World Cup 2006: Guide to groups

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Group B

PARAGUAY
Manager: Anibal Maño Ruiz.
Fifa ranking: 30.
Key man: Jose Cardozo (San Lorenzo, above).
Previous World Cups: 6.
Best: 2nd round 1986, 1998 & 2002.
Killer fact: Captain Carlos Gamarra went through the whole of Paraguay's four-match France '98 campaign without committing a single foul.

Paraguay begin their campaign against England in Frankfurt on 10 June, and they hope to be around for a while. "God willing, I won't be coming back from Europe until 9 July," said the Uruguayan-born coach, Anibal Ruiz, last week. The inference is clear. This is Paraguay's seventh World Cup, it is the first time they have qualified for three in a row, and they are confident that this will be their best. Their hopes are based on Paraguayan football's traditional strengths - solid defence, hard work and excellent team spirit - but they now have the firepower that has not always been present in some of their recent sides. Star striker Roque Santa Cruz faces a struggle to be fit in time, but even without him they have interesting attacking options. Veteran José Cardozo is still a danger and Werder Bremen's Nelson Haedo Valdez has been a key addition.

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO

Manager: Leo Beenhakker (Dutch).
Fifa ranking: 51.
Key man: Dwight Yorke (Sydney United, above).
Previous World Cups: None.
Killer fact: Trinidad and Tobago are the smallest nation at the finals, with a population of just 1.3 million, and only the fourth Caribbean island to ever qualify.

The "Soca Warriors" represent the smallest nation ever to play in the finals. With 10 of the squad likely to come from clubs such as Wrexham and Gillingham, they will be representing the lower divisions of English football, not to mention some of Scotland's less vaunted clