Group A Preview

Germany, Poland, Costa Rica, Ecuador

Of course the host country, Germany, heads the first group. It is one of the weakest and least interesting groups in the tournament. The only real entertainment value may come from how the supporters behave, since Poland is the other, and only real, competition in the grouping. For long and obvious reasons, these two countries don’t care for each other much and both have contingents of right-wing fans prone to violence. There might be more fireworks in the stands than on the pitch.

Both should advance easily to the next round. Germany, led by the newest Chelsea multi-millionaire, Michael Ballack. A player that seems to get a lot more hype than he tends to deserve. Solid, no question, but he hasn’t shown the consistent brilliance he’s reputed to have. They also have the feuding goalkeepers in Kahn and Lehman, both thinking a bit too much of themselves, but both solid enough. They’re also coached by that lay-about, Klinsmann, who has taken a bit of stick for leisurely commuting from his California home. Germany has tried to go with youth and speed, but still don’t seem to have a strong offensive presence, and they have slipped a bit defensively trying to improve that offense. But, they are at home, and are comfortably good enough to sleep through the first round.

Poland always seems to be right on the edge of having a very good team. They’re still in that spot, which means they’re just better than average, but looking up. For them it’s more about who is not on the team this time. Long time keeper Jerzy Dudek is out, along with one of their best scoring threats in Frankowski. Both of these omissions sparked more interest, and unrest back in Poland, than the players actually going to Germany. Zurawski, who plays his club football for Celtic, might be good for a couple, but it’s hard to see where their goals are going to come from.

The other two teams are just afterthoughts in this field. Ecuador is a defensive minded team that is only a threat when they play on the top of a mountain. Down at a normal altitude, their opponents won’t be gasping–nor worried. Costa Rica is a team that needed smoke and mirrors just to qualify, and they’re going in the wrong direction. They tend to be aggressively offensive, but their leading scorer is the aging (aged?) Paulo Wanchope–that should say enough right there. They might be one of the weakest teams in the tournament this time around.

Germany and Poland can put it on cruise control and coast through this round. Despite some more attention being placed on the offensive side of things, these two teams still will rely on their defense to get through. Expect a lot of 1-0‘s, and mostly boring games from this group. The German/Poland match might be worth a look, but the real battle will probably take place in the beer gardens. These two will advance but will struggle against better competition later. The hosts might surprise a few decent teams playing at home–that‘s a big advantage.