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World Cup 2006 Preview - Mexico

As per usual, Mexico, ranked in the World’s top 10, had an impossibly easy qualifying path to the finals in Germany.

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Outright Odds: 40/1
Group D Winners: 13/8

As per usual, Mexico, ranked in the World’s top 10, had an impossibly easy qualifying path to the finals in Germany. After hammering Dominica 18-0 across two legs, they won all six matches in Stage Two of qualifying in a group which contained fellow qualifiers Trinidad & Tobago and football heavyweights St Vincent / Grenadines and St Kitts and Nevis.

The final group saw them lose two matches, away to the United States to whom they finished the group as runners up on goal difference and their final match at Trinidad & Tobago. They did however, net 22 goals in the process, making them the group’s top goal scorers overall.

Those two defeats within 90 minutes were the first endured under manager Ricardo La Volpe since he took over in October 2003, with his side beating Brazil 1-0 in the Confederations Cup and also taking both Germany and Argentina into extra time. No matter how easy a passage into the finals Mexico may have had, there is no denying they can mix it with the “big boys” when the occasion arises.

They have appeared in 12 World Cups and reached the quarter final stages in both 1970 and 1986 when the tournament was held on home soil. However, they haven’t faired so well in recent finals, suffering a 2-0 second round defeat by rivals the United States in 2002 and bowing out 2-1 at the same stage to Germany in 1998.

Following a not-too-taxing qualifying process, they will be delighted at being seeded and being placed in arguably the weakest group of the tournament. They should have no problem qualifying for the second round and Lavolpe’s coveted 3-5-2 formation should serve him well in the opening stage.

The formation is used to benefit striker Jared Borgetti, who plundered 14 goals through the qualifying campaign while Jaime Lorenzo struck 11 times from midfield.
However, ironically what used to be the team’s main strength could now be a major weakness. Borgetti has flopped at Bolton Wanderers and is just a bit-part player while fiery striker Cuahtemoc Blanco may not even feature in the finals squad.

Where Mexico do boast a genuine world-class player is holding player Rafael Marquez, who plays just in front of the defence for both club – Catalan giants Barcelona and his country. Goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez is in the form of his life too so while Mexico may not be the force in attack they used to be, they will certainly be a tough nut to crack.

Recommended Bet:
Being seeded in such a weak group means there is no value in backing Mexico to qualify for the second round. They don’t play fellow seeds Portugal until the final round of fixtures and if both sides have already made it to the last 16 by then, a draw could be on the cards.

Portugal vs Mexico draw @ 5/2

 

World Cup 2006 Preview - Paraguay

Paraguay have qualified for their third successive World Cup finals, but like fellow South American qualifiers Ecuador, their route to Germany was an inconsistent one.

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Outright Odds: 200/1
Group B Winners: 8/1

Paraguay have qualified for their third successive World Cup finals, but like fellow South American qualifiers Ecuador, their route to Germany was an inconsistent one. After leading the group early on, just one win from seven games in 2004 followed. However, this was levelled out overall with eight victories, four draws and six defeats, seeing them finish in fourth position with a round of fixtures to spare.

Viewers will no longer be treated to the talismanic goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert, the veteran captain and dead-ball specialist who has now retired. He failed in his attempt to become the first goalkeeper to score in the finals but was superb at commanding his defence in France 1998 which saw them qualify to the second round.

One of Paraguay’s main strengths was a water-tight defence marshalled by Chilavert but this is not the case any longer. Veteran centre back Carlos Gamarra, with more than 100 caps to his name, will be 35 by the time the finals kick off and he lacks a commanding stopper alongside him. While goalkeeper Justo Villar has exceeded expectations, he is no Chilavert.

However, Paraguay possesses a resilient team spirit which could see them repeat the heroics of France 1998 and the qualities which saw them into the second round four years ago. At the moment they appear to have found a good blend between the veterans of yesteryear and the next generation of young talent.

With more firepower than recent Paraguayan sides, manager Anibal Ruiz faces a selection dilemma in attack. The established strike partnership of Roque Santa Cruz amd Jose Cardozo is under pressure from Werder Bremen striker Nelson Valdez.

Valdez could replace Santa Cruz who has recently suffered a knee injury and has struggled to make an impact at club Bayern Munich during his six seasons at the Bundesliga side due to the fierce competition for places. Valdez could partner Cardozo, who was Paraguay’s leading qualifying goal scorer with seven strikes.

If Santa Cruz is also fit, Paraguay could cause some real problems for their opposition as he is strong in the air and has pace and skill. It is the defence which poses the main problem as it is no longer solid enough as heavy 4-1 qualifying defeats to Brazil and Peru and a 5-2 reverse in Ecuador showed.

Despite qualifying in their last two campaigns, Paraguay could come unstuck this time around with England and Sweden likely to reach the last 16 at their expense.

Recommended Bet:
Despite their attacking prowess, Paraguay could miss out on a place in the second round with England and Sweden favourites to qualify. Check on the odds for the match against Trinidad & Tobago as that could be their best chance of success.

Paraguay to beat Trinidad & Tobago @ 1/2

 

World Cup 2006 Preview - Portugal

After a disastrous 2002 World Cup, in which they finished bottom of their group following defeats by both the United States and South Korea, Portugal will be looking to finally live up to their potential on the international stage.

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Outright Odds: 22/1
Group D Winners: 5/6

After a disastrous 2002 World Cup, in which they finished bottom of their group following defeats by both the United States and South Korea, Portugal will be looking to finally live up to their potential on the international stage.

Qualification was a breeze. They remained unbeaten in their group and finished seven points clear at the top. Portugal meant business in this group, putting 11 past Luxembourg across two legs and hammering second-favourites Russia 7-1 at home.

The charismatic Luiz Felipe Scolari, or “Big Phil” to his friends, has built a new team to replace the ageing or retired underachievers such as Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and others although Luis Figo, now entering “veteran” status and out of retirement, will be present in Germany. Despite guiding Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 and emphatic World Cup qualification, the public are still not convinced he is the man for the job.

The team’s core is based around four players who won the Champions League with FC Porto in 2004. Defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira and midfielder Maniche – now all at Chelsea and Costinha, now at Dinamo Moscow provide a solid base for the attack-minded stars to play around.

Attacking players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao Sabrosa and naturalised Brazilian Deco compliment the side perfectly and create numerous chances for striker Pauleta. The Paris St. Germain hitman overtook Eusebio’s record of 41 international goals with an impressive haul of 11 in qualifying, making him the European zone’s top goalscorer.

Manchester United winger Ronaldo could illuminate the finals with his skills and coveted step-overs. He weighed in with seven qualifying goals from midfield, raising his “Fantasy Football” stock considerably.

Portugal have all the makings of a World Cup winning side: a solid defence, exceptional quality and goalscoring potential from midfield and Europe’s deadliest striker in qualifying.

Their main downfall appears to be the goalkeeping position. Sporting Lisbon’s Ricardo and Quim from Benfica are both vying for the jersey although the supporter’s choice seems to be out-of-favour Vitor Baia. A veteran of the 2002 World Cup side, 36-year-old Baia was omitted from Scolari’s final 23 in the Euro 2004 squad.


Recommended Bet:
The underachieving squad from the past have almost all been replaced by a brand new crop of young talent. Old stagers Luis Figo and Pauleta will look for a final swansong, with the latter a sound each-way bet for top goalscorer status.

Portugal to win Group D @ 5/6
E/W Pauleta as top goalscorer @ 40/1




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