So how do they do in 2006? This time they have a much harder draw, though not the true group of death that many are calling it (maybe the group of almost fatal injury is more appropriate).
They open against the Czech Republic, an aging but very high-scoring team. As of this morning, however, the Czechs have doubts about two of their main scoring threats, Pavel Nedved and Milan Baros. If either of them are absent, U.S. chances improve. I like them to win this game outright by taking it right to the Czechs as they did against Portugal four years ago.
Next up, they'll face an Italy team that will have cruised to victory over Ghana. I predict a 2-2 draw. Finally, they face Ghana, and I have no idea what will happen here, but I think a draw is likely. Even though I'm not as sure as I was in 2002, I still think the U.S. will capture second place in their group and advance, where they'll likely face Brazil, at which point they're bounced. It will still be a successful cup for the U.S. though.
Either Italy or the Czech Republic is capable of topping group E, but I'll go out on a limb and say that the Czech's age and injury woes continue to mount allowing Italy to win the group. Here are the rest of my predictions for the group stage:
- Group A: The hosts got a pretty easy draw here. Germany should have no problem winning this group. The runner up isn't as clear. Most people give Poland the best shot, but I think Costa Rica uses its speed to run around the Poles and move on to the next round.
- Group B: Rooney's metatarsal seems to have healed in time for him to play, as English fans rejoice the world over. His return should boost England to 2nd place in the group. I think Sweden continues their recent dominance over the Swedish coached English team to win the group.
- Group C: The real group of death. All four teams realistically have a shot at advancing. If Ivory Coast were in any other group, I'd pick them to move on, but unfortunately, they have Holland and Argentina. I think Holland finishes first and Argentina follows at second. Serbia and Montengro, playing their last competition as a single team, flames out completely.
- Group D: Now for my first shocker. Mexico goes home after the group stage. Iran shocks everyone with their form and ends up as runner up in the group to Portugal.
- Group E: Italy, U.S.A. (see above)
- Group F: Brazil has the best team in the world. They win this group, end of story. Until recently, I would have picked Japan to advance based on experience alone. Their form lately has been awful, barely beating Malta over the weekend. I think Australia are too inexperienced to advance, but they'll look pretty good. That leaves Croatia as the runner up.
- Group G: France got a gift with this group. Thierry Henry shines as they romp to win the group. The other three teams are a toss up for second though. Here is where Africa has a team advance, as Henry's teammate at Arsenal Emmanuel Adebayor finds the net multiple times and they end up shocking South Korea and Switzerland to advance.
- Group H: See Group G, replace France with Spain--only they'll manage to mess it up somehow and come in second behind Ukraine. Shevchenko sets the pace for the Golden Boot starting in this group.
16 teams are left, and if my predictions above ring true, this round has some intriguing games. First up, Germany renew they old World Cup acquaintance with England, only this time England should prevail. Holland easily dispatch Iran, and Sweden and Argentina defeat Costa Rica and Portugal, respectively.
On the other side of the bracket, Italy hold off Croatia in a very tough match, while Thierry Henry gets his Champion's League revenge on Puyol, leading Les Bleus to victory. Brazil ends the U.S. run in a game that's closer than anyone expected, and Shevchenko continues his torrid goalscoring pace as they oust Togo.
On to the Quarterfinals! This is where the great matches really start to line up. Holland versus England. What's not to like? I like Holland in this one. Argentina beats Sweden, France beats Italy, and Brazil gets by Ukrain. This leaves a final four of Holland and Argentina on one side of the bracket and Brazil and France on the other. Holland advances to the final where they defeat Brazil in one of the most entertaining finals in history.
Of course, all predictions guaranteed to be wrong or your money back!
NP: "Whatever's Cool with Me" - Dinosaur Jr