And for your schedule of games, Group C is also one to look out for, Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia and Montenegro and the Netherlands.
As for the Americans’ Group E, Italy is the top seed. There is just something about this Italian national team when it comes to group stage. They simply know how to do enough to get through to the play-offs. Then again they also know how to do enough to win a game. They’ll pounce on you right away then sit in for the rest of the game.
Italy is such a powerhouse when it comes to international tournaments of such magnitude. Unfortunately they never seem to have what it takes when it comes to the winning the final game. It’s early days to fancy Italy to win the World Cup out right. Brazil must be the pick.
Staying with the U.S. group, Ghana, like the Czech Republic, are unpredictable. Both teams can produce some breathtaking magic that can cause havoc for opposing defenses. While Ghana wait to show the world some brilliant individualism, the Czechs are a very good outfit. The Republic are capable of mesmerizing defenses when they attack as a team. They can be quick and silky as a group in the final third and lethal in front of goal. They combine with flair and great enthusiasm.
The Czech Republic have proved themselves over the last 10 years in international football. They may not be as good as some Czechoslovak teams in the past but that will make the current team even more determined to click. It’s ludicrous to even think that the Czechs cannot win this group outright. Somehow they also produce surprise players when it comes to the big stage.
Reaching the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup will stand to the U.S. team. They look a well-defined disciplined group of players. U.S. coach Bruce Arena has polished up the tactical side of this team, where he has players running off the ball. They are capable of combining well. They can also play the long and short game. But a tightening of bolts at the back has made this U.S. team more effective than previous teams.
Arena is back. He did not receive the deserved U.S. media attention after his groundbreaking achievements in Japan/Korea. U.S. isn’t just out to prove to the world that they can play soccer; they are also showing their own nation their worth as its national soccer team.
Yes, it’s a tough Group E for the States. And European soil makes winning even tougher. U.S. will not be underestimated. Why should they be? But not getting the top seed that they just missed out on has cost them. Last place finish in 1998 has come back to hurt them. Nonetheless, World Cup football never fails to produce wonderful games. Group E may provide us with some very early thrills and spills in Germany 2006.
United’s day is gone
Manchester United went crashing out of the Champions League. After 15 minutes of play, United began to show frustration when trying to get the ball back from Benfica. While the Portuguese champions shielded the ball very well United were giving away silly frees. As the first half wore on, it became apparent that United were lacking leadership in the middle of the field.
CL football is a different ball game compared to the EPL. It’s not a Charlton of a few games ago. In the domestic game room is plentiful. Lower teams in the EPL, at least up to a couple of weeks ago, knew it takes something special to get a win over United. In CL that’s not the case, not any more. Benfica played with an abundance of confidence and knew exactly what they were doing. Their most obvious game plan was putting pressure on United’s full backs. It worked. In the first half John O’Shea and Gary Neville struggled.
Roy Keane’s absence from the United club was very obvious against the Portuguese. It didn’t take long after the defeat to hear speculation about Alex Ferguson’s future at the club. A CL qualification is what the club and the fans should make do with for this season. Because it’s move over United. That’s right. The United days of domination have drawn to a close. The potential of a new power has arrived and it’s Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. And indeed they are joined by CL winners Liverpool.
Ferguson admits he has much admiration for the new manager, Mourinho, in the EPL. He gives the slick manager praise and knows the Blues are more than a match for United. What Ferguson recognizes is how determined the Chelsea team has become. Mourinho has rubbed off on all his players and has turned them into the most ambitious team in the league. The Portuguese mastermind buys very wisely in relation to what he wants in each position. Having the most money helps, but Mourinho buys have shown his keen eye for steady players. Some with youth on their side.
It’s not just the rise of Chelsea that has come on the back of United’s upheaval. Liverpool is beginning to show once again that they know how to get results. As Benitez oils his attack, scoring goals against the Reds defense is proving more difficult as the season moves on.
Arsenal seems to have slipped up also on the domestic scene with a loss to Newcastle. A game that manager the latter team’s manager Graeme Souness had to win. But the Gunners are still in the CL; so is Liverpool and Chelsea. It’s not a matter of writing off United; their time is simply up. All great runs come to an end.