Friday, December 09, 2005

Let's look at World Cup Pot D

Good old Pot D. This pot is made up of Asia and CONCACAF teams. And the teams are: Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago and USA. So let's look at the tiers.

First Tier
Japan, South Korea, USA

Japan comes into the cup having had some unexpected rough spots along the way (they had a lot of trouble with North Korea). Still, they have a great midfield thanks to Europe-based Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura and Shinji Ono, and domestic star Mitsuo Ogasawara. Their big problem is their lack of scorers. Masashi Oguro gives them something, but he is not the biggest of threats. If they can start finding net, they will be strong.

South Korea did not win their group, but I think they come in as the strongest side from Asia. However, much like Japan, their big problem is their inability to get goals. They do have some good options in attacking midfielder Park Ji-Sung or forwards Jung-Hwan, Cha Du-Ri and Lee Dong-Gook. Still, none of them constantly clicked during qualifying. Their saving grace has been the man between the posts, Lee Woon-Jae. He made some wonderful saves that kept South Korea in matches. If they can get some offense, they should present some challenges to their opposition.

The USA arrive in Germany with their best team ever. I know that is not saying a lot for US soccer, but it still says something. This is a team with real talent in players like Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Pope and Kasey Keller, amongst others. These players are found all over the field. Still, the US has some problems with their backline and need a lot of help guarding with set pieces. Then there is their problem with European soil. It just seems to be a curse on them. If they can fix some of these problems and maybe win a friendly or two in Europe, they might just repeat or improve upon 2002.

One thing about all three of these teams, unlike 2002, opponents will not look past them. Last Cup, these were three of the biggest surprises, but you can only be a surprise once. Teams, or at least the smart ones, will come out in full force when playing against them.

Second Tier
Costa Rica, Iran

Costa Rica are a little under the radar right now, but only a foolish team would write them off as an easy mark. This will be Paulo Wanchope's final Cup and he wants to go out strong. Wanchope is a goal-scorer through and through. Combine that with the pace and service of Hernan Medford, the defense of Gilberto Martinez and the goal stopping ability of Luis Gabelo Conejo and you have a good squad. Still, the Ticos did have some problems during qualifying. A lot of them went away when 2002 coach Alexandre Guimaraes returned in April, but they could resurface at any time. If Medford is slowed, it will be hard for Costa Rica to get victories. Yet this is a team that almost always finds a way to get 2 or more goals, so heaven help an opponent with bad defense.

Iran will send their best team ever to the finals. Striker Vahid Hashemian (who plays in Germany) is dangerous with the ball, yet still has trouble getting it between the posts. Mehdi Mahdavika and Asia’s player of the year Ali Karimi join him in the midfield. With these players, you would expect a lot, yet they only scored 7 goals in their 6 final qualifiers. The fact that they won four of those outings is proof that they have some solid defense, but it is also a danger. If a team sneaks in a goal, it will be difficult for Iran to win. However, Greece shown what defense can do for a team in Euro 2004, so if Iran stays solid, they will be a threat.

Third Tier
Saudi Arabia, Trinidad & Tobago

Saudi Arabia is a much better team then they were in 2002 (I know, that's not saying much). They have a really interesting attacking duo with Sami Al Jaber and Yasser Al Qahtani. Al Jaber is the 34-year-old vet while Al Qahtani is in his early 20's and the best paid Saudi in soccer. Al Jaber got three goals in their six final qualifiers, proving that his age is not going to slow him down. Scoring is wonderful, but they also get things down at the other end. They only conceded one goal and that was in their first group match back in February. Interestingly enough, their backline is mainly filled with 'no-names.' I think a lot of folks will underestimate Saudi Arabia, which might just lead to a win.

Trinidad & Tobago are a fun team. The fact that they even got to the playoff series with Bahrain is testament to the capabilities this team possesses. This is a team that after 6 of their 10 matches, only had 4 points and then went 3-0-1 to end up with 13 points and fourth place. Their big name is Dwight Yorke. The former Man United star always seems to find a way to get more out of his fellow players then they should have. Christopher Birchall is also capable of finding the net. However, the Soca Warriors still have to worry about their backline. They are prone to miscues and sloppy clearances, two things that can end a World Cup run early. But if they can clean some of that up, there might just be some extra celebrating happening in Port of Spain come next June.

Pot D is has a lot of strong yet vulnerable teams in it. None of them stand out as a major threat, yet just about all of them could become one. They all have problems in their game that could lead to embarrassing outcomes, yet they also have the ability to play above themselves. I would expect 2-3 teams from this pot to make it out of the group stage, but I would not be overly surprised if only 1 or as many as 4 moved on.

So there you have my look at all four pots. Again, the tiers from pot to pot are not equal, I'm just ranking teams relative to their pots. Feel free to look at my rankings for Pots A, B and C as well as information on how today's World Cup draw should work.


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