This is the first in a series of eight posts analysing the strengths and weaknesses of all the world cup teams, one group at a time, aimed in particular at those of you who have fantasy football leagues at work or amongst friends and are looking for some clues to teams and players that might give you a chance of getting at least some of your stake money back. Tomorrow, England and the rest of Group B. Today, the hosts Germany and Group A.
We suspect the vast majority of you dread this as much as we do, but we’re bound to say that, at the vital moment, circumstances are drifting gently into place that give Germany every chance of winning the world cup. If we were writing this preview a year ago it would have been very short and entitled “Brazil, obviously, but who’ll come second?” However, after romping to the Confederations Cup last summer Brazil have faded, Argentina are struggling, France are arguing, Holland are rebuilding, Italy are self-destructing and England are suffering. Cue a fit, calm, motivated and well-organised German team given the bonus of home advantage and a comfortable looking group. With a head of steam from those three games a sceptical public would be galvanised and if German teams know anything it’s how to peak at the right time in a tournament. By the way, they get someone from our group in the second round.
Poland are also a dangerous proposition, especially going forward. They lost 2-1 home and away to England, but put three past the opposition in every other away game in that group, away form being more reliable than home this summer for everybody except Germany. In many ways the Polish team is Germany Lite and they’ll be buoyed by their own significant following from just over the border. We can’t see beyond these two for qualification. It’s just a question of who finishes top and it might come down to which squad gives the other two the biggest thumpings.
Costa Rica are also an attacking side, but crucially don’t travel well and have a poor history against physical opposition. In qualifying not only did they lose away to fellow finalists Mexico and the USA, conceding five goals on aggregate without reply, but they also lost twice in Guatemala and ground out scoreless draws in Honduras and Trinidad.
Ecuador have only ever played on this continent a handful of times and bemoan their own lack of European based players. In recent years they’ve benefited in qualifying from playing home games at altitude in Quito, but their away record makes sorry reading with 2 draws, 6 defeats and only 1 win at fellow rarefied air specialists Bolivia. Move along. There’s nothing to see here.
Team Ratings – A (best) to G (worst)
Defence – Germany E, Poland E, Costa Rica F, Ecuador G
Attack – Germany A, Poland C, Costa Rica F, Ecuador F
Crucial Game – Germany v Poland, Wed 14th June, 8pm - Dortmund
Fantasy Football Recommendations
The Germans’ strength this time is up front. Every fantasy team we pick is going to have Chelsea new boy Ballack in it provided he shakes off the ankle injury he picked up a few days ago. Almost every time they score it has something to do with him, including penalties. Bastian Schweinsteiger is a cheaper midfield alternative. Vulnerable defensively against stronger teams, Germany specialise in turkey shoots of inferior opposition as with 2002’s 8-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia where tall striker Miroslav Klose was the chief beneficiary. With the weak defences of Costa Rica and Ecuador on the menu he’s in great form again, unlike the more obviously gifted Lukas Podolski who has a higher upside than Klose, but could fail to get going at all.
Poland also have attractive attacking fantasy options, notably Celtic striker Maciej Zurawski. He would have been a near automatic choice facing two weak rearguards until his strike partner and qualifying top scorer Tomasz Frankowski was dropped at the last minute after a wretched 2006 since transferring to Wolves. Zurawski is still recommended, but a little less strongly with a new colleague to get used to. Midfielder Miroslaw Szymkowiak takes the free-kicks.
If you must pick a Costa Rican go for the midfield and try Carlos Hernandez who bagged five goals in nine qualifying appearances. He’s a first choice player, but can be left on the bench if counter-attacking is the plan. Paulo Wanchope might get on the scoresheet, but there are more promising options.
As with Costa Rica, we’re only expecting a maximum of two goals from Ecuador. Right winger Edison Mendez got five in qualifying and, like Hernandez, specialises in the long range shot. Defensive midfielder Marlon Ayovi takes the spot kicks, one of the few world cup penalty takers who isn’t a striker.
Picture via Gertrud K's Flickr stream.