Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Fri 9 June 2006

Your Guide to... Group A

And they're off!

As I write, the World Cup is due to start in just under 8 hours time with Germany v Costa Rica as the first match, followed swiftly by Ecuador v Poland. But what can you expect from Group A as the competition unfolds before your very eyes? Who should you be looking out for and who will succeed where others fail? Here are the facts you need to know...

Unlike previous World Cups, Germany have no real leader on the pitch. Forget Beckenbauer, Matthaeus and Rummenigge - a 2006 comparison doesn't exist for them. In their favour is a relatively easy first round group and shed loads of home support, plus the fact that host nations reach at least the latter stages of the competition Germany's one true star player, Michael Ballack, is injured and won't play in the opening game, but his strike partner Miroslav Klose has had a good season with Werder Bremen and could net a few goals for them instead. Their defence is decidedly leaky and no-one's quite sure what the starting line-up will be - 14 players were tried out in defence in the 18 months leading up to the Finals. When it comes to the crunch, Germany could come unstuck. They haven't beaten one of the world's top sides since 2000 when they beat England at Wembley. Costa Rica
Their star player is without doubt Paulo Wanchope, who continues to score regularly, as was seen during Costa Rica's qualifying matches. Costa Rica favour a short, snappy passing game, generating attacks from midfield. Their goalkeeper and defence is somewhat unreliable. A 4-0 friendly defeat to Ukraine recently highlighted the problem despite claims that the defence has been improved since the last World Cup. Poland
The Poles are decidedly schizophrenic on the world stage. In qualifying they were free-scoring and difficult to beat, but in major competitions they often underachieve and disappoint. With a rickety defence and no real ball-winner in midfield, Poland will look to keep the ball as long as possible before getting it to their useful front line. Poland have never beaten Germany, but if they get through to the second round they may face England who they notoriously always struggle to beat too. A 3-0 victory over Ecuador at the end of 2005 gives hope of at least three points being collected in Round One. Ecuador
Famously adept at playing at high-altitude on home soil, Ecuador aren't so good when playing away in unfamiliar territory. Ecuador have one or two familiar names from the Premiership (De La Cruz of Aston Villa and Delgado of Southampton) that generally play better for their countries than their clubs. Ecuador nowadays favour a direct style playing down the wings, ditching their previous intricate passing game which proved unsuccessful. In a bid to tighten their defence, so much emphasis has recently gone on improving the back line that attacking play may take a back seat when the action starts in Germany.
Tomorrow: Group B...

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