I will be taking a look at all 32 teams participating in the 2006 World Cup, doing a team-by-team capsule, organized by group. Group C looks to be a strong mix of South American flair, solid European teams, and another of the first-time African nations. This group is headlined by big name stars.
World Cup Appearances: 14th Appearance; 9th Consecutive
Best Finish: Champions (1978, 1986)
Key Players: Juan Riquelme, MF; Javier Saviola, F; Herman Crespo, F
It’s been 20 years since the ‘Hand of God’ goal, and long gone are the people who were involved. What we do have, however, is a team hungry for another taste of World Cup glory, and after a disappointing 2002 campaign which finished with a disappointing finish in the group stages. But this team is primed for a better finish this time around. They did have some trouble during their qualifying stages, but they still finished with 34 points. It was, however, only good enough for second place behind , marking the first time since qualifying for the 1994 World Cup that did not win their qualifying group.
This team does not have the world profile of Argentine teams of the past, however there is no doubting their overall talent or hunger. They have a very balanced group of young players with experienced veterans, and you look have to expect that in order for them to do well they must gel quickly on European soil.
The undisputed star of this team has to be in the midfield. He wears number 10, but he’s not the number 10… at least, not yet. Although Juan Riquelme is considered one of the world’s best, he’s had to deal with the large, overwhelming shadow of another number 10 patrolling the midfield for another South American team and his status as the “second-best” on the continent. What is undeniable though is that Riquelme enters this World Cup as ‘s undisputed key member and the piece of the puzzle that will be key for their success or failure. He blends a mix of on-the-field intelligence with a keen ability to maintain possession of the ball through opposing defenses. He’s also fearless and can strike from anywhere within 30 yards. He was overshadowed by coaches until recently, and he has garnered the respect and admiration of his teammates, the Argentine press, and their loyal fan base. He will be the key for Argentina.
It goes without saying though that he cannot do it alone, especially on foreign soil. A big key will be the scoring touch of Herman Crespo, their leading scorer during the qualifying round. He’s a world-class striker who has enjoyed success on the club level quite recently with
of the English Premiership and playing in ‘s Serie A with AC Milan. The key for Crespo is that he’s able to score goals in seemingly every way possible, from lobs to free kicks, back heel shots, he’s a finisher with an uncanny ability to touch the netting. He is now the third-highest scoring player, behind only Argentine legends Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Maradona. He is ruthless in the attacking third and able to clog up the midfield adequately on defense when needed.
will also rely on a battery of supporting players around the pitch, as they are solid across the board. Roberto Abbondanzieri is a solid choice a GK, while their defense is spear-headed by mainstay Roberto Ayala. A player to watch is Javier Saviola, a forward who will be playing either alongside Crespo or behind him, but with the ability to score goals at rapid pace and a youthful disposition that they will feed off, he could quickly become the next big Argentine star to emerge on the international stage.
Look for to easily advance to the elimination stages, but in order to see long-term WC success must be able to not go cold against some of the higher-quality teams.
Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
World Cup Appearances: Initial Appearance
Best Finish: n/a
Key Players: Didier Drogba, F; Jean Jacques Tizie, GK
Another newcomer to the World Cup stage, the Ivory Coast is another one of those teams that has the individual international experience, but not much in terms of overall team experience. You look for their entry into the 2006 World Cup finals as a learning experience for this tam. Just don’t mention that to Didier Drogba, one of the best strikers in the world.
They are a team not only with the hopes and dreams to be successful in all of them, but they also carry with them the dreams of an entire nation. You will hear a lot of this story during the World Cup, but it is a great sight to see that the , torn apart by a Civil War, has called a cease fire during this World Cup in order to be a country united in their support for their football team. When it was reported that they were to give each national player a villa in their nation valued at around $50,000, many of them said that they would prefer peace in their homeland.
That being said, the Elephants of the Ivory Coast, as they are known, have the highest expectations of all of the African nations according to many soccer experts and critics, and after an amazing qualifying run and their impressive runner-up finish in the CAF African Cup of Nations tournament, they have a lot to build on for an impressive cup showing.
Of course, the man who stands at the forefront of this campaign is none other than the aforementioned Drogba. The team captain, Drogba has been in the international spotlight since his days in playing for Guingamp of the French First division. 32 million Euro’s later, he would be playing in the English Premiership for
. Drogba blends in an ability to position himself with his large frame and his deadly accuracy within the attacking third. He often wears down defenders during the matches and is able to break through in the later parts of matches. He is equally able with either foot, and combines that with a powerful header that can be accurate and strong to the goal. He scored nine goals during the African qualifying and is poised to take that total to .
