Sunday, June 04, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group D

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group D

Group D is supposed to be the weakest group in the World Cup, with motley collection of non-Euro, non-South American sides joining Portugal, who despite making it to the semis of Euro 2004, isn't even the seeded team in this group.

Portugal is still trying to move on from the "Golden Generation", a group of players who dominated at the youth tournament level and never achieved the same level of success with the senior team. Rui Costa is the major figure from the Golden Generation who is no longer on the team, although the squad still has a number of holdovers.

The Portuguese have suffered in recent compeitions from a lack of goal production. The closest they've come to producing a top-level striker is Pauleta, who led the scoring charts in France last year; however, he has a tendency to be marked out of the game in international competitions, especially in the big games. Part of this is because Pauleta is not a big man and Portugal prefers to play him as a lone forward, meaning that it's easy for an experienced defense to isolate him from his supply line.

Portugal should advance to the second round, whether they make it any farther will probably be contingent on Coach Scolari deciding to play with a second striker or if Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco provide goal-scoring from the midfield.

To give the match a nice twist of possible colonial revenge, Portugal's ex-colony of Angola has been drawn into the same group. With a few Portuguese-born players in their team and a history of clashes when the two teams play, this game has potential to be a classic. Most people seem to be assuming that Angola will be lucky to record a single draw, although a couple Latin American pundits have theorized that they will come out of the group as a surprise team. With not much of a history to go on, they should probably be regarded as a wildcard.

Mexico are the seeded team in the group, thanks to their play in competitions such as the Confederations Cup and the Copa America, as well as their club teams playing in Latin American club cups. El Tri follows the general North American trend of fielding fast and physical squads, although they're the most technically gifted of the CONCACAF sides.

Plus, they cheat! Teams that play dirty (see: Argentina, Germany) generally tend to do well in international play, although you can't go all the way in that direction, as you can see in the case of Uruguay.

I have a feeling that Iran is being under-rated by many people. They have a solid core of players used to international play (many of them being based out of Germany) and if you'd forgotten, they did beat the US back in France '98. Remember, as the Germans say, "The ball is round" and any team with some quality stands a fairly good chance of beating a "better" team.

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