Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 12 June 2006

Your Guide to... Group E and Group F (Part I)

Group E

Italy
Strength in all areas, starting at the back with the dependable goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon right up to Alessandro Del Piero and Luca Toni up frontItaly have fielded strong sides in major competitions before and under-achieved - most recently at Euro 2004Their qualifying campaign started off a little nervously, beating Moldova only 1-0 and losing 1-0 to Slovenia, but by the end, they cruised to top spot in the group comfortablySince qualifying, they've beaten Holland and Germany in friendly matchesCoach Marcello Lippi asks his players to work hard, sometimes sacrificing exciting play in the processIf Italy make a slow start as they have done at times in the past, they could find themselves playing Brazil in Round 2...

Ghana

This is Ghana's first World Cup and it comes at the expense of South Africa who faltered in their qualification groupTheir star player is undoubtedly Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien - technically gifted, he's strong, quick and can read the game wellGhana have been looking desperately for decent strikers to put in the team, trying out various options in the many friendlies they've played of lateThe Black Stars are another team that can lay claim to making full use of the flanks in their build-up play.

United States

Coach Bruce Arena encourages his flat back four to attack whenever possibleThough DaMarcus Beasley is a gifted natural left-footer and well suited to play on the left wing, Arena doesn't have an equivalent player for the right wingKey midfielder Landon Donovan is yet to find an ideal position on the pitch but could be best suited just behind striker Brian McBrideThe midfield unit lacks muscle too, with no one player claiming to be a traditional 'ball winner'The team is fit and tactically adept but tend not to play an entertaining style of football

Czech Republic

The Czechs boast a wealth of skilful and talented players, but the likes of Nedved, Poborsky, Koller, Galasek and Smicer are all now over 30 and not as quick and agile as they once wereOnly goalkeeper Petr Cech has emerged from the younger generation of Czech players with much credit while Milan Baros and Tomas Rosicky continue to hit form from time to timeSince Euro 2004, the Czech defence has improved slightly with David Rozehnal and Jan Polak both showing good form of lateThe Czech Republic are generally a very good attacking side, but their defence can be weak when least expectedGroup F

Australia
Australia have a style of play influenced by British, continental and South American football, with a rough, physical edge Guus Hiddink has organised his troops into a side that often threaten to score, ditching the previous 4-4-2 formation in favour of 3-5-2 While this makes the most of a very strong midfield boasting players like Harry Kewell and Parma's Marco Bresciano, it also highlights a small and weak defence which could easily be breached At the back, Mark Schwarzer is a goalkeeper that can win games while up front his Middlesbrough team-mate Mark Viduka has ended the season in good form Playing just behind Viduka is likely to be Tim Cahill who has scored 8 goals in 14 internationals Japan
Japan's strengths include strong discipline and a creative set of midfielders that can produce the unexpected Weaknesses include a collective inexperience in defence, no-one with a big, strong physique and a lack of outstanding strikers Zico's approach as manager is to concentrate less on tactics and strategy and play more in the Brazilian style, being impulsive and producing flair play off the cuff Japan are currently the best team in Asia and have achieved the occasional notable result in friendly matches, but would benefit from a natural goalscorer to help them achieve more
Next up: Group F (Part II) and Group G

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