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World Cup 2006
Preview - Angola
After almost bowing out at the first hurdle, Angola, the smallest of all the African qualifiers, reached Germany at the expense of traditional powerhouses Nigeria.
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Outright Odds: 750/1
Group D Winners: 16/1
After almost bowing out at the first hurdle, Angola, the smallest of all the African qualifiers, reached Germany at the expense of traditional powerhouses Nigeria. After succumbing 3-1 away at Chad in the preliminary qualifying match, it looked as though Angola would have to revert to basketball and handball for their sporting success.
The result lead to Brazilian coach Ismael Kurtz being given the sack and replaced by the hugely popular Luis Oliveira Goncalves who had achieved success with the Under-20 side, leading them to the African Youth Championship. Angola subsequently won the home leg against Chad 2-0 and went through to the main qualifying phase.
Angola proved to be a dominant force at home, winning all five of their fixtures and lost just one fixture away from home, 2-0 in Zimbabwe. They managed one victory in Rwanda on their final game when only a victory would do.
The 1-0 win meant the Palancas Negras (black antelopes) were level on points with Nigeria but topped the group due to having the better of the results across their two fixtures, winning 1-0 at home and drawing 1-1 away.
The country’s younger footballer’s have often been among the world’s best and they have been given the unlikely opportunity to transfer this onto the world stage. Fabrice Akwa scored crucial goals in qualifying, including the precious winners against Nigeria and Rwanda while Pedro Mantorras has the potential to be a real attacking force.
The 24-year-old Benfica striker has suffered from a serious knee injury and managed to participate in just three qualifying matches but if he remains fit could form a potent partnership with Akwa and cause an upset.
Angola also boast a strong defensive unit under Goncalves and shipped just six goals in qualifying. The local view is Angola will be strong underdogs and have tough opponents in Mexico, Portugal and Iran but without a playmaker of any real class to speak of they will plan on sound defending and try to catch teams on the break.
As one of the rank outsiders of the tournament, little is expected them. Only goalkeeper Joao Pereira and Mantorras have experience of playing at the top flight in, at Portugal’s Moreirense and Benfica respectively, while midfielder Figueiredo plays for second division side Varzim.
Everyone loves an underdog but Angola, with such little experience of playing in Europe and a reliance on home form, are set to struggle in Germany. They have a sound defence so you could try and take them on a generous handicap if the bookmaker’s fancy them to get hammered by either Mexico or Portugal.
World Cup 2006
Preview - Argentina
Following a dismal World Cup four years ago which saw first round elimination, Argentina will look to make a serious impact at this year’s finals.
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Outright Odds: 9/1
Group C Winners: 5/4
Following a dismal World Cup four years ago which saw first round elimination, Argentina will look to make a serious impact at this year’s finals. Again, they enter as one of the favourites to win the tournament but there are still doubts as to whether they can compete with great rivals Brazil when it really matters.
Argentina were the first side to qualify from the pool of South American teams vying for a place in Germany, although a defeat to Uruguay in the final match saw them finish second on goal difference to Brazil. Argentina managed to beat Brazil 3-1 at home but lost by the same score earlier on in qualifying.
However, a single win against the Brazilians does not cover up the fact they were beaten in consecutive summers in the Copa America and were soundly thrashed 4-1 in last year’s Confederations Cup. They are a side with plenty to prove if they are to emerge from the shadow of their more successful South America neighbours.
Manager Jose Pekerman, a former taxi-driver after his own playing career finished, has made plenty of changes following old boss Marcelo Bielsa’s departure and has slowly introduced new faces to replace the dismal failures of 2002.
Argentina, while they do not possess a Ronaldo or Ronaldinho, have an extraordinary strength in depth to make most opposition sick with envy. In attack there is an abundance of talent with Hernan Crespo, Carlos Tevez, Luciano Figueroa, Javier Saviola and teen sensation Lionel Messi all fighting for a place.
Such is the abundance of available players in midfield, Pekerman can even afford to drop Juan Sebastian Veron without any serious ramifications. Juan Roman Riquelme, at his peak at 28 years old in Germany, looks set to take over Veron’s mantle after a sensational qualifying campaign. Supported by Juan Pablo Sorin and veteran Javier Zanetti down the flanks, Argentina could be devastating in attack if they are in the mood.
However, that could be their downfall. Despite a rich selection of midfield and attacking talent, the side is still over-reliant on Riquelme who has a tendency to blow hot and cold. It can also be argued whether or not Pekerman has found an ideal starting line-up.
Pekerman has a magnificent record at developing young players and has enjoyed success with Argentina by winning World Youth Cups in 1995, 1997 and 2001. He has made progress with the senior side but can he take it one step further and win Argentina’s first trophy in 12 years?
Despite an obvious abundance of attacking talent and strength in depth, Argentina are like to fall short again when it really matters. They should improve on their last World Cup campaign and qualify from the group stage.
Holland vs Argentina draw @ 2/1
World Cup 2006
Preview - Australia
After a 32 year absence from the finals, Australia finally overcame their play-off hoodoo to qualify for Germany. Play off agony to Iran in 1997 and Uruguay in 2001 was vanquished last November as the Australians again faced Uruguay and beat them in a penalty shoot-out.
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Outright Odds: 125/1
Group F Winners: 14/1
After a 32 year absence from the finals, Australia finally overcame their play-off hoodoo to qualify for Germany. Play off agony to Iran in 1997 and Uruguay in 2001 was vanquished last November as the Australians again faced Uruguay and beat them in a penalty shoot-out. Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was nearly taken off before the shoot-out commenced, but two stunning saves booked Australia’s World Cup place.
Under coach Guus Hiddink, Australia have progressed immensely. The former South Korea coach and England target took over from Frank Farina last July and even though teams such as Fiji, Vanatu and Tahiti were brushed aside with ease, Hiddink successfully completed what he called “almost mission impossible”.
Australia netted 32 goals in seven qualifying matches and even their two-legged final against the Solomon Islands was a farce as they ran out 7-0 winners in Sydney in the first leg. Indeed, only fifth-placed South American side Uruguay offered genuine competition, winning 1-0 in Montevideo only for Australia to win the return leg by the same scoreline and triumph on penalties.
When Australia switch to the Asian qualifying zone after the finals the quality of opposition they face will improve dramatically and will make for a better team. Entry to this year’s World Cup will be a step into the unknown despite the squad all having experience of European club football at some stage in their careers.
Despite their lack of success as an international team, punters in the UK may be inclined to lump on the Aussies due to their Premiership contingent. Players such as Blackburn Rovers’ Brett Emerton, Everton’s Tim Cahill and Liverpool’s Harry Kewell will provide plenty of midfield class while Middlesbrough striker and Australia captain Mark Viduka can be a frightening prospect when he’s in the mood.
While Kewell is capable of world class displays, as he showed in the second leg against Uruguay after coming on as a substitute, there are question marks over the team as a whole which should persuade you to invest your betting bank elsewhere.
There is plenty of flair going forward but there is a telling lack of pace in defence which will be Guus Hiddink’s main cause for concern. Full back’s Tony Vidmar at 36 and Kevin Muscat at 32 switched to the Dutch and Australian leagues respectively to see out the end of their careers while centre back Craig Moore is not noted for his lightening pace either.
Australia are capable of causing an upset but they are likely to fall just short of qualifying for the last 16. They could get their campaign off to a flying start with an opening match victory over Japan in preparation to switching to the Asian qualifying zone after the finals.
Australia to beat Japan @ 13/10