Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More World Cup Team Profiles

31 left to go, so I thought I'd keep pluggin' away. I haven't decided how I'm going to organize it, but for the time being I'll just pick them at random.
Here are two more World Cup Contenders...

IVORY COAST - The former French colony (really "Cote d'Ivoire") is competing in the World Cup finals for the first time, despite its success at youth levels and much of its lineup competing in some of Europe's biggest leagues. Led by Chelsea targetman Didier Drogba, the Ivorians made a strong run in the African Nations' Cup this past winter, losing out to host Egypt in the final in a shootout. In fact, though Drogba is the most recognizable, defenders Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue were instrumental in Arsenal's run to the Champions League final, helping keep 11 clean sheets on the way. The Elephants -- as they're affectionately known -- are coached by World Cup veteran Henri Michel. Michel coached France to their best-ever World Cup finish (at the time) in 1986 in Mexico, then took Cameroon to WC94 and Morocco to WC98. Of all the African teams (four of the five are first-time WC participants), they look the most likely to impress. Unfortunately, they've been given a rough draw into Group C with Argentina, the Netherlands, and the recently-divided-but-still-competing-together Serbia and Montenegro. That said, if those teams overlook them at all, the Elephants are perfectly capable of getting some surprise results.
Best possible scenario: Second place in the group, and a winnable game against either Portugal or Mexico in the Round of 16. A la Senegal, a quarterfinal place is entirely possible.
Worst possible scenario: Three losses in the Group.

JAPAN - The Japanese return to the World Cup for the third consecutive time, having hosted and advanced out of the first round for the first time ever in 2002. They were a little unlucky to lose to Turkey in the Round of 16, and, with more of their players playing abroad and a favorable draw, this is a team with the potential to get to the knockout stages. Of course, calling any draw with the mighty Brazil "favorable" is iffy; regardless, with Australia and stingy but not-so-dangerous Croatia on the slate, they've got a chance. And if anyone in the group could upset the Brazilians, might it be Japan, coached by Brazilian legend Zico? Former Arsenal man Junichi Inamoto and Celtic midfielder Nakamura will have to create plenty of chances for a team that includes five strikers but no proven goalscorers. Their warmup friendly next Tuesday vs. Germany will be a good measuring stick and a decent result could build confidence. The Japanese qualified by topping their Asian qualifying group with Iran, Bahrain, and North Korea.
Best possible scenario: Round of 16 loss to Italy/Czechs/USA.
Worst possible scenario: Three straight losses in the group stages.

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