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14.12.2005
Romantic dinner Angola-Iran

Seriously, Iíd like to know how many football supporters are going to split up with their girlfriends because of the World Cup? After spending a long Premiership season only inches from the television screen it is not the most wanted comment at home to start next summer by ďSee you in a month, honeyĒ when Germany kicks off against Costa Rica in June. Football can build some bridges in the world but it surely can break some at homes as well. Knowing this, girlfriend to a friend of mine gave him an ultimatum after Fridays draw. He has to see her more than football during next summer!

We counted he might still be able to marry her if he limited his World Cup to sixteen fixtures. He also reasoned that during England games he could be at work where everyone was watching the games anyway. The Final, Semi-Finals and half of the Quarter-Finals and second round games are must, so he was left with eight group stage games at home sofa to remain the peace. That is a dilemma. You have to answer what do you want from football! Are you passionately following a country or a player? Is betting more important? Or the atmosphere? Itís harder than you think to choose eight games already now. I suggested him equality and variety and picked one game from each group as I see it now.

Group A: Germany-Costa Rica.
Itís not going to the best game of the tournament, but itís the first. Carnival can begin and the tone is set by passionate home support in one of the finest stadiums in the world. For a neutral supporter it is a good opportunity to test the sofa and its optimal distance from the refrigerator. You can still afford to go wrong this early, after all historically the opening day gives most likely at least two upsetting results out of three: surprise winner ruining your betting schemes, beer not being cold enough and you realising your limited knowledge of football means you have to buy a World Cup guide to know any of these Costa Rican players. You can even realise that you might need a lot of coffee to survive group A.

Group B: England-Trinidad&Tobaco.
The beauty of the World Cup is that there are teams that are living a dream, like Trinidad&Tobago, who attack and defend wildly and carelessly on their fairytale adventure. This is not a home or office game, you have to experience in a pub how the passion of lower league players do against the pressure and expectations of the Premiership stars. Plus in a pub you can slaughter Sven in a supportive environment for your cause. England can win the whole tournament but you might also feel bit sympathy for Trinidad&Tobaco, a team and players that should not be there, they are not even near the best 32 countries in the world. This will be a mixed bag of emotions, most likely much better than Sweden-England that will probably be a draw again or at least very careful and calculated game.

Group C: Argentina-Holland.
This could as well be the final. It is beforehand the toughest group game of the tournament. The experienced and competitive South-American giant against the foundation of technical football school of Europe. There will be more consecutive successful passes in this game than some English club teams manage through entire season, these teams are most possession oriented sides of the world. Both teams are also blessed with great individuals like Riquelme, Robben, Ayala and Cocu but still they have sacrificed many stars in front of the balance of the team. Funnily enough, in this group every teams star striker, Drogba, Kezman, Crespo and Robben, have competed for the same spot in Chelsea attack at one point. They say this is the hardest group of the tournament, so maybe it can also be argued that Chelsea could win the World Cup!

Group D: Mexico-Portugal.
No, Hugo Sanchez is too old to provide his trademark bicycle kicks anymore but there are much more to this nation these days although the squad list wonít make your heart raise. Portugal often succeeds to entertain with innovative and brave approach to the game with some exciting individuals like Deco. This is potentially the game for trickery and show boating because both teams have so many quick feet in the side, that even roadrunners would be jealous of them. Definitely these are the two teams to look for but if you are a hardcore supporter and want to see something unique, this is the once in a lifetime opportunity to watch Angola-Iran.

Group E: Ghana-United States.
My prophecy: Italy will win their games either 1-0 or draw 0-0 and go through with the minimum effort. Czech republic is an honest and effective team who is the other one from this tough group that we can probably see plenty of on later stages because both these are masters of producing results. Not really a brave guess, we have seen this so many times before. However Ghana and United States are more unknown qualities that have shown some impressive football lately. I love the World Cup because you see different kinds of approaches to the game and we can learn other ways to play and live football than the European one. Plus I have to keep eye on Ghana. If they win the World Cup, it will be district line for me. I normally only do betting when I order Chinese takeaway but I got involved to a banter I canít now back off from. A car-cleaning specialist at my local gym swore in the name of his native country and we started debating about the group. Before I knew I left the conversation realising I had just promised to give him my car if Ghana wins the World Cup. I have nothing against that except that Iím not a big fan of public transport.

Group F: Brazil-Australia.
Brazil has put the smile back into football. When modern football was in danger of going to more pessimistic, calculative and boring sport Brazilians have shown that you can enjoy the game and still be the best. They are creative, spicy, sometimes even laughable. This is the way God created football! When even tenth name in their strikers list would probably be a starter in any other team you realise their firepower has justified them the favourites title. It is almost a shame that so many great sorcerers are in the same side because you sort of lose perspective and flair of some of them. Australia has shown how great sporting nation they are and now under probably the best manager of the tournament they will compete with the best tactical awareness and state of mind you can get. Not many teams would win a double leg qualification against South American team, like Australia did so convincingly against Uruguay. Knowing their mentality and the manager, they will still raise their game so Brazil-Australia could be a real treat. And if you are a friend of aggressive and heated football, there is a chance that Australia-Croatia could have the most violent tackles of the tournament because both teams have players that will never back off from anything.

Group G: France-South Korea.
Itís ageing world beating legs against quick and tiredless Asian Duracell bunnies. France has still the quality to even win the whole tournament. However the question is are there still enough left in the tank, because World Cup is very much a physical event so players and teams who have had time to prepare mentally and physically have a great advantage like South Korea and Senegal showed in the last tournament. Asia is an upcoming football continent with great prospects and it is worth to see how much South Korea has developed from their last successful campaign. Plus then you donít really need to watch Japan anymore, they look and play the same.

Group H: Spain-Ukraine.
Iíd pay a big amount of money to watch Xavi play. Unfortunately injury might keep away this Barcelona midfield maestro, whose positioning and decision making is work of a genius. Still you can enjoy some great individual talents in this game, like one of the most prolific goal scorers in the modern game, Shevchenko, who makes goal scoring to look so simple.

Nobody can predict which will be the best games of the tournament. However, if a girlfriend wants something to be written into the Prenups agreement half a year before the kick-off this is what I suggested to my friend. And if your wife is giving you weird looks over The Game, you better do your list quickly. You probably sympathize, empathize, support, hate or bet for different teams and games. It makes the World Cup interesting, there is something for every taste. However, I can assure you, your marriage is done if you watch Angola-Iran during a romantic dinner with your Missus.

-Aki


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