Following on from yesterday we pick our way through the group stage finale of the world cup focussing this time on groups E to H. This bottom half of the draw is still largely undecided in contrast to the top half and so here our suggestions are players with strong potential who might replace starters or high-upside regulars who are likely to be inexpensive.
Hang on. It turns out we were right after all. The Czechs’ avoidance of African opposition for the last nine years is revealed as horribly ill judged, Nedved is beginning to show his age and the Czech dependence on Koller has been laid bare. Meanwhile, ten-man Italy couldn’t put away nine-man USA – “the team are not heavy scorers and often concede one at the back” – and suddenly it’s game back on across the group on Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, the US capitulation to the Czechs means we will lose at least one of our predicted qualifiers as the Ghana-USA showdown is now either/or (and possibly even neither). Similarly one of the wounded Europeans must stumble into the knockout stages and all but the States can still pass the parcel marked “Brazil – July 1st”. We predicted before the start that this group would be red in tooth and claw. It will be Azzurri and Black Stars in qualification.
Under the radar fantasy picks: Mauro Camoranesi, Vincenzo Iaquinta (Italy), Milan Baros, Jiri Stajner (Czech Republic), Razak Pimpong, Haminu Dramani (Ghana), Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson (USA)
Picture via tedsbear's Flickr stream
A bumpier road than we anticipated, but still Brazil trundle into the last 16 while searching nervously for third gear. The worry is that the transmission might actually be broken, but now that they can afford to
Under the radar fantasy picks: Robinho (Brazil), Mitsuo Ogasawara (Japan), John Aloisi (Australia), Niko Kranjcar (Croatia)
When FIFA scheduled this group as last on they probably didn’t have the spectacle of recent world and European champions France fighting for their lives in mind. The French need a win by at least two goals to gatecrash a potential stalemate party in the other game. We might be more optimistic if they’d scored more than once in their last five world cup finals matches, but as with a few other countries the Absence of the Legend could be the making of them. The enforced benching of Zidane might paradoxically unleash the flamboyant goalscoring potential the French public is convinced lies within its tea,, but on recent evidence it might be hard to persuade their new musketeers to pull the trigger rather than anxiously seeking out a heavily marked Henry. Togo have given the other two teams a fright with one eye on the details of their bonus scheme. Imagine what they might do now they can belatedly give the tournament their full attention. Switzerland will find comeback kings South Korea even harder to keep down than the lively Africans were and the draw seems most likely to us. We also think a barely deserving France will scrape together the winning margin they need.
Under the radar fantasy picks: Florent Malouda (France), Mohamed Kader Cougbadja (Togo), Tranquillo Barnetta (Switzerland), Lee Chun Soo (South Korea)
Well, Spain have shown they can despatch and catch which will serve them well in the knockout phase. Now if only they can stop the left back from shooting and keep new hero “Southgate” Torres away from penalties they could go a long way. Saudi Arabia could still qualify if Spain field a reserve side and Ukraine fail to beat Tunisia, but Shevchenko’s boys are back to level-pegging psychologically and look in no mood to be sympathetic towards the North Africans’ valiant but exhausting and ultimately fruitless rearguard action against their former tormentors. Spain to make a clean sweep while not extending themselves and the Ukraine to beat a dangerous but tired Tunisia still likely to be lacking key striker Dos Santos.
Under the radar fantasy picks: Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Andriy Voronin (Ukraine), Zied Jaziri (Tunisia), Hussein Sulimani (Saudi Arabia)