Group E Preview

Italy, Czech Republic, United States, Ghana

Many people in the US actually consider this the Group of Death. Well, it will be for the Americans. If you just look at the ludicrous world rankings, you could delude yourself into thinking that this is a tough group. With the US a ridiculously lofty 5th, the Italians undervalued at 12, and the Czech Republic in a probably deserved 2nd, on paper it looks like a spectacular group. I’m afraid it won’t look that way on the pitch.

Italy has always played a defensive minded game, trying to eke out victories even though they were loaded with enough talent that would have decimated most competition. That playing not to lose mentality has caused one disappointing tournament after another for them. Hopefully coach Lippi just turns loose Alberto Gilardino, and Luca Toni this time. If they do that, they could outscore everyone, and look spectacular doing it. The crazy man, Francisco Totti, is still around, and hopefully at least 4 years more mature this time around. If he manages to keep his head, they should do very well. In fact, that’s Italy. Stay calm, relax, and play to their enormous capabilities and they‘ll go a long way.

The Czech Republic has made the move from being merely very good to great. They’re arguably the best team in Europe right now. They probably should have won Euro 2004. Pavel Nedved is still the name everyone knows and he’s still playing solidly in what will be his last World Cup, but the man who is going to carry this team on his huge shoulders is the mountain, Jan Koller. Big and sublimely talented, he can just dominate a match.

Other than perhaps England, the US has to be the most overrated team in the tournament. They still don’t get much respect from the rest of the world, mainly because they never play anyone. They beat the riff-raff and easily qualify for the World Cup. That said, they are better than they’ve ever been. Kasey Keller is as good as most in goal, and with Beasley and Donovan setting up Brian McBride, the offense is usually adequate. The defense is shaky, though, and they’re in a group that can exploit that. If anyone actually harbors the silly notion that the US team is anywhere close to 5th in the world, this Cup is going to be a very rude awakening.

While making their first World Cup appearance, Ghana has been one of the better African teams for quite awhile. Led by yet another Chelsea player, Michael Essien, they could be another of those debut Africans that can end up surprising a few people.

This group isn’t really that tough. It’ll be a big two-way battle to win the group, since whoever finishes second will be doomed to drawing Brazil in the next round. No one is going to look past the US team, which means they won’t manage to slip by this time. Ghana is probably about as talented as the US, but much less heralded, so if anyone sneaks through after another Italian implosion, it’ll probably be them. The Czechs will advance, and if they finish top of the group, could well win the Cup. I already can’t wait for that Brazil/Italy match in the second round.