The World Cup will depend on their defense and keeping. We know they have the ability to score, it’ll be up to them to stop the opposition from scoring. Tizie, their number one GK, was very proficient in qualifying and in the Nations Cup afterwards, and he will be looked upon to come up with big saves for the Elephants. He is a former handball goalkeeper who has been the veteran leader of this team.
World Cup Appearances: 8th Appearances; Last – 1998
Best Finish: Runners-up (1974, 1978)
Key Players: Ruud van Nistelrooy. F; Phillip Cocu, MF; Edwin van der Sar, GK
A fourth place finish in should have meant big things for the Dutch in 2002, but they failed to qualify in their group after losing out to and . But for 2006, they field a team that has many of the familiar international names that they’ve fielded for many years, combined with the emerging stars that signal the bright future for the .
Marco van Basten, a former national player and feared Dutch striker, has taken over the reigns of this team as the manager and he has had an instant impact with the team. During the qualifying stages, this team has been able to show their ability to score and defend with apparent ease, showing their superiority against their main rivals in qualifying, the
. With his lineup, you almost can’t go wrong.
Led by team captain Phillip Cocu in the middle, this team is very talented and one of the best in the tournament. Cocu is a mix of experience and ability that is needed with the job of captain, and he’s got the international experience to boot. He’s played in and in his home country of the . He may not be able to fully match up to some of the younger, faster mids in the world, but his intelligence and experience allow him enough of a leeway for him to create and let his strikers and offensive mids do the scoring.
But although Cocu is the captain, their real star is obviously the striker Ruud van Nistelrooy. The star striker for Manchester United since 2001, if he’s on his game in , this team will be hard to contend with. His reputation as a decisive and natural striker is what precedes him, but he is able to follow those expectations with meaty results. It’s hard to believe that this will be his first World Cup experience. He’s got a chip on his shoulder though, as he’s looking to prove himself after a career that, although brilliant, has been marred by injuries. His status as one of the best in Manchester United’s lineup is now in question with the emergence of other players, and he’s out to prove that he’s not damaged goods. A fine performance in will help him prove so.
His Manchester United teammate is the Dutch goalie. Edwin van der Sar has over 100 games of international experience, and has played for three of the most prolific club teams in
. Having played for
and Juventus prior, and now currently for the Man U, he’s got the impressive resume. But that alone doesn’t stop goals… and it’s a good thing that van der Sar is an amazing goalie who’s knowledge of positioning and angles make him hard to beat.
This Dutch team has the talent and the desire to go far. Could their first World Cup Championship be in line?
Serbia and Montenegro
World Cup Appearances: 8th Appearance (As Yugoslavia previously); Last – 1998
Best Finish: Semi-Finals (1930)
Key Players: Dejan Stankovic, MF; Mladen Krstajic, D; Mateja Kezman, F
Formerly Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro is back in the World Cup after missing it in 2002, and they come into the tournament finals with one of the best defensive backlines in the World. Their last World Cup, in 1998, ended in the final sixteen with a loss to the , who are in their group for Germany 2006. It’ll be interesting to see the performance of and , if they can capitalize on their history or start a new one.
Like many other teams in the World, they have recently gone through a change of managers within the last five years, and the switch to Ilija Petkovic has been a good one for this team. They have not lost an international competitive match under him since his takeover in 2003.
This team’s overwhelming strength is in its defense, and it is led by the captain, Mladen Krstajic. Big and physical, he is a defender who is not only tough but smart when it comes to the backline. Able to mark the best in the world, he can stop scorers in their tracks and take away what little space is afforded to them. He played domestically in until 2000, when he made the move to and has been there since, playing for Werder
. He’s been a fixture for the team and played in all but one of their qualifiers.
Dejan Stankovic, meanwhile, embodies the description of “hard-working midfielder.” He’s a guy who patrols the midfield but is extremely versatile and can play multiple positions on the pitch. This is what makes him so dangerous. His knowledge of different positions and how they play is vital because he brings those approaches to his game as needed. He’s like a chameleon in that sense, can change his style to the style needed to be played. If he’s needed to drop into the defensive third, he can do so. Should then need a goal, he can push forward and apply pressure and be a playmaker. He’s got an excellent shot, but more important is his incredible timing and ability to create space for himself.
A person to keep an eye on is Mateja Kezman. A vulture around the attacking third, he’ll pounce on the smallest mistake and make you pay dearly. He not only scores goals, but scores big ones, and that has earned him the favor of the manager. Look for a breakout performance by Kezman in order to see advance far into the elimination round.