Group E contains many people’s favourites and also the “favourite” dark horses for the Competition.
Italy are perennial achievers, with the odd exception such as 2002, who no matter how indifferently they play in the qualifiers and the opening phase, know how to kick into gear once the serious stuff begins. This time round though, Marcello Lippi has added more steel to the midfield and allowed the creative side of the team to work it’s magic. The impact of the domestic allegations that beset Juventus and to a lesser extent some of their rivals in Serie A, has yet to be seen although I am sure that Buffon has spent time before other tournaments focussing on his game rather than on what an investigative Magistrate has to say. That said, the Italian keeper and his compatriots Nesta and Cannavaro form an impressive spine to the defence. The midfield is strengthened by the return to fitness of Totti and he has something to prove after his showing in the last World Cup, ineffective performances damaging his reputations with Andrea Pirlo providing useful back up in the attacking role. It is upfront however where the Italians have much strength in depth with the emergence of Luca Toni on the international scene and the so far impressive Alberto Gilardino, a creditable goal every other game at this level. Del Piero has again started to play well consistently which means a crucial supply route to the forward line is again in operation. One of only two nations to provide a squad based solely on players who are attached to clubs in their domestic league, they will again be a force to be reckoned with this time around.
The Czech Republic qualified via the Play-Offs which is being seen as an indication of a fall in standards. In truth, this was only due to the Dutch having a great campaign. It is a credit to their coachthat anyone can get Milan Baros to play consistently well, given his paucity of such performances for his clubs in England. Tomas Rosicky will be a key attacking player, keen no doubt to prove why Arsenal paid £8m for him. The stars of previous tournaments are still there although Nedved and Poborsky are no doubt playing their final acts on this stage. However, much will depend on whether Petr Cech can produce the same consistency for his country that he does for his club.
Ghana were less than impressive in the African Cup of Nations this year and will struggle to gain any points this summer. Michael Essien is a good punt for being sent off in the Group Phase and without him, Stephen Appiah will be a key player. No doubt they will be enthusiastic but that will be found wanting at this level.
The US of A made it to the Quarter Finals in 2002 but this time round, will be lucky to escape the Group although should the Czech’s slip up, they will be the team to take advantage. They have three reasonable keepers in Keller, Hahnemann and Howard but defensively they always give opponents a chance as shown in the recent 4 – 1 drubbing by Germany. Surprisingly, there was no place for “wunderkid” Freddy Adu in their squad but Claudio Reyna was in good form for Manchester City towards the end of last season to nullify that loss. A creditable third, I think for this team.
|Czech Republic||3||2||0||1||5||2||+ 3||6|
Arsenal Players in Group
Tomas Rosicky (Czech Republic)
Players Arsenal should sign
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Alessandro Nesta (Italy)
Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Luca Toni (Italy)
Alberto Gilardino (Italy)
Todays Tunes come from Simple Minds from 1983, two tracks from the Lyceum in London: