The Beautiful Game
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Long gone are the days of Davor Suker, and Zvonimir Boban, that saw Croatia achieve a third place finish in the 1998 World Cup. Croatia’s new generation of players has been far less successful. They failed to qualify for Euro 2000, and failed to make an impact in Korea/Japan 2002. Their qualifying campaign for this edition of the competition was a struggle for them, and their run up to the tournament has been far from impressive. Odds are that they will not be able to spring a surprise on France or England. If they are to be successful their key players must step up to the task. Igor Tudor (Juventus) must display the qualities that impressed the Italian giants to sign him. Croatia will heavily rely on in-form Monaco striker Dado Prso for scoring, but I feel it will not be enough to get them past the group stage.
England are potential finalists, and potential disappointments at the same time. My opinion is that they are somewhat overrated. They have some very good players in their rank and file, but lack the depth of squad needed to stand head and shoulder above the competition. They have the world’s most famous player in their roster in David Beckham, but the key to England’s success lies beyond the England captain. Several players must replicate their club form for England to be successful. Arsenal’s Ashley Cole is one of those players. He must provide speed from the back, the same way he did for Arsenal this season. Steven Gerrard should provide England with the fighting desire. He did that for Liverpool this season, and almost single handedly save the Reds from further disaster. I feel that he should captain the England squad instead of David Beckham. Another key element to England’s success will be Chelsea’s Frank Lampard. Despite the millions spent by Chelsea, this homegrown talent managed to impress in a star studded squad. England will reach the second round, beyond there injuries and suspension will play an important role in their progress.
Les Bleus are again favorites to win the tournament. They will be looking to impress after the disaster that was their last World Cup. France, unlike England, is stacked in all positions. France has enough depth to cover every position twice. Their defence is as solid as any in the world. This time around Robert Pires is available, and this provides a midfield option that was not present in the Far East in 2002. The forward tandem of Thierry Henry (Arsenal) and David Trezeguet (Juventus) will be hard to keep scoreless. If France has a weak point, it’s under the sticks. Fabien Barthez (O. Marseille) is a mercurial. He can be very good or simply atrocious. He is somewhat accident prone, and often makes horrible decisions, as he did for his club in the UEFA cup finals this year. France is yet to taste defeat since qualifying for the tournament began. Which French players should we watch for? We take your pick. They are all capable of making an impact, but keep an eye on some of the lesser known players such as Monaco’s Jerome Rothen, and Marseille’s Benoit Pedretti. This team can go all the way to the finals, and it would not surprise me if they end up singing “La Marseillaise” in the end.
As one of the co-hosts of the 2008 edition of the European Championships, the Swiss will attempt to perform well in this tournament in order to build momentum for next time around. Although I don’t believe that they can win the tournament, they can push their opponents into dangerous situations. The Swiss are an experienced and organized group. Most of them have experience in Europe’s top leagues. Murat Yakin, and Hakan Yakin were part of the FC Basel team that surprised some top European clubs in the Champion’s League a few years back. They should be the players to watch along with Liverpool’s Stephane Henchoz, and Stade Renne’s Alexander Frei.
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