by Timmy Espozito
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Group D doesn't figure, at least on paper, to provide nearly the drama of Group C. Mexico and Portugal are solid teams paired up against two outsiders - Angola and Iran. The odds give Portugal and Mexico a big gap to finish ahead of their other two competitors. Portugal is at 10/11 to finish atop Group D, Mexico is at 8/5, then Angola is far back at 16/1 and Iran further back at 20/1.
Portugal appears in only its fourth World Cup -- but second consecutively -- and is coming off a second place finish at Euro 2004. Portugal has the marks of becoming a perennial international force - but must overcome the inconsistency that saw it beat Poland 4-0 but lose to both the United States and South Korea in World Cup 2002.
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This team has continued to show a tendency to mediocrity lately - drawing with tiny Liechtenstein, 2-2, in 2004, and managing only a 2-1 victory against the same Liechtenstein team at home in a 2005 World Cup qualifier. This track record should certainly send Angola and Iran running to the video booth to study how Liechtenstein pulled this off. Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo are Portugal's marquee names that bring an attractive, fast-passing brand of football befitting Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scoliari's style. Scoliari led Brazil to its 2002 World Cup triumph, and has the chance to make unparalleled World Cup history if he can keep the Portuguese ship effective and find a way to win back-to-back titles with two different teams.
Mexico is, like Portugal, a team with the potential to go far in Germany, but there are always question marks. Having competed in 13 World Cups, but only advancing to the quarterfinals once in 1970, Los Tricolores hope to finally prove themselves as a global powerhouse in the sport's biggest stage. Recent play has proven how strong a team it has right now - a spectacular 1-0 upset of Brazil in last year's FIFA Confederations Cup, followed by a penalty shootout loss to Argentina and a wild 4-3 defeat to Germany prove that Mexico can hold its own with anyone in the world. But bickering in the Mexican press will again follow them in this World Cup, as legendary Mexican player Hugo Sanchez has remained publicly upset at being passed over as manager of Los Tricolores in favor of Argentinean born Ricardo Lavolpe.
Angola, known as the "Black Impalas" (with no known Chevrolet sponsorship) is another first-time entry into World Cup, but oddsmakers favor Côte d'Ivoire's chances of winning and advancing much more than Angola. Similar to Ecuador, Angola relied heavily on its strong home pitch advantage to beat out the World Cup vetertans Nigeria in qualifying rounds. At 380/1 odds to win the World Cup, Angola advancing would be a shock story and certain to cause a major shakeup at either Portugal or Mexico. Angola's top international player, striker Pedro Mantorras, plays for the Portuguese club side Benfica, and seeing this Portuguese-speaking country play their opening World Cup game against its former colonizers could be just the ingredients needed for a huge upset.
Iran, meanwhile, is even further longshots to advance at 450/1 odds to win the World Cup. Only Saudi Arabia and Trinidad and Tobago would make bigger Cinderella stories. But playing in Germany will certainly be good for Iran's chances, as six members of Iran's squad currently play in the German Brundesliga, including 2004 Asian Player of the Year Ali Karimi (known as "The Wizard of Tehran") from Bayern Munich and striker Vahid Hashemian of Hannover 96. These familiar surroundings for Iran's key talents could give them a boost, and with this being the World Cup, anything can happen, so watch and enjoy as no one knows who'll be left until the games are played.