World Cup Preview: Group B

Group B

The Group of Death this group is not, but it won't be a cakewalk for the favorites England and Sweden to get through. Trinidad and Tobago pose little problems, but Paraguay could be heard from before all is said and done.


What you need to know — England is consistently the most overrated team in every major tournament. They are probably the second most popular team in the world, trailing only Brazil for that honor, but their success pales in comparison to the South American power. They have won exactly one World Cup, 40 years ago, on home soil. Since then, they have not appeared in a final of either a World Cup or the Euro Championship.

Style — Despite everything I just wrote in the previous paragraph, this is the most talented team England has had in a very long time. They boast world-class players at almost every position, and they do not rely solely on long balls from defenders to forwards anymore. They can possess the ball for long periods of time and they can shut down opponents in the middle of the pitch.

Achilles heel — There are some concerns in defense and goal, and whether two dynamic midfielders such as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play together in the midfield, and whether Michael Owen will be completely healthy after being out most of 2006, but all of that has been put on hold thanks to the broken metatarsal Wayne Rooney suffered in his right foot almost four weeks ago. Yes, England is multi-talented, but the 20-year-old Rooney is the only player the English possess that can turn a game by himself. He is one of the elite players in the game, and his importance in the squad cannot be understated. It was said that he is as important to England as Ronaldinho is to Brazil. I disagree, not because he is a better player than Ronaldinho, but because Brazil has other creative avenues to turn to in case something should happen to Ronaldinho. England cannot replace the instinct, creativeness, and game-changing ability (read: finishing) that Rooney provides.

Player you need to know — Steven Gerrard. If England are to win without Rooney, Gerrard will have to play a pivotal role. Frank Lampard finished second to Ronaldinho in FIFA player of the year voting, but Gerrard is the only person England has that can come close to filling the vacancy left by the sorely missed Rooney.

Player you will learn to know — Theo Walcott. The 17-year-old was a shock call-up by manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, as he has never played a game in the English Premier League. Sven is looking to catch lightning in a battle, hoping the young forward uses the World Cup to fulfill his enormous potential.

Prediction — With or without Rooney, England should at the very least get out of their group. But if they have any hope of winning it all, Wayne Rooney must play. If everything goes right, he will be able to start training right about the time of England's first game. To expect Rooney to make an impact this summer though is the height of wishful thinking. England goes no farther than the quarterfinals, and once again, their overwhelming fan base is left disappointed.


What you need to know — One of the more underrated and dangerous teams in Europe, Sweden has suffered heartbreaking exits in their last two major tournaments — ousted on penalties in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004 to the Netherlands, and beaten by Senegal in extra time in the round of 16 of the 2002 World Cup.

Style — The strength of Sweden lies in their attack — they outscored opponents 30-to-4 in qualifying. They will attack no matter the opponent, a method that has proven successful in recent tournaments.

Achilles heel — Although they only conceded four goals in qualifying, questions remain about the defense. Other than captain Olof Mellberg, quality at the back is a real area for concern. And in their two only qualification games against another European power, Croatia, they lost both times 1-0.

Player you need to know — Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He didn't enjoy the best of seasons at Juventus, but the tall striker is still considered one of the most dangerous talents in the game. He averages almost a goal for every two international appearances, and he can play provider as well.

Player you will learn to know — Henrik Larsson. He is 34, but as Larsson demonstrated in the Champions League final, he can still impact a game that features players of the highest skill. It was Larsson, and not Thierry Henry or Ronaldinho, who had the largest influence in the Stade de France on the 17th of May, setting up both goals that would eventually hand Barcelona Europe's most prestigious title.

Prediction — There are doubts surrounding creative midfielder and Calvin Klein model Freddie Ljungberg's fitness. If he isn't healthy, Sweden might not get out of their group. If he is, Sweden could advance as far as the semifinals. Somewhere in between those two stages is more realistic.


What you need to know — They finished fourth in South American qualifying, and are making their third consecutive appearance in the World Cup. And they have advanced out of the group phase in each of their last two World Cup appearances.

Style — Once known for their defensive doggedness as preached by former coach and Italian legend Cesare Maldini, Paraguay has changed their strategy to become a more attacking squad.

Achilles heel — The strategy change might be based out of necessity — they conceded 23 goals in 18 qualifiers. Team age continues to be a concern, as well.

Player you need to know — Roque Santa Cruz. The Bayern Munich striker was an integral part of their 2002 World Cup campaign when he was only 20, and although he has suffered injury setbacks, remains their best attacking option.

Player you will learn to know — Carlos Paredes. The Reggina midfielder is a strong defender as well as a capable finisher, whether in the air or on the ground.

Prediction — Paraguay definitely possess the striking quality to make life miserable for Sweden and England. In addition to Paredes and Santa Cruz, Nelson Valdes can also contribute in attack as he has shown with Werder Bremen. A more likely scenario, though, sees Paraguay's sloppy defense conceding more goals than they will score, and thus sent home before the start of the second round.

Trinidad and Tobago

What you need to know — The World Cup debutants did it the hard way, defeating Mexico in their final qualifier just to advance to a two-legged playoff against Bahrain, which they won 2-1.

Style — Having fun. Their players and their steel drum playing fans are the quintessential example of just happy to be there. Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker most definitely worked all of his magic in getting this long shot to Germany.

Achilles heel — Everything. This might be the weakest team in the entire field. To use a baseball analogy, they are a double A team playing in the majors.

Player you need to know — Dwight Yorke. The 34-year-old former star striker of Manchester United is now a slower-moving midfielder that just got done playing in Australia.

Player you will learn to know — Stern John. Their qualifying hero is one of the few squad members who still applies his trade in Europe. The Coventry City striker tallied 12 goals in qualifying.

Prediction — I honestly believe if Trinidad and Tobago scores one goal, it will be considered a major victory. Two European powers and Paraguay are simply too much for the one million in population twin islands just off the coast of Venezuela. But one thing is for sure — everyone associated with the team will have fun.

Note: Piet Van Leer will be providing previews for each group leading up to the start of the World Cup on June 9th. He will also be providing regular coverage during the tournament.

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