The Great Predictor (oooh, nooo)

What a tournament!
It’s not just the surprises that has been the making of the 2002 World Cup. Well okay, it has I suppose. While the illustrious talents of Zidane, Crespo and Petit have been licking their wounds, glory has been the keyword for the likes of unemployed defender Gary Breen, the Premiership player that no one knows, Stig Tofting and Fulham reserve, Eddie Lewis.

Group A

France, Senegal, Uruguay, Denmark
I said this was a group that looked tough for France, but that they would sail through in the end. Hmmm. Finishing bottom and winless was a bit of embarrasment for the reigning European and World Champions. Senegal were without doubt the surprise package of the group, and arguably the tournament so far. Their opening day win over the holders almost guaranteed their passage to the second stage, and they put an exclamation point on it with a 1-1 draw with group winners Denmark and an eventual 3-3 draw with Uruguay (although they were 3-0 up).

My Prediction 1 France 2 Denmark 3 Uruguay 4 Senegal

Final Group 1 Denmark 2 Senegal 3 Uruguay 4 France

Star of the group I said to watch out for Uruguay’s Reboca. Indeed, he had a decent tournament but struggled in a team that were never at the races until 45 minutes before their elimination. The real star of the group was three-goal midfielder, Bouba Diop of Senegal.

Group B

Spain, Slovenia, Paraguay, South Africa
Spain won the group at a canter in the end, but it was the late battle between South Africa and Paraguay which had people on the edge of their seats. Slovenia were the disappointment of the group and when their star player Zahvoic was sent home, they became group whipping boys. South Africa shocked Paraguay when they came from 2-0 down to draw in their opening game, and they beat Slovenia to put themlseves in with a great chance of qualification. But a narrow 2-3 defeat to Spain combined with Slovenia’s collapse to ten-man Paraguay in the final round of games saw Paraguay nick the second round spot from the Africans.

My Prediction 1 Spain 2 Paraguay 3 Slovenia 4 South Africa

Final Group 1 Spain 2 Paraguay 3 South Africa 4 Slovenia

Star of the group Two weeks ago, I indicated that Tottenham’s new signing, Milenko Acimovic of Slovenia would be worth watching. The midfielder scored a wonderful goal in the 1-3 defeat to Paraguay and although looking lightweight, carried his nations hopes as well as anyone. But look no further than South Africa’s Quinton Fortune whose livewire performance against Slovenia put the Africans on the brink of a wonderful achievement. If Manchester United don’t want him, there will be plenty of others lining up to line his pockets.

Group C

Brazil, Turkey, China, Costa Rica
One of my better predictions – spot on, might be accurate. Brazil did indeed capture maximum points in style. Turkey were unlucky against the Brazilians but in the end finished well behind them, edging out Costa Rica in the final round of games. China had a dismal tournament, losing all three games and not even scoring a goal.

My Prediction 1 Brazil 2 Turkey 3 Costa Rica 4 China

Final group 1 Brazil 2 Turkey 3 Costa Rica 4 China

Star of the Group Hakan Sukur didn’t do much for the Turkish, and has indicated that he is so frustrated with his teammates that he will subsequently retire from international football after the World Cup. Go Hakan! But a Turkish player has impressed. Midfielder, Hasan Sas drove the Brazilians mad and scored twice in three games to help the Turks through.

Group D

Korea Rep, Poland, USA, Portugal
Okay, so I picked out the US as being the surprise team of the group – well they were one of the surprise teams of the group. And if Korea were the other surprise team, then Portugal were the surprised team of the group. One of the best teams in Europe went home after a double assault from Asia and North America. Meanwhile, Poland forgot to start playing until the last game of the first stage. Their 3-1 victory over the USA was too little, too late.

My Prediction 1 Portugal 2 USA 3 Poland 4 Korea Rep

Final Group 1 Korea Rep 2 USA 3 Portugal 4 Poland

Star of the group Landon Donovan had an excellent three games for the USA, but he was joined by goalkeeper, Brad Friedel and winger, Damarcus Beasley. But for star of the group, we’ll look no further than one of South Korea’s heroes – creative, and hard working, midfielder, Song Chong-Gug.

