asked some World Cup supporters in New York for their comments on how their team or teams would do in Japan/Korea. Supporters are a good place to start to catch World Cup fever.
For Sean Kenny, the biggest sporting event is all about Ireland. “As regards Ireland’s chances,” he said, “after coming out of a group with Portugal and Holland, you would be crazy to bet against them. A team with nothing to lose is also very dangerous. Mick McCarthy has proved that he has the ability and the know-how to deal with a better opponent. The only thing that worries me is an unfit Roy Keane [hamstring] and the lack of a real defender [Staunton, Breen and Dunne are not Paul McGrath or Dave O’Leary]. With Robbie Keane out of form, we won’t score too many goals.”
Chris La Rocca is rooting for Italy. “Italy looks strong, although we will never see the real Italy until the Cup opens up,” he said, noting that Italian teams are notorious for going half throttle during friendlies, as was evident in the 1-0 win over the United States. “Players with top clubs realize that if they get hurt during these friendlies, they maybe in trouble for the clubs that put food on their table,” La Rocca said. “Italy’s strikers are far and deep, midfield is strong and defense is young but experienced. My concern is injuries with Maldini and Inzaghi. Demi Albertini is hurt and then when he is healthy is not in form. I think Italy are one of the top three teams, I am just not sure where in the top three. Argentina looks like the team to beat.”
While La Rocca is all about Italy, Ireland is also on his rada screen. “Roy Keane is world class,” he said. “I am not too sure about Robbie Keane, but he could be good in the World Cup. He is that type of player that can do things in tournaments like this. Duff is good. Harte has scored some big frees. Ireland’s central defense looks weak, but teams have to get past Keano first. Ireland could make the next round, it’s an open group.”
Stu Kaiser will watch USA’s group. “I would like the USA’s chances to get out of the group, but with the host country in there, it could be a bit of a struggle,” he said. “Germany should get out of their group as well but have some injuries up front, which could hurt. Saw a bit of the African Nations Cup and Cameroon looked good, I like their chances as well. The key in that group is which players can play. If Ireland is healthy, they would be disappointed not to go through, and same for Germany.”
Ireland, Italy, USA and Germany get votes for teams to watch from the local supporters. Now that the tournament is only days away, Kenny, La Rocca and Kaiser — and millions of other fans — will be reviewing the WC schedule.
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Eye on openers
May 31, France vs. Senegal, seeing the World Cup opener is a must.
June 1, Ireland vs. Cameroon, an exciting game.
June 2, Argentina vs. Nigeria, could be one of the best games to see.
June 5, Germany vs. Ireland, the group decider.
June 5, United States vs. Portugal, Bruce Arena’s test.
June 7, Argentina vs. England, everybody wants to see this game.
June 7, Spain vs. Paraguay, expect fireworks at this one.
June 8, Brazil vs. China, David and Goliath.
June 8, Italy vs. Croatia, a tactical battle.
June 9, Mexico vs. Ecuador, a festival of soccer.
June 9, Japan vs. Russia, an interesting matchup.
June 11, Saudi Arabia vs. Ireland, a must-win for Ireland.
June 11, Denmark vs. France, European war.
June 12, Nigeria vs. England, always a great game.
June 14, Poland vs. United States, not a game to shy away from.
Odds and ends
France 4/1: Zindane scored an incredible goal in the CL final.
Argentina 4/1: right up there and very much fancied.
Italy 5/1: will want to prove it again.
Spain 6/1: for some reason get the call; it’s the World Cup.
Brazil 6/1: if France can win it, so can Brazil.
England 9/1: lots of flash and a foreign coach.
Germany 12/1: slipping, injured, but will be prepared.
Portugal 14/1: play with elegance and grace, but at times overrated.
Cameroon 40/1: can produce some magic.
Russia 66/1: have slipped.
Japan 66/1: host, always a chance of advancing.
Turkey 80/1: can play a bit, will be organized and tricky.
Sweden 80/1: any team with Henrik Larsson is dangerous.
Ireland 80/1: built around Roy Keane.
Poland 80/1: out in the cold.
Paraguay 80/1: always interesting.
Croatia 80/1: full of tactics.
Uruguay 100/1: worth watching.
Nigeria 100/1: great to watch.
Ecuador 125/1: upset special.
Denmark 125/1: Beware.
Belgium 125/1: can be dangerous.
Senegal 150/1: can upset a team.
Mexico 150/1: not quite there.
Korea 150/1: don’t write off hosts.
USA: 300/1: might advance.
South Africa 300/1: decent players.
Slovenia 300/1: can get results.
Costa Rica 400/1: no chance.
Tunisia 500/1: can upset a team.
Saudi Arabia 750/1: can upset a team.
China 750/1: no chance.