Saturday, June 03, 2006

Group together: E

Czech Republic

How they got here: Finished a close second to Holland in their group before beating Norway in the playoff
Best player left at home: Vladimir Smicer has been ruled out injured
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Ajax's Tomas Galasek is surely only a matter of time away
Likelihood of camp divisions: Medium
Where it could all go wrong: The Czechs always look more impressive in qualifying than in competition
UK media prefix: Unpredictable
Googlism says: "pavel nedved is the only football player in the top ten; the others are all ice hockey players"
We reckon: Number two in the world! There's one to take to the bookies, and while they won't win the thing they'll never have a better chance of their best performance since reaching the 1962 final

Ghana

How they got here: Won their group ahead of South Africa despite losing to Burkina Faso in their opening game
Best player left at home: Ten players from the African Cup Of Nations squad have been changed, most notably striker Ibrahim Salou
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Sami Kuffour, who complained about "magic rituals" affecting the national squad not long ago, would seem to fit the bill
Likelihood of camp divisions: Decent
Where it could all go wrong: With their status as continual overachievers of the African game well set, it's surprising to be reminded that these are their first finals, and come at a time of transition and poor form
UK media prefix: Game
Googlism says: "michael essien is obviously excited"
We reckon: Eight defeats in twelve games this year just when they didn't want them tells its own story

Italy

How they got here: Topped their group by five points
Best player left at home: Christian Panucci's international wilderness of some years continues, while Cristiano Lucarelli was squeezed out
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Simone Perrotta seems the type, unless he's too expensive now
Likelihood of camp divisions: Depends on how the betting circle goes
Where it could all go wrong: Yeah, shut up about how it didn't affect the 1982 squad now. Marcello Lippi's problem is more that Italy just haven't impressed many of late
UK media prefix: Organised
Googlism says: "marcello lippi is also a man of the center"
We reckon: Should get out of the group, but who knows after that

USA

How they got here: Breezed past weak opposition and qualified well in advance, just as they do every time
Best player left at home: Experienced defender Frankie Hejduk and new Charlton signing (work permit permitting) Cory Gibbs are both injured, while Freddy Adu is not deemed ready yet
Player most likely to be linked with Spurs: Surely Landon Donovan is overdue his European move by now?
Likelihood of camp divisions: Lowish
Where it could all go wrong: Expectations after 2002's headline making antics, lack of experience against the big guns, more "end zone interception turnover!!!!!" emailed 'commentary' 'humour'
UK media prefix: Surprising
Googlism says: "brian mcbride is simply one of the hottest men i have ever seen in my life"
We reckon: They won't play Iran, no. They might not play anyone at all apart from the three above

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