The CM9798 World Cup starts tomorrow! Hopefully you joined us last week for the first half of the preview, where we looked at Group A-D with Tom Rostance. That can be seen here if you want to get yourself caught up.
Now though on the day I turn 30, it’s time for a look at Groups E-H, where we find Spain, Germany, Italy and…Scotland. Among others. I’m joined this week by Michael Marden, who you may know from the Quickly Kevin podcast or the chat we had last year.
Let’s crack still on with Group E, where we find Spain lurking with intent.
Any group with just the one human player in will probably have a bit of a lopsided feel to it, and that is certainly the case here. Tom Reed has a wonderful squad to choose from and although Sweden and Japan aren’t exactly terrible, I expect they will battle it out for second. Alfonso is the msot valuable player on CM9798, so that’s got to count for something. Right?
Quite some talent there, including a certain J Guardiola. He’ll make a decent manager one day.
Elsewhere, at least Sweden have a full squad to choose from but Henrik Larsson’s broken ribs are causing some concern. Floppy haired Andreas Andersson might help and I’m delighted to see they’ve taken Thomas Brolin.
Japan have fallen foul of the database and have very little to shout about, though Miura is still playing now so that might count for something.
Cameroon have even less to shout about, though the brilliantly named Misse Misse will be hoping to be a hit.
As the only human player in this group, you’d expect Tom Reed to take Spain comfortably through to the knockout stages. Especially with the lack of quality within the Cameroon and Japan squads. If fit, Henrik Larson could prove trouble for the likes of Hierro and Nadal at the back against Sweden in the opening game, but realistically only a disaster would see him not finish in the top two, especially with his impressive club record as a manager in 20th Anniversary tournament, where playing as Manchester United he lost to Dortmund in the semi-final.
His decision to not select ageing GK Zubizarreta, international captain and Spain’s most capped player in the build up to the tournament, caused some controversy in the Spanish press. The relative inexperience of Prats, Molina and Toni could prove costly in the high-pressure environment of the knockout stages.
Key to success: This could lay in another selection based gamble, taking a chance on the young but unquestionably talented Raul and Morientes up front. As well effectively utilising versatile playmaker Luis Enrique.
The fact we won’t see an 80 year old Roger Milla come of retirement to score a winning goal before arthritically stumbling into a corner flag dance is one of the tournaments great losses. (The fact that Dave hasn’t used the data editor to make this a possibility is an even bigger crime)
This is a tough group. Italy are the favourites but Romania have a good pedigree and some world class players, like Hagi, whilst Yugoslavia boast an impressive squad. It might be closer than you think.
Our friend Chief aka FPLHints has a great set of players to pick from and selecting just 25 was always going to be difficult. Buffon joins Miura as one of two players in the tournament still playing in real life, stats fans.
It’s heavy on strikers but the Chief has come to attack and I for one applaud that mentality. If you can’t leave a defence that good to look after itself then when can you?
Meanwhile, Romania qualified at a canter and will fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stages. Blonde hair dye at the ready. You may remember CorinthianHead as the man who brought you his Brighton save in September last year, but can those Division 3 winnings ways translate to the International stage?
They are joined in Group F by a very decent looking Yugoslavia side, though Mijatovic will miss the opener with Italy. I’m sure Savo Milosevic will step up.
That just leaves Paraguay, who will most likely be the groups whipping boys. Even Chilavert didn’t make the grade in a database this competitve.
With quality in every position and an experienced manager in @FPLhints, anything but a top of the table finish for Italy would be considered a disappointment. Romania have quality, and under manager @Corinthianhead they have plenty of goals within the squad, but they can be inconsistent and unpredictable.
Whipping boys Paraguay should be a comfortable three points for both, but neither manager should underestimate Yugoslavia, especially the goal scoring threat of Predrag Mijatovic. Ultimately who tops the group should come down to the Italy vs Romania clash and the Italians should have enough to see them off. A Paolo Maldini marshalled defence will be tough to break down, even for the mercurial talent of the talismanic Hagi. Although if the Romanian Maradonna is deployed in that key role just behind the front two then anything is possible.
The only potential banana skin for Italy and manager @FPLhints is the decision to take seven strikers to the tournament, leaving him very little depth in the centre of midfield. Could we be looking at a tactical surprise or two from the usually conservative exponents of calcio? Perhaps a gung-ho inverting of the pyramid? Or has he simply been seduced by the wealth of attacking talent available, something he might regret if an injury or suspension were to befall Di Matteo or Albertini.
Well if it isn’t Scotland. I’ve been given the gift of Scotland and the only thing I am thankful about is that it is a very tight group. Except Jamaica, I expect they will struggle.
I suppose the one thing in my favour is that I have just completed 6 seasons as Aberdeen manager so I feel like I know how these players will turn out, so if I just divide that by 6 to get how they have been after 1 year we’ll be fine. Right? Honestly, this team lacks creativity and a goalscorer but we have the PRESENCE of big Dunc and the know how of John Collins and Gary McAllister. Scotland have never got out of the group stage.
