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22 months ago Former German great Jurgen Klinsmann was called back home from exile in Los Angeles to coach the national team. With Germany hosting the 2006 World Cup and the poor results between 2002 and 2004 incurred by former coach Rudy Voller the choice was obvious to Germans of all stripes.However since talking the helm, Klinsmann has encountered much criticism, of both his decision to continue to reside in Los Angeles as well as his use of attacking tactics whom critics claim is leaving Germany, a traditionally strong defensive side weak at the back.
The truth however is that Germany has few if any world class type perfomers on its squad, save the great Michael Ballack. But is is possible in 2006, much like 2002 when Miroslav Klose, an unknown player who had just recently been capped for the first time with the national team went on a goal scoring tear which eventually led Germany to the final of Korea/Japan 2002. Germany has so many strong players in its player pool, who are football savvy, that perhaps someone will emerge as a top flight impact player.Germany doesn't have a quality finisher in the mold of Oliver Bierhoff or dare I say it Jurgen Klinnsman on this squad. (though youngster Lukas Podolski has a shot to be a star) Nor, does it have a real strong defensive presence on the back line. But what Germany does have besides home field advantage is two world class goalies in Jens Lehman and Oliver Kahn. Klinsman prefers Lehman, but you really can't go wrong with either. This alone should be enough to get Germany out of a relatively weak group and on to 2nd round, and beyond.
Poland dissapointed at the 2002 World Cup, but not before handing eventual quarterfinalist the USA and embarresing but meaningless 3-1 defeat. Poland's strength lies in its experience and cohesive starting squad. A concern for the Polish side is the number of key players who are not seeing first team action with their clubs. Poland does have in advantage in that they can play multiple styles and that they have enough pace to stay with the quicker sides in the World Cup. Poland's opening game with Ecuador will be critical to determining the chances of advancing beyond the group stage.
Ecuador is led by steady veteran defender, Ivan Hurtado. The stakes are high in this World Cup for the nation as no question exists that Ecuador is an emerging South American Football power. Edwin Tenorio of Barcelona lead the midfield and Ecuador will stress possession and ball control to the frustration of the opposition. Edison Mendez, and Luis Valencia are key midfield weapons as well and each is capable of scoring goals from long range. Ecuador is not a favorite to advance, but certainly they have the tactical savvy and patience to be a surpirse team. Don't be shocked if Ecuador sneaks up on Germany or Poland and gives an emerging soccer power a major boost for the future. Even Ecuador does not advance in World Cup 2006, keep an eye on this young team in upcoming Copa America and World Cup Qualifying competitions.
Costa Rica performed well at the 2002 World Cup, losing out on advancing out of the group stage on goal differential to eventual thrid place side, Turkey. However, Costa Rica probably had its best team in 2002, even when compared to the 1990 side that advanced to the knock out stage, and this year's group seems a bit old and tired. Paulo Wanchope, Mauricio Solis and Winston Parks have all had distinguished international careers but each seems on the downward spiral. Defender, Douglas Sequeira who plays in the MLS for Real Salt Lake is the Ticos best player in the air and if Costa Rica is going to be competitive they will have to make the most of their set piece opportunities. The Ticos will not advance out of the group.
WHO ADVANCES: GERMANY, POLAND
TOP PLAYER IN THE GROUP: MICHAEL BALLACK, GERMANY
BEST YOUNG STAR IN THE GROUP: LUKAS PODOLSKI, GERMANY