GROUP H PREVIEW
France has experienced opposite extremes in the past two World Cup finals. In 1998 the French did double, both hosting the event and winning it. Two years later this the greatest generation of French Soccer won the European Championships. France entered the 2002 finals as a co-favorite but instead provided no offensive punch and embarrassing last place finish in its group, and 31st place overall. With Zinedine Zidane inactive in the last World Cup, the French midfield was a mess and star strikers Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet got inadequate service in scoring position. Louis Saha, Djibril Cisse and Sylvain Wilford are all top quality attacking options of the bench. France is so deep at forward that Nicholas Anelka has yet to make a French World Cup roster. This World Cup look for Claude Makelele to compliment Zidane in the midfield with some rough, aggressive defensive play. Patrick Vierra returns to the France side again and he is in top form. Mikael Silvestre should anchor a very solid back line along with the veteran Lilan Thuram. William Gallas has been in good form for Chelsea and Fabian Barthez returns to the nets even though many French fans wanted to see Gregory Coupet start at goalkeeper.
France is a veteran team that has been criticized by some for being over the hill. However, unlike some other squads that have older rosters, France’s stars have been in top form with their clubs and the squad looks poised to be dangerous in Germany. It would be shocking not to see France make a very deep run at this year’s World Cup. This, the golden generation of French Football could add another championship trophy to the case.
Switzerland qualified for Germany 2006 by ousting Turkey who finished 3rd at the Japan/Korea 2002. This Swiss side is very strong and could be one of the surprises of the competition. The team is led by captain Johann Vogel and features a good mix of youth and veterans. Phillipe Senderos leads the defense having had a good season for Arsenal. Tranquillo Barnetta is a dangerous young player who can play either right or left midfielder and a real ability to find his teammates in space. Alexander Frei has shown great ability in front of goal and should help the Swiss advance.
South Korea will not repeat its 2002 semi-final run on home soil. However Coach Dick Advocaat who took Holland to the quarter finals in 1994 inherited an excellent side from Gus Hiddnick who has moved on to Australia. South Korea has several steady veteran performers, such as Park Ji-Sung, Lee Young-Pyo, Ahun Jung-Hwan and Cha Du-Ri. The South Koreans had a dream run in 2002 but struggled at times through a weak Asian Qualifying group and have many players who have not been in particularly good form. South Korea will need a heroic effort to even advance beyond the group stage.
Togo has qualified for its first World Cup but it will be a short stay in Germany. The Football Federation on squad are disorganized and only recently changed coaches. The most notable thing about Togo’s campaign could be that coach Otto Pfister will lead Togo versus France in his home town of Cologne. Forwards Emmanuel Adebayor and Adekanmi Olufade will be strong competent finishers if they get the opportunities in front of goal.
BEST PLAYER IN GROUP: ZINEDINE ZIDANE, FRANCE
BEST YOUNG PLAYER IN GROUP: TRANQUILLO BARNETTA, SWITZERLAND
WHO ADVANCES: FRANCE, SWITZERLAND