1. #1
    bigboydan's Avatar Become A Pro!
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    World Cup Breakdown

    World Cup Breakdown: Part I – The Favorites

    My general rule of thumb when looking at pre-tournament odds, whether it be for the World Cup, NCAA basketball or really any sporting event can be summed in one word: value. There is something a little less gratifying, not to mention financially rewarding when you eat the chalk and back a favorite…and that’s even when the favorite follows through with a victory!

    But the World Cup isn’t a horse race where a favorite can clearly be the best in the field yet get caught in a traffic jam and not even finish in the money. No, there is a reason you will find the name of every single World Cup champion for the last 13 tournaments listed below in my breakdown of the top six teams. That’s every tournament dating back to 1950 and taking it a step further, in only five of the last 13 World Cup finals were both teams in the finals not from this list.

    In a nutshell, it sure seems as if the cream rises to the top in the World Cup. So while it may not be nearly as fun as pulling for that 30-1 dark horse (more on those in Part II), backing favorites is undoubtedly the prudent call. With that in mind, here are top six challengers for the 2006 World Cup.

    Brazil - Opened at 3/1, currently at 2/1

    One of the most appealing things about the World Cup, like the Olympics, is that these teams are obviously compromised of players with ties to the country. That’s in stark contrast to the club teams most of these athletes play for – teams that usually are as competitive as their bankroll will allow. If a club team has a hole at a certain position chances are they can easily find a good replacement – assuming they have some money to spend. But there is no buying a World Cup Championship and that usually lends to each country having strengths as well as weaknesses.

    Every country except perhaps Brazil. The five time World Cup champions are fortunate to have enough home grown talent to field a team of all-stars at basically every position. Simply put, that is why this team is almost always the odds on favorite to win this championship.

    International superstars such as Ronaldo, winner of the “Golden Shoe” (top scorer) at the 2002 World Cup and the “Golden Ball” (top player) at the 1998 World Cup who is just three goals away from being the all-time leading World Cup scorer and Ronaldinho, FIFA’s World Player of the Year the past two seasons headline Brazil’s juggernaut but as mentioned, they have excellent talent at nearly every position – not to mention great weapons on their bench.

    Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is back with Brazil after coaching Saudi Arabia in the 2002 Cup. Parreira is not only familiar with Brazil but won the World Cup when he last coached this squad in 1994.

    Of course, there are some questions. Is Ronaldo in good shape? Can the 36-year old captain Cafu perform coming off knee surgery? Has Ronaldinho been over-worked coming into this event?

    However, those certainly seem like “problems” a lot of coaches would dream of having considering the talent they are dealing with. Brazil is once again the clear cut favorite and it will take a major upset for them to at least not be playing in the finals.

    Germany - Opened at 6/1, currently at 5/1

    The general consensus is this may well be the weakest German side in a number of years. However, there are a couple of big factors on the side of the “Nationalmannschaft”.

    The most obvious advantage for Germany, who last won the Cup in 1990, is the fact that they are playing host to this year’s tournament, with the opening kick in Munich (June 9) and the finals in Berlin (July 9). How important is home-field advantage in a World Cup? Considering that no host nation has ever failed to advance out of the first round, I’d say it is certainly a big plus.

    Not that the Germans necessarily have to worry about getting out of first round, which brings me to my second point. Germany has been placed is what in generally considered the weakest group, with Poland, Ecuador & Costa Rica. Weak opponents in the 1st round may well give Coach Jurgen Klinsmann time to get his squad in top form as well as provide a nice boost of momentum heading into the second round and beyond.

    England – Opened at 12/1, currently at 6/1

    Always a trendy pick to win the World Cup (could it be because the English LOVE to wager on “football”?), the English have certainly had very competitive squads throughout the years but overall must be considered a disappointment as they have only won one Cup (1966).

    Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was dealt a terrible blow when his star forward, the 20-year old Wayne Rooney went down with a dual fracture in his right foot just six weeks shy of this tournament. That undoubtedly explains why this talented group opened at 12-1 odds.

    Since then those odds have been bet down to 6-1, largely in part to whispers out of the English camp that Rooney may be fit enough to contribute, if not by the start of the tournament then by the second round (begins June 24).

    No question the English have the talent, with David Beckham and Michael Owen, to advance that far but their fate beyond that may well rest on the health of Rooney and this unit.

    Argentina – Opened at 5/1, currently at 7/1

    Hard to believe it’s now been 20 years since Argentina captured the World Cup Championship in Mexico. That Cup featured one of the most famous goals in soccer history when, playing in the quarter-finals, Diego Maradona punched the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton to give Argentina the lead. Quickly dubbed the "Hand of God" goal, Maradona went on to lead Argentina to their second Cup title over Germany.

    The word out of the Argentina camp as we enter this Cup is the young electric talent Lionel Messi may be the next coming of Maradona. Unfortunately however, Messi is likely to miss his team’s opening match against Ivory Coast because of lingering effects from a March thigh injury. Even without Messi, there is no doubt that with Hernan Crespo, Argentina does have firepower up front.

    Coach Jose Pekerman, who took over in the fall of 2004 will rely on those talents along with midfielder Juan Riquelme and defender and captain Juan Pablo Sorin to steer his side through the “Group of Death”. Containing Argentina, Holland, Serbia & Montenegro and Ivory Coast, Group C is generally thought of as the toughest group top to bottom and so Argentina will have to be on its game from the outset if they want to advance.

    Italy – Opened at 7/1, currently at 8/1

    The last time the “Azzurri” captured the World Cup was in 1982. Paolo Rossi won the Golden Boot in that tournament as he helped Italy win their third World Cup. Rossi entered that tournament under intense scrutiny as he had just been banned in a match-fixing and bribery scandal.

    I mention that last part because, ironically enough, Italy is again in the midst of a major match-fixing scandal involving Italian Serie A games. So far only one player, starting goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, has been questioned but heads are starting to roll and there is no doubt this latest scandal has been a serious distraction for Italy in their preparations for this Cup.

    But who knows? Maybe this is just the type of “distraction” that will unify the Italians and drive them deep into this tournament. As always, there is a large supply of talent with captain Francesco Totti, striker Alberto Gilardino and the reigning Serie A scoring champ, the tall (6’4”) Luca Toni.

    Coming off a disappointing 2002 tournament, the motivation is certainly there for Italy to make a statement in Germany.

    France – Opened at 8/1, currently at 10/1

    Of course, if you were to do a Google search on “disappointing teams in the 2002 Cup”, there is really only one team that would be discussed: France. Talk about night and day. France wins the 1998 World Cup and then follows that up in 2002 by laying a giant egg, not scoring a goal in the entire first round.

    “Les Bleus” will undoubtedly fair a bit better this time around and if the aging national hero, Captain Zinedine Zidane and the ever dangerous Thierry Henry can get this unit playing up to their potential, the French could offer some very nice value at 10-1.

  2. #2
    Baphomet's Avatar Become A Pro!
    Join Date: 05-11-06
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    France shouldn't be on any list. What a shame when they bought France 1998...
    IMO they should be suspended from any competitions, what a fraud!