Last Friday (December 9) night the German city of Leipzig hosted a football gala event that officially kicked off the 2006 World Cup year. The teams had already been announced as Germany, Brazil, Argentina, England, France, Italy, Mexico and Spain. The remaining 24 countries were divided into further pots to avoid any one continent being over represented in any one group.
GROUP A: Analysis: Hosts Germany should not be over extended to come through this soft draw with either Poland or Costa Rica filling second place. Home advantage!
Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador
GROUP B: Analysis: Although meeting Sweden in the initial phase for the second successive finals, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men have arguably been given the easiest task in Germany. Paraguay are the weakest of the South American qualifiers, Trinidad and Tobago rely on players active in England’s lower divisions. A stroll in the park!
England, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago, Sweden
GROUP C: Analysis: A disastrous draw for the African newcomers! Dark horses Serbia & Montenegro who finished ahead of Spain to get here, can upset both Argentina and Holland,amongst the pre-tournament favourites for the title. Group of death! Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro, Holland
Portugal, Mexico, Iran, Angola
GROUP E: Analysis: On paper Italy and the Czech Republic should come through – but in the steadily improving Americans and the underrated Ghana Black Stars the two European super-powers have worthy opponents. Upsets are the order of the day here!
Italy, Ghana, US, Czech Republic
GROUP F: Analysis: The two Australasian teams will be brimming with enthusiasm, but the two heavyweights look favoured. Brazil and Croatia are booked to take their places in the last 16. Plain sailing!
Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan
GROUP G: Analysis: Aging France are not the force of old while Switzerland relish the role as underdogs. Both favourites may well be in for a few surprises here. Contrary to appearances, an open group!
Togo, France, Switzerland, South Korea
GROUP H: Analysis: Tunisia and Saudi Arabia provide the perfect sparring partners for Spain and the Ukraine. A walk over for the Europeans!
Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
Prognosis: England have a clear path to the quarter-finals, neither Germany or Poland being good enough to stop Rooney and Co in the second round. Crunch time arrives on June 30 in Berlin with either Argentina, Holland, Portugal or Mexico in opposition. The other half of the draw will see Brazil, France and Spain fighting it out with a likely outsider to set up two mouth-watering semi-finals: at this stage anything could happen.
Selected Odds: 11-4 Brazil, 13-2 England, 7-1 Germany, 8-1 Italy and Argentina, 10-1 France, 12-1 Spain, 14-1 Holland, 18-1 Portugal.