by Murad Ahmed - 4/20/2006
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Eight teams were seeded by FIFA in the World Cup draw; Brazil because they were reigning champions, Germany as they are hosts, and the rest through a combination of their FIFA world rankings and their performance in the last few World Cups. In theory, these teams should have an easier draw in the group stage and are most likely to progress. Here are my predictions, on the basis on the team's current form and World Cup history as to whether they will reach the later stages unscathed. All odds shown are those to win the group.
GROUP A: Germany (seeds) 5/12, Costa Rica 18/1, Poland 7/2, Ecuador 8/1
Germany looks like a poor side, and if it were not for being hosts and their glorious World Cup past, they would be a team that could be easily dismissed. Their recent form shows they are unpredictable - a recent 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Italy was followed by a lopsided win against USA by the same score. However, they should be too strong for the sides in their group. They have never played against Costa Rica and Ecuador - both sides that are happy to make up the numbers in Germany. Germany has never lost a World Cup match to Poland, but don't be surprised if they do this time around. Poland is a lightweight side, but it fought hard against England in its World Cup qualifying group. Germany might even struggle against these poor sides, but a better bet would be elimination in the round of 16 or quarter-finals.
Prediction: A close first or second for Germany in the group.
GROUP B: England (seeds) 1/2, Paraguay 13/2, Trinidad & Tobago 44/1, Sweden 2/1
England is a strong favorite to qualify from, if not win, this group. Trinidad & Tobago are minnows that will do well to score a goal, let alone get points off their group rivals. Paraguay is an unknown quantity, but this team lost its only World Cup meeting against the English, 3-0. Sweden provides the toughest obstacle, as England hasn't beaten them in 38 years. It's about time that England did.
Prediction: England will win the group, maybe even without dropping any points.
GROUP C: Argentina (seeds) 10/11, Ivory Coast 8/1, Serbia & Montenegro 15/2, Holland 6/5
Just like in 2002, the Argentineans are one of the strongest sides in the tournament, but, unfortunately for them, they have also been placed in the toughest group. Ivory Coast may be World Cup newbies, but they were recently runners-up in the African Nations Cup and have top-class players in Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue. Serbia & Montenegro had the meanest defense in World Cup qualifying, and won a group containing Spain. The Dutch were similarly impressive, winning a group including Czech Republic and Romania. So all four are top teams are in top form. It's going to be a free-for-all come June.
Prediction: Argentina's World Cup past suggests they should qualify, but don't be surprised if they don't.
GROUP D: Mexico (seeds) 7/5, Iran 12/1, Angola 13/1, Portugal 5/7
Mexico is the seed that everyone wanted to draw. Though they sit high in the FIFA rankings, few soccer commentators take much notice of the system that unduly rewards easier qualifying zones such as the CONCACAF region of North America, where only USA and Mexico have any real quality. It could have been tougher for Mexico, but being drawn against debutants Angola and a traditionally poor Asian side in Iran have helped its cause. Portugal is one of the stronger teams in the tournament, and reached the European championship final two years ago. Portugal should win the group, but Mexico has consistently performed well in the group stage of past World Cups, while Portugal never has.
Prediction: If Portugal performs to potential, Mexico will qualify second behind them.
GROUP E: Italy (seeds) 5/6, Ghana 11/1, USA 9/2, Czech Republic 9/5
Italy's group may provide the shocks. Italy is strong, but has a history of starting slowly before coming good in the later stages. Czech Republic, one of the dark horses for the tournament, is led by the world-class Pavel Nedved in midfield, and has a history of upsetting the heavyweight soccer nations. USA's recent loss to Germany, 4-1, is a better indication of their quality than their high FIFA ranking, but will be tough to beat. And Ghana, strong African qualifiers are newcomers and are completely unpredictable. There's a particular premium in finishing first in this group, as the second-placed team will probably face Brazil in the next round.
Prediction: Impossible to predict. Normally, you should never bet against the Italians, but if the mighty have to fall somewhere, why not Italy here?
GROUP F: Brazil (seeds) 1/5, Croatia 5/1, Australia 12/1, Japan 13/1
Brazil will win the group, and it is ridiculous to bet any other way. They've never played any of the teams in their group in the World Cup, which says all you need to know about their rivals' inexperience as Brazil has played in every World Cup ever staged. It's a battle for second place here - Australia seems to have better players, Croatia the best big tournament pedigree, while the Japanese have the best haircuts. All will be grateful runners-up.
Prediction: It should be a breeze for Brazil.
GROUP G: France (seeds) 1/3, Switzerland 19/5, South Korea 17/2, Togo 15/1
The French struggled in qualifying group that contained Switzerland, a side they meet again this summer. Both matches in qualifying were drawn, but since those matches France has gone up a gear and in Thierry Henry they have the World Cup's form player. Togo is in disarray with internal team politics driving the team apart. Add that to being World Cup newcomers, and you expect them to get severe hidings for all and sundry. South Korea performed admirably in the last World Cup, reaching the semi-finals, but you can put that down to playing at home in that tournament rather than an indicator of quality. South Korea is eminently beatable.
Prediction: France to win the group, and possibly reach the far stages of the competition.
GROUP H: Spain (seeds) 10/19, Ukraine 9/5, Tunisia 8/1, Saudi Arabia 28/1
Spain always underachieves, and if it's a tournament where the big guns fall early, like in 2002, Spain is likely to topple first. But surely not this time? Ukraine is a one-man band, with AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko, firing their way into the finals. With a player like that, they could potentially secure an upset and knock Spain off the top spot. The Saudis are rubbish, so forget about them. Tunisia on the other hand, may come of age after an African Nations Cup this year where they simmered without ever sparking to life. They showed enough quality however to show that, at their best, they could scare Spain.
Prediction: Spain will probably qualify, but I'm not going to put money on it.
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