by Timmy Espozito
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As Germany is in Group A, England is the celebrity team of Group B. As the birthplace of soccer, every World Cup brings talk of 'football coming home' with an English championship. It happened in 1966, when the finals were on England's home turf. But ever since, the Three Lions have had to endure frustration and agonizing heartbreak.
After failing to qualify in both 1974 and 1978, Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal sent England home in 1986, while penalty kick failures broke English hearts in 1990 and 1998.
Swedish manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has overseen a strong corps of talent during his five-year reign at the helm of the English ship, and with the World Cup as his managerial swansong, this group has the potential to put all the pieces together and make some magic happen. But can tabloid-favorite David Beckham back up all his press with clutch play? Doc's Sports' Jim Riggio has him listed as the most overrated player in this World Cup.
Beckham's missed penalty kicks in Euro 2004 were devastating to England's chances then, but England is deep enough with talent that they can thrive if Beckham is merely competent. In addition to clutch performances by Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen up front, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard scoring a few of his signature long range goals would be a big help to England's chances.
Sweden offers a number of intriguing plotlines grouped with England. This is a rematch of 2002, where Sweden surprisingly emerged on top of that World Cup's 'group of death', ahead of both England and Argentina - only to immediately fall to Senegal in the round of 16. Then, of course, there's the irony of Eriksson coaching against his homeland in the second straight cup. Led by the world-class goal-scoring talent of Juventus' Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Arsenal's Fredrik Ljungberg and Barcelona's Henrik Larsson (recently voted the "greatest Swedish football player of the last 50 years" by the SvFF), Sweden has one of their most potent offensive sides in memory to complement their usually strong defense, captained this time by Olof Mellberg.
Paraguay has been South America's third best team over the past decade, and appears in its third straight World Cup. In 1998 Paraguay gave eventual champion France its toughest game - losing only on a Laurent Blanc golden goal. In 2002 Praguay fell to eventual runners-up Germany in the second round. All of South America stands in the shadow of Brazil and Argentina, but Paraguay is formidable, and progressing ahead of England or Sweden would not be a huge upset. This year's side is bolstered by a lot of young fresh talent, several of whom were a part of a silver medal winning squad at the 2004 Olympics. Look for Nelson Haedo Valdez to play a big role for Paraguay's chances this time around. At 8/1 odds to win Group B, Paraguay is not a team anyone will take lightly.
World Cup newcomers Trinidad and Tobago, however, are the oddsmakers' bet to fill the basement of this group, with long shot odds of 45/1 to win Group B. An island with strong British colonial roots - T&T will be amped to score an upset against England - and with top striker Dwight Yorke also going up against some of his former Manchester United teammates for England - it figures to be an intriguing game to watch, but one in which Trinidad and Tobago will need a great deal of good fortune in order to keep pace with England for a full 90 minutes.