Attempting to keep that record alive is Matt_C_Wills, author of the excellent Return of the King series. He’s got Nigeria, who have rather a lot of forwards and Taribo West.
I should point out the first choice keeper got injured and there are literally only three loaded, so Peter Rufai is looking nervous. They have little choice but to attack and it may well be who dares wins.
Russia seem the likely threat to an all human progression to the last 16, even if they too can only name two goalkeepers. 1994 Golden boto winner Oleg Salenko is crap and not a worry for me, but what will be will be.
Oh, and Jamaica are here. Well some of them are. Robbie Earle has been flogging tickets and Deon Burton has been trialled at centre half.
Tournament creator and blog host Dave Black has arguably drawn the short straw with Scotland, but his experience as manager, along with the likes of Paul Lambert and Gary McCallister pulling strings in midfield should be enough to see them through in one of the two top spots. The aerial presence and undiluted menace of Big Dunc Ferguson, if on form, can cause trouble for any defence, and with Colin ‘Braveheart’ Hendry at the back you’d expect them to squeeze through but struggle in the knock out stages against stronger opposition.
Nigeria are full of attacking intent, but lack discipline at the back, and have a real dearth in quality at the GK position. Any injury to first choice stopper Bankole would see a club-less, 37-year-old Peter Rufai step into the breach and nobody, least of all fan favourite Taribo West and his already porous defence, want to see that. A lot will rest on how manager Matt_C_Wills sets his team up tactically. A Keegan-esque all guns blazing attacking style could terrify some managers and see them become a surprise package at the tournament.
Comfortable wins for both managers against Jamaica should be expected, but if things don’t go their way in a tricky tie against Russia, then that could put real pressure on the human manager head-to-head in the final game of the group stage, and an early exit for one of them isn’t out of the question. QPR and Jamaica’s Danny Maddix is just delighted to be here.
I hate to see three human managers in a group. One of these good men will be going home in the group stage, and that saddens me.
Germany are managed by Ross Bell, Man on the Post podcast founder and self confessed Hassler fan. Sadly he is out of the first two games and in a real race to feature at all in the group stage. The German side in real life found this to be a tournament too far, will Ross be able to get the best out of them?
Adam Turner told me how to set up this whole thing and in Belgium he has a very reasonable team. A particularly impressive forward line will be tough to handle, and the virtues of Marc Emmers have been visible to everybody in recent saves.
Dan Williamson is effectively our reigning champion having won the 20 Year Anniversary Cup in October last year. He will have to go some way to win it with Chile, who are one of the weakest sides on paper. They do have Salas and Zamorano…and er…Clarence Acuna, so that’s good. Young Rangers striker Rozental is also useful. Dan has promised to go out and attack due to his poor defence so he’s not going to die wondering. It’ll be entertaining!
That leaves Mexico, who have no real players but will still be decent. Whilst I expect Germany to win this group, it’ll only take one shock result to blow it wide open.
The second of two groups of death with three human managers all competing for those two qualification places. Mexico bring nothing but an enthusiastically embarrassing trademark crowd participation Mexican wave to the World Cup party, and will get smashed apart like a sad piñata by all three human teams, which means the margin for error in the remaining games is tighter than Glen Hoddle and Eileen Drewery’s relationship.
Ross Bell’s Germany have the best squad overall in Group H, with quality in every position. Although the inclusion of uncapped, South African born Sean Dundee over more qualified options like Ulf Kirsten and Karl Heinz Riedle raised a few eyebrows. His exclusion of legend Lothar Matthaus who despite his advancing years, was considered integral to the squad off the pitch, showed a ruthless streak that will be important if he’s to advance to the later stages of the competition.
Working against him is the fact he’s up against more experienced managers in 20th Anniversary tournament winner Dan Williamson (Chile) and international legend Adam Turner (Belgium).
Chile lack any world class players in defence and midfield, but up-front have a devastating combo in Salas and Zamorano who can, and will, score goals against even the hardiest of defences.
So much of Belgium’s hopes reside with brilliant playmaker Enzo Scifo, playing in his forth World Cup. He’ll need to supply a regular stream of defence splitting passes for the likes of Giles De Bilde and Goosens who are in absolutely no danger of being labelled clinical or prolific finishers at this level.
This group is simply too tight to call, but a heavy loss for either team in the opening fixture of Chile vs Belgium could be pivotal. It may even come down to goal difference as to which two make it through to the knockout stages.
That’s it then. We’ve covered all 8 groups and assessed 32 teams. Can you pick a winner? My sincere thanks to Michael for taking the time to help me out with this article, it is much appreciated.
I’ll be back tomorrow with the first games from Group A & B. There’ll be posts most days from there with the odd rest day thrown in but either way, there’s a lot of Champ to be played. Let’s get on with it.
See you tomorrow!