Only Group H to play and we now know a lot more about the teams of world cup 2006. The lack of both dreary goalless draws and serious drubbings has been very heartening, and no team would have to improve immeasurably to qualify for the next round or deteriorate dramatically to fail. Even Brazil looked human against Croatia. For those of you in fantasy world cup leagues thinking about making some transfers before the second set of matches starts tonight here are our thoughts on the way the first four groups are looking and some suggestions for players to pick up or drop off. Groups E - H will be featured in a post at lunchtime today.
Germany and Costa Rica look pretty much as we called them, though Ecuador and Poland seem to have switched bodies. Ecuador defenders should be cheap and a good bet, though not a lock, against Costa Rica. Ballack is finally ready for Germany and should do well from here on in. Klose is showing his form up front while Lahm, though a danger coming forward, will be very lucky to encounter again the kind of wide open spaces he was offered in the first game. Poland could hardly perform worse than they did and Germany are vulnerable at the back as Wanchope demonstrated, but it's hard to see them winning against the hosts tonight which they have to do to stay in the tournament.
What a grindathon this is shaping up to be. Paraguay concentrate on not giving goals away in the first place, England can't work out any coherent system of attack except set pieces, Trinidad are defending as if their lives depend on it and Sweden seem to have lost their edge even more than our preview suggested. England and Sweden should still emerge as the two strongest teams eventually, but we'd be reluctant to recommend attackers here and the European defenders are expensive. It is, however, tall Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic's turn to tilt at the Paraguayan dead ball windmill and according to some highly useful official statistics he stands equal second in total shots (6) and shots on target (3). Lampard outshone Gerrard with five shots and three on target while our nominee Paredes was dangerous for Paraguay, as was Valdez, and Gamarra did score from a free kick...
Holland versus Serbia & Montenegro turned out as we expected. Argentina against the Ivory Coast, though lively, was what you'd expect from two teams with a set of D and E ratings in both phases of play and the real test is coming in this second round of matches when they face the stronger European defences. If Argentina get a hot afternoon on Friday it may give them the edge to wear down Serbia & Montenegro. We're still comfortable with tipping Holland to win the trophy. Rafael van der Vaart is set to return against the Ivory Coast and may take some of the limelight away from Arjen Robben's striker's performance in game one. Nevertheless, if Robben is listed as a midfielder in your league you really ought to find a way to acquire him. Otherwise our advice is unchanged here.
We touted this as three middling teams and a poor one (Angola) and it looked that way on Sunday. Angola put up a good fight but can't raise their game if they go behind and Iran were holding their own against Mexico until a catastrophic late defensive double mistake involving one of our tips Rahman Rezaei who had earlier played a big part in Iran's goal from a corner. They'll be itching to make up for that against Portugal, but their big chance may have gone. Portugal most likely have enough to hold them to a draw at worst. Mexico seem to have shaken off their European blues, but if Portugal have qualified when they meet we may not see them properly tested until the knockout stages. In the meantime they look good for three or four more goals and surprise hitman Omar Bravo, a fomer amateur boxer, will only get more time now that main forward Jared Borgetti is injured. Our recommendation Luis Perez, a near ever present in the qualifiers, only came off the bench against Iran. If you're looking for bargain Angolans striker Akwa had three shots in his hour on the pitch and some games list him as a midfielder, while actual midfielders Andre and Mateus both had shots on target.
Picture via Arne's Flickr stream.