by Celso Chamochumbi - 06/30/2006
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We've heard it all along and we've said it all along: World Cup soccer is about the favorites. Well, now the favorites collide. And now, just maybe, finding an underdog will no longer be hapless endeavor.
After all, since 1986, middling teams like Belgium, Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia, Turkey and South Korea have all reached the semi finals. Will Portugal be added to that list? Or, will the exceptional Zinedine Zidane (again) devastate 180 million? These questions and more will be resolved on Saturday, a day in which the soccer world will be treated to one of the more spectacular double headers in recent time.
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What follows is a closer look at the two match-ups, with commentary in regard to the betting lines.
England vs. Portugal:
11 a.m. EST
These two teams play each other in the World Cup every twenty years, or so it seems. In 1966, en route to a championship, England eliminated Portugal in the semi-finals, while twenty years, in Mexico '86, the Portuguese defeated England 1-0 in group action. Most recently, they squared off in Eurocup 2004, playing to a draw before Portugal advanced on penalty kicks.
Portugal will be without midfielders Deco and Costinha. Forward Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to play, according to a BBC report.
England will welcome the return of defender Gary Neville from a calf injury.
Portugal is a strong play because…
-They are a rising team, and I like squads to improve throughout the tournament. Many, including myself, discounted the Portuguese initially because of their tendency to flame out prematurely, ala Spain.
-This team has shown that it could win in various ways and under different conditions. It can play open, attack and dominate tempo as it did against Angola and Mexico, and for some stretches of the Holland match. And, it has also proved to be a rugged, tactically-disciplined side that will fight tirelessly for every ball. (Vintage Felipão!)
-Portugal has performed consistently well against quality competition thus far, something which cannot be said of England.
-The +230 return is magnificent here. I feel the line exorbitantly high because oddsmakers in Great Britain had to be weary that most action would come in on England.
-The Scolari factor. Whether fact or fiction, the English are tired of seeing him on the opposite sidelines. They tried courting him, but he wouldn't sign on for the next World Cup prior to finishing his commitment with Portugal in this tournament. There are stories in the British press about the "Scolari curse", and most recently defender Rio Ferdinand gave a lengthy interview trying to downplay the coincidences of facing Scolari (England lost to Scolari's Brazil in WC 2002) again in a quarter-final match.
The English merit consideration because…
-Although they are not pretty, they're good at doing what they want to do. That is, England will crowd the midfield once again, hammer away at the Portuguese defense through Mr. Beckham's long services, and hope for something great on a dead-ball situation. This actually is what they did the last two times they played during this time slot.
-On the defensive side of the ball, England has been cohesive. Aside from the last part of the Sweden game, the British have proved adept at keeping opponents at bay. This may be the first match, however, in which an opponent will strive to take the initiative.
-In its World Cup history, England has only been eliminated by former champions.
-Forward Wayne Rooney is desperate for a goal, and like Germany's Ballack, these giants are due.
The Draw occurs if…
-The Portuguese are inefficient in their attack. England is more than capable of holding its backline, and nearly drew with Ecuador in the last round.
Brazil vs. France:
3 p.m., EST
A much-discussed rematch of the 1998 World Cup final, this game is one that most Brazilians weren't looking forward to. France, like Portugal, is emerging and although its recent struggles were well documented, this team actually has won five times and drawn twice in its last seven games.
Brazilian reserve forward Robinho, according to the BBC, will be available to play.
Doubts persist about the status of midfielders Kaká and Emerson. The former's absence could be instrumental for an upset, while the latter's may actually strengthen Brazil giving midfielder Juninho Pernambucano the starting role.
France does not enter with any lingering injury situations.
History will repeat itself if…
-The French coach could smell blood and attack a wobbly Brazilian side.
-Midfielders Patrick Vieira and Claude Makelele play as they did against Spain, winning balls and distributing quickly to the forwards. In Thierry Henry and Franck Ribery, the French will attack with the best duo the untested Brazilian defense has faced to date.
-Zinedine Zidane paces himself and participates in the whole ninety minutes. Zidane has rarely finished games in this World Cup, and will be needed for his poise and the threat he signifies to the Brazilians.
-At +350, this pay off is awfully enticing.
Brazil exacts revenge because…
-Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano, Robinho, Roberto Carlos and Cafu make it impossible to mark all of them. Teams usually allow the outside defenders space, and they create havoc with their crosses.
-To beat this team, you need to score at least two-to-three goals, and France has shown itself, at times, to be clumsy around the goal.
-FIFA wants Brazil in the final, or so say the 'haters'.
The draw, a repeat of 1986?:
-In the '86 quarter-finals, these two teams attacked each other relentlessly over 120 minutes in Guadalajara's Jalisco Stadium. Their open styles promote goal-scoring opportunities, and another 1-1 is not out of the question.
The views expressed in this article do not reflect those of Doc's World Cup picks service.