by Timmy Espozito
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Group A is Germany's group to win or lose. As host nation of the World Cup, every move Germay makes will be magnified. Expectations will be huge to reach the final and to win, exactly as it happened the last time it hosted the World Cup in 1974. Back then, of course they were a divided country, as it was West Germany that won both in 1974 and again in 1990 - a sentimental title won the summer after the Berlin Wall fell.
Now a united Germany, which went to the final in 2002 mainly through the stalwart defense of goaltender Oliver Kahn, hopes to win a World Cup final in a unified Berlin's historic Olympic Stadium. Anything less will be a disappointment to the home fans, but not advancing out of the opening group and into the final 16 would be an outright embarrassment. Bodog doesn't foresee an early exit, as Germany is listed as 7/1 to win the World Cup, and 4/9 to win Group A.
But trouble has been stirring in the German camp lately - a lackluster 4-1 defeat in a recent friendly to Italy has coach Jurgen Klinsmann under fire from the local press and the German government. A serious goaltender controversy is also brewing up some distractions. Kahn is still hailed as the best, but Arsenal FC's Jens Lehmann is receiving serious consideration for the top responsibility of tending the German goal. Might internal dissention and the weight of the World Cup pressure cause some surprising defeats for this year's hosts?
Poland will make formidable and exciting competition in Group A to try to knock the home team down a couple pegs. At 4/1 odds to win Group A, Poland is fully capable of repeating their surprising 1974 and 1982 World Cup runs to the semifinals. When Poland and Germany face-off in Dortmund on June 14 it promises to be an hard-fought battle of neighboring countries that will be filled with emotion.
Ecuador and Costa Rica stand a step behind their European counterparts in Group A, with Ecudaor at 11/1 and Costa Rica at 22/1 odds to win this group. Ecuador is an up-and-coming bunch that made their World Cup debut in 2002. The question remains, however, whether Ecuador can compete on a world-class level outside their homeland. In South America's qualifying rounds, Ecuador earned a phenomenal 7 wins, 2 draws and 0 losses playing at their high altitude home pitch, but they were a dismal 1 win, 2 draws and 6 losses while traveling. Now forced to play in the lowlands of Northern Europe to hostile crowds, Ecuador will need a great effort to bring out their best form.
Costa Rica also makes its second consecutive (and third overall) World Cup appearance and hope to repeat the same success it found back in Italy in 1990, where the team reached the round of 16 at the expense of Scotland and Sweden. Longtime striker Paulo Wanchope will be leading the speedy Central American side in his final international competition. With experience and talent behind them, Costa Rica cannot be taken lightly.