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World Cup 2006 Preview - Iran

Iran’s last appearance in the World Cup, back in 1998, produced a shock 2-1 victory over the United States, in what could have been described as a very diplomatic result.

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Outright Odds: 750/1
Group D Winners: 14/1

Iran’s last appearance in the World Cup, back in 1998, produced a shock 2-1 victory over the United States, in what could have been described as a very diplomatic result. After qualifying emphatically for this year’s tournament, including a 2-1 home victory over Japan, Iran will be expected to more than merely make up the numbers.

Iran won nine out of their 11 matches and qualified with a match to spare, although were pipped to the top spot by Japan, who beat them in the return fixture in the final round of fixtures.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed and they ranked at an all-time high of 15 in June 2005, ahead of fellow qualifiers Ukraine and Sweden and European champions Greece. To give you some idea of their position in the world game, they were rated just one place below Italy.

Iran are blessed with a plethora of attacking talent. Veteran striker and captain Ali Daei is the most prolific ever in international football with over 100 goals to his name and he topped the Asian scoring charts with nine qualifying goals. He will be 37 in Germany and this will surely be his last major finals.

Hamburg’s Mehdi Mahdavika, who netted the decisive goal against the United States eight years ago and Bayern Munich’s Ali Karimi, who was crowned 2004 Asian Footballer of the Year will be recognisable to the domestic audience. Mahdavika has emerged as Iran’s major attacking force in Daei’s twighlight years and has been given license to support the attack rather than being restricted to his traditional spot on the right wing.

Striker Vahid Hashemian is another player with Bundesliga experience, plying his trade for Hannover 96 following a transfer from Bayern Munich, as does midfielder Fereydoon Zandi who plays for Kaiserslautern.

Iran are lead by Croatian coach Branko Ivankovic who has successfully rebuilt the side which failed to qualify for the 2002 finals after losing to the Republic of Ireland in the play-offs.

While the victory over the United States sticks in the memory, it is the country’s only victory in six attempts at the finals and overall the squad lacks experience at the highest level, especially in defence. While Ivankovic has turned Iran’s fortunes around, they will need more than good morale to see them through a tough qualifying group and their final match against Angola could be their only chance of success.


Recommended Bet:
Despite their improvement, it is unlikely Iran will get anything from their matches against Mexico and Portugal but their attacking prowess could yield a final match victory against Angola at odds-against.

Iran to beat Angola @ 6/4

 

World Cup 2006 Preview - Italy

Italy are the grand masters of heart-breaking tragedy when it comes to major finals. In all three World Cups held in the 1990s, the Italians bowed out on penalties, including Roberto Baggio’s infamous miss against Brazil in the 1994 final.

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Outright Odds: 10/1
Group E Winners: 10/11

Italy are the grand masters of heart-breaking tragedy when it comes to major finals. In all three World Cups held in the 1990s, the Italians bowed out on penalties, including Roberto Baggio’s infamous miss against Brazil in the 1994 final.

They don’t fare a lot better in Europe either. With Euro 2000 in the bag, opponents France equalised four minutes into injury time and went on to win, while Euro 2004 saw Italy bow out in the group stage when Sweden and Denmark drew 2-2, the only result which would send both teams through at the Italians’ expense.

Italy have made failure when it matters the most an art form and are likely to provide plenty of high drama at this summer’s finals. However, they tend to bring it upon themselves more often than not.

In a move that would make wheeler-dealer manager Barry Fry proud, Italy coach Marcelo Lippi used an incredible 36 players in qualifying so it is arguable he has not yet found his best starting eleven. Howeever, after 10 qualifying matches in which no player appeared in more than eight matches, Italy may not have the stability to see them triumph in Germany.

Italy are notorious slow starters in major finals which will not help matters in what is potentially the toughest of all the groups. In qualifying they lost an early match in Slovenia and could come unstuck against unknown quantity Ghana in their opening match.

Following a minor blip in qualifying the Italians remained unbeaten for the rest of the campaign, proving they are solid if not spectacular and topped the group by five points. There is no value in them winning Group E at 10/11 or qualifying from it at heavy odds-on but given their history of being “there or thereabouts” they are likely to secure a spot in the last 16.

Their success will come from a watertight defence marshalled by Fabio Cannavaro, who missed the embarrassing defeat to South Korea in the 2002 finals and Alessandro Nesta.

Lippi also has a headache in who to play in attack. Veterans Alessandro Del Piero and Christian Vieri may give way to AC Milan’s Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni of Fiorentina, who netted four goals in eight qualifying matches. Real Madrid’s Antonio Cassano is another option.

Recommended Bet:
An unpredictable line-up and a history of doing “just enough” to progress through the tournament rather than winning in style means there is more value in opposing Italy than backing them at odds-on to win the group or qualify from it. Their final match against the Czech Republic could end all square if a point is all that’s required for both sides to make the last 16.

Italy vs Czech Republic draw @ 11/5

 

World Cup 2006 Preview - Ivory Coast

The Ivory Coast topped their qualifying group but the margins between success and failure were so intense it came down to a single penalty kick with just four minutes of qualification remaining.

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Outright Odds: 80/1
Group C Winners: 9/1

The Ivory Coast topped their qualifying group but the margins between success and failure were so intense it came down to a single penalty kick with just four minutes of qualification remaining.

In the penultimate qualifying match, the Ivorians needed a victory against Cameroon to ensure qualification, but they lost 3-2 in Abidjan. Their subsequent 3-1 away win at Sudan would be meaningless if World Cup mainstays Cameroon beat Egypt. The match was all square at 1-1 until Cameroon were awarded a penalty four minutes into injury time. A successful spot kick would send them through but Pierre Wome hit the outside of the post and the Ivory Coast were heading to Germany.

The Ivory Coast are arguably the strongest African side participating in the finals, with Cameroon, Nigeria, Morocco and Senegal all failing to qualify. However, they are also pitted in the toughest group and will need to be at their best against traditional favourites such as Argentina and Holland.

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba leads the front line and contributed nine goals as his country qualified for the first time in eight attempts. Arsenal defender Kolo Toure is the most recognisable defender but the team oozes quality from players mainly plying their trade in France.

Partnering Drogba in attack is Lens forward Aruna Dindane while playmaker Bonaventure Kalou, from Paris St Germain and St. Ettiene’s Didier Zakora are all capable of making an impact. In defence Toure is joined by Abdoulaye Meite from Marseille, Strasbourg’s Etienne Boka and veteran Cyrille Domoraud, now playing for Creteil.

Being placed in such a tough qualifying group, the Ivorians will benefit greatly from having a coach of Henri Michel’s stature. The vastly experienced coach is in charge of his sixth national team following stints at France, Cameroon, Morocco, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. With twenty years experience to call upon, he will ensure Drogba and co. are fully prepared for the task ahead.

While the team are strong in most areas, they are also probe to a lack of concentration. This was highlighted in their qualifier against Cameroon which could have seen them miss out on a place in the finals. There are also doubts raised on their ability to play away from home after qualifying defeats to Egypt and Cameroon and a goalless draw with Libya.

Recommended Bet:

Senegal burst onto the international scene four years ago when they beat an under-par France 1-0 in the opening game so the Ivory Coast could possibly do the same. If they could do the unthinkable and beat either Argentina or Holland, a point in their final match against Serbia & Montenegro could see them through to the last 16.

Ivory Coast vs Serbia & Montenegro draw @ 5/2




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