Friday, December 09, 2005

Let's look at World Cup Pot C plus something Special

Pot C is the European pot. It includes Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. The only other European team, Serbia and Montenegro, is in a separate "special" pot. However, I am going to include them in this tier ranking because it just makes sense to me. So let's look at some tiers.

Tier One
The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Serbia and Montenegro

The Netherlands is an easy choice for the first tier. With talent like Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edwin van der Sar and captain Phillip Cocu among others, they are a team no one wants to face. They had a fantastic qualifying run that saw them only surrender three goals in 12 matches. It is hard to see them not advancing out of the group phase.

The Czech Republic is example number one for the strength of the Netherlands. These two were in the same qualifying group. If the Czechs were in any other group, they would not have wound up in the playoff with Norway. Anyway, if there is one thing the Czechs know how to do its score goals. They netted 37 in their 14 games and scored 3 or more goals in 7 matches. Jan Koller had a lot to do with the goals, but he had plenty of help, however they need Pavel Nedved to come out of retirement for the playoffs. Whenever a team needs someone to come out of retirement for them to play well, that means they have a weakness. However, the Czechs should have enough talent to overcome this minor shortcoming.

Serbia and Montenegro may be the lowest FIFA ranked European team to make the World Cup, but they still had a fantastic qualifying run. In 10 matches they only conceded 1 goal. Now it is true that they were not up against the hardest of groups, but that is still an impressive fact. Keeper Dragoslav Jevric and captain Mladen Krstajic make up one of the best backlines in the sport. However, they do have one big problem, they have trouble scoring goals (they only got 16 in qualifiers and 5 of those came in one match). If teams do find a way to sneak in a goal or two, Serbia and Montenegro will have a hard time playing catch up. Anything short of that and S&M is going to get you.

Tier Two
Poland, Portugal, Sweden

Poland had a better qualifying run then most people thought they would. They only lost two games and both of those were to England. This shows the problem for Poland, winning the big matches. To do so, they will need their strinking pair of Maciej Zurawski and Tomas Frankowski to come out hot if they want to advance. They will also need to do something to tighten up their midfield.

Portugal has coach Luiz Felipe Scolari in charge. He took Brazil to victory in 2002, but I think he will have a harder time in 2006. Luis Figo came back from retirement to help his side out. As I stated before, I'm always a little concerned when teams need this kind of help, but in this situation, I don't think it is as bad. Portugal had a good qualifying stage with the exception of their games with Liechtenstein. How did these little guys put the hurt on Portugal? They went right at their midfield. It was surprising how easy it was for them to disrupt Portugal's game. Still, they are flying high and should have a good cup.

Sweden used their traditional 4-4-2 formation to have a very successful qualifying stage. Their defense was paramount and only gave up 4 goals in the 10 matches. On offense, forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic got 8 goals during the process. Now they did score 30, but 13 of them came in their two matches against Malta. Still they are a force. Teams will have to figure out their defense to get past these guys.

Tier Three
Croatia, Switzerland, Ukraine

Croatia actually beat Sweden to win their group, however, they had some problems with lower level teams like Malta and Bulgaria that makes one wonder about their abilities. They have a solid three-man midfield and a good attacking force in Darijo Srna and Marko Babic. Still, if teams like Malta can figure out ways of disrupt their attack, others should be able to as well.

Switzerland is an improving team, but they still have problems on defense. Keeper Pascal Zuberbuhler is good, but his backline often leaves holes. They have a decent midfield thanks in large part to Raphael Wicky and Alexander Frei has shown some good work at finding goal. Games against the Swiss will not be easy, but they also should not be that hard. That said, they did beat a good Turkish side to get here, so they might surprise.

Ukraine shocked everyone by being the first European team to qualify (excluding Germany). They were strong in their group thanks to the goal scoring of Andriy Shevchenko. However, that might also be seen as a bad thing. Shevchenko was their scorer. Yes he had help from Shakhtar Donetsk, Andriy Vorobey and Andrey Voronin, but still, if a team can stop him, they will be close to stopping Ukraine. Expect some surprises from this side, but that might not be enough to see them through.

So there are the tiers for Pot C and the Special Pot. There are a lot of good sides here and I expect to see anywhere from 3 to 5 make it past the group stage.


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