by Timmy Espozito - 02/27/2006
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World Cup Groups -- Group A
Germany is a heavy favorite to plow through the opening group and secure a place in the knockout rounds. Historically, host countries have performed excellent at World Cups. The Germans are historically one of the strongest World Cup teams and they always field a squad that has the capabilities to win it all. This team may not normally dazzle as bright as Brazil, but typified by the rock-solid defense of goaltenders Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann -- they are always a well-organized, cohesive team that rarely makes mistakes.
Poland is the oddsmakers' choice to take the second slot in this World Cup Group A. This team has been strong in international play the past two years and figure to have a huge fan base turnout for their games just west of the Polish border. Poland could give Germany trouble in their marquee match-up -- it's a rivalry of historic neighbors that will bring out a lot of emotion for the Poles. Costa Rica appears in its third World Cup and Ecuador its second - both are capable of giving anyone a good match, but a step below Germany and Poland.
World Cup Groups -- Group B
Trinidad and Tobago
Ever since hoisting the World Cup Trophy at Wembley in 1966, England has always seemed to be one tough break or one missed penalty kick away from putting it all together. England's manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has a ton of talent on his hands this year, but can he make all the puzzle pieces fit? A safe bet is that yes, at least enough to make it through to the next round. Sweden's strong defense never makes any game easy. Just as it happened in World Cup '02, the Swedes have a chance to sneak into the top spot ahead of England with 9/4 odds to win Group B. The England-Sweden game will be a good rematch of their 1-1 draw in 2002.
Paraguay is South America's third best team competing in its third-straight World Cup while Trinidad and Tobago is a first-time entry with the longest odds in the field to win the title at 800/1. T&T's top striker, Dwight Yorke, will go up against England and his former Manchester United teammate David Beckham for some drama, but the T&T team is far too thin to compete against England and Sweden at full strength.
World Cup Groups -- Group C
Serbia and Montenegro
Of all the World Cup groups this year, this may be the strongest. Argentina and the Netherlands are always powerful and are at 13/2 and 12/1 odds to carry the Cup home. The Dutch are on the rise with a strong crop of young talent emerging to compliment their veteran core. They're also hungry after missing out on World Cup '02, and they are playing right next door in Germany, the home of their most bitter rival. These factors will have the offensive-minded flying Dutchmen in top form for the 2006 World Cup. The Netherlands-Argentina game, a rematch of the 1978 final, could be the most exciting game of the opening World Cup groups.
Serbia is powerful as well and in this first group of death this team is more than capable of finding a way in. Can the Ivory Coast, a young African power making its World Cup debut, compete with these three giants? If past performances by Cameroon and Nigeria are any indicator, they'll certainly make things interesting.
World Cup Groups -- Group D
Mexico and Portugal stand out in one of the weaker World Cup Groups. Angola and Iran don't figure to make much noise against these two much stronger squads. Portugal is coming off a second place finish in the 2004 European Championships and with the veteran Luis Figo and the teenage phenom Cristian Ronaldo in charge, this team has 18/1 odds to be best in the world in Germany. Mexico appears to still be on the rise, and though always an unpredictable bunch, they could catch fire in this World Cup, with darkhorse 40/1 odds to go all the way. Angola and Iran meanwhile are far back in the betting field with 400/1 and 500/1, respectively, odds of hoisting the title.
World Cup Groups -- Group E
The other World Cup group of death finds the USA stuck with the precarious task of beating Italy and the Czech Republic in order to advance. The US made the world take notice in '02 with the scale of their improvement and it figures to be only a matter of time before an American World Cup title becomes a reality. But will '06 be that year? American fans may want to caution against placing too many bets with their hearts this time around.
The Czechs are a talented, high-scoring side and with Italy always strong, the Americans are currently far back at 55/1 odds to win the whole thing. Oddsmakers favor Italy and the Czech Republic to advance from this competitive group. While Ghana is the longshot to sneak through, if the other three end up beating each other up, anything can happen here.
World Cup Groups -- Group F
Brazil has the lowest odds of any team at 5/2 to win the World Cup. But is there anyone who thinks this team won't at least advance from its group matches? Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and the entire cast of super heroes will put on a show that will likely last until at least the semifinals. Brazil has traditionally struggled just a bit in European held World Cups, so a No. 6 World Cup Championship is no sure thing.
Who will get the second spot in this group? Croatia was a semifinalist in '98, Japan showed promise playing at home in '02, and Australia has finally cleared the hurdle to play in the World Cup for the first time since 1974. All three teams have talent, and it could be an entertaining set of games. This figures to be a three-team dogfight for that final spot to advance.
World Cup Groups -- Group G
France is the big question mark in this group. Can this veteran group of superstars who won the Cup at home in '98, then fell flat in '02, regain their form in '06? Paired in a World Cup group with '02's surprising semifinalists South Korea, Switzerland and Togo, the odds have Zidane and Henry as heavy 2/5 favorites to lead Les Blues to the top of their opening group.
Though South Korea is a longshot at 200/1 to win the World Cup, their match with France should be an exciting affair to watch. Switzerland snuck in with the last European qualifying berth, beating Turkey in a playoff. They're at 9/2 odds to win Group H, barely better than South Korea's 10/1 odds. If the odds hold form, their game with South Korea will decide second place behind France and a berth in the final 16.
World Cup Groups -- Group H
Home to arguably Europe's most talented professional league, Spain has never managed to make it past the quarterfinals. Will this team finally break through and hoist the Cup? Spain is at 18/1 odds to do so, but it won't be easy.
The Ukraine is lead by AC Milan's goal scoring machine Andriy Shevchenko and are at 5/2 to win this World Cup group. At 50/1 odds to win the championship, this team could make a good darkhorse to advance deep into this tournament. Tunisia is back at 10/1 to win the group, while Saudi Arabia is a heavy underdog at 40/1 just to win this group.