GROUP C PREVIEW

Group C is without question the group of death at Germany 2006. In fact, this group may be one of the all time toughest with four squads that in my estimation could win the group and could win just about any other group in the competition. However, Argentina and Ivory Coast appear to be slightly better than Serbia and Holland. I will admit that picking this group was difficult and it is entirely possible I have the order of finish totally reversed from reality.

Despite an embarrassing exit four years ago Argentina is brimming with confidence. In fact, Manager Jose Pekerman claims Brazil aren’t the favorites because Argentina has regularly beaten them in qualifying. However that was the case in the run up to the 2002 World Cup when Argentina were considered among the favorites and Brazil was written off as an injury plagued and tired squad. But beware a sleeping giant, as Brazil proved in 2002. Now Argentina appears to be sleeping, with the fewest tune up games of any Germany 2006 participant and probably the most injuries to significant contributors than any other contending nation. Argentina may have the most exciting young player in International Football with Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s teen wonder, and due to the rash of injuries Messi may be called into substantial duty. Messi will partner up front with Hernan Crespo, who hasn’t been sharp with Chelsea and often times found himself on the bench but is still formidable attacking force. Midfielder Pablo Aimar who Argentines compare to Ronaldinho has not only been injury plagued, but he has also been inconsistent when playing for the national side. Nonetheless, Aimar had a decent season for Valencia. The defense as it has for years is led by Roberta Ayala who too has been hobbled by injuries. Ayala is a class footballer, and a master organizer whose leadership will serve Argentina well even if he is not 100%.Argentina does not have what it takes to win a World Cup with this squad. However, they will advance deep into the Tournament.

Henri Michel is one of the most experienced coaches in international football. He led his native France to the semi-finals at Mexico 1986, and has since led Cameroon, Tunisia and Morocco into the World Cup. Now he takes the Ivory Coast in its World Cup debut to Germany. Didier Drogba who stars for Chelsea leads the Elephants to Germany with a good cast of supporting players. Kolo Toure who played well during Arsenal’s FA Cup run in 2005 leads the defense. Emerse Fae could be the key midfielder. Fae is controversial case, having played for France at the under 17 and under 20 levels, but never for the senior international side. Now 22 he was cleared by FIFA to join the Ivory Coast squad last year. Emmanuel Eboue made his mark with Arsenal this season as a classic wing player and hopes to settle into a similar role with the Elephants during the World Cup. Ivory Coast has one of the world’s most exciting and attacking players in Didier Drogba as well as discipline, organization and cohesion of team play often times lacking from talented African sides. Don’t kid yourself. Despite never qualifying for the World Cup previously, the Ivory Coast will advance beyond the group stage.

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