Group E

Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Cameroon
Not the greatest games of the tournament, but there will be little sympathy for stylish Cameroon amongst the Germans and Irish. The Germans had few problems against Saudi Arabia when they set the tone for the group with an 8-0 victory. A final round victory over Cameroon saw them take the group. Ireland provided the most thrills with their last minute equaliser against Germany, and a stylish second half overpowering of the African champions. In the end it came down to the fact that Ireland bagged three against the Saudis while Cameroon could only net once.

My Prediction 1 Cameroon 2 Germany 3 Ireland 4 Saudi Arabia

Final Group 1 Germany 2 Ireland 3 Cameroon 4 Saudi Arabia

Star of the group I singled out Ireland’s Damien Duff, and the diminutive winger-cum-striker did not disappoint. He terrorised the German and Cameroon defences with his dazzling runs, and it will be interesting to see how the Spanish deal with him in the second stage.

Group F

Argentina, Nigeria, England, Sweden
Not so much the group of death after all. Nigeria were always second best to their opponents, even when England struggled to play football in the final game against them. Argentina were the biggest disappointment, totally ouplayed by England and failing to capitalise on chances against Sweden and Nigeria. Sweden were the groups best team, closesly followed by fellow Europeans, England. I got this group totally wrong.

My Prediction 1 Argentina 2 England 3 Nigeria 4 Sweden

Final group 1 Sweden 2 England 3 Argentina 4 Nigeria

Star of the Group Freddie Ljungberg didn’t outshine any of this teamamtes after all, but he was part of a very impressive Swedish unit. The star of the group was England center-back Rio Ferdinand who coped so well (alongside Sol Campbell) with the Argentinian assault as well as the skilful but toothless Nigerians.

Group G

Italy, Ecuador, Croatia, Mexico
I predicted a close group and it did turn out that way. I thought that Ecuador might sneak through but they failed to get a win until their final game, and by then it was too late. Mexico who won the group, and only for Italy’s late equaliser against them, they would have come away with maximum points. The Azzurri sneaked second spot from Croatia when the Croats lost to Ecuador – a terrible shame following their wonderful win againt the Italians. Some good football in this group.

My Prediction 1 Italy 2 Ecuador 3 Mexico 4 Croatia

Final group 1 Mexico 2 Italy 3 Croatia 4 Ecuador

Star of the Group Ivan Kaviedes did not stand out as I thought he might, and in fact he played only 67mins for the Ecuadorians. Mexico’s attacking midfielder, Torrado, was key in his sides fluent attacking play, and he also netted the winner against Ecuador.

Group H

Japan, Belgium, Russia, Tunisia
Shows you how much the professionals know. Far from being the boring group, Group H was thrilling right down to the final kicks in the Belgium v Russia game. Japan entertained consistently, finishing off with a confident 2-0 win over Tunisia to add to their thrilling 2-2 draw with Belgium and 1-0 win over the Russians. Russia and Tunisia did not perform, while the Belgians were far better than anyone could have rightfully expected.

My Prediction 1 Japan 2 Russia 3 Tunisia 4 Belgium

Final Group 1 Japan 2 Belgium 3 Russia 4 Tunisia

Star of the Group Hidetoshi Nakata bagged his first world cup goal in the win over Tunisia, but it was Arsenal star Inamoto who stood out for Japan. Ah, I mean former Arsenal star. You did hear that Arsene Wenger promised the £4m signing a free transfer before the tournament began didn’t you? Hehe. Also a big thumbs up to Belgium legend, Marc Wilmots – 3 games, 3 goals.

Second Round
And the second round now looks like this. My money has been on Brazil from the start, and they look good for the quarter finals. The biggest threat will come from one of Italy, Mexico and maybe England.

Germany v Paraguay
Denmark v England
Senegal v Sweden
Spain v Ireland
Mexico v USA
Brazil v Belgium
Japan v Turkey
Korea Rep v Italy

And finally…
Are the Irish getting to ‘like’ the English? Out here in New Zealand there has been a merging of cultures as the centuries-old rivalry of the English and Irish has melted to allow both nationalities to cheer on their cross-sea rivals. Why? Maybe it has to do with getting older and wiser. Maybe we’re just lonely. Maybe we’re just friends? Sorry, went to far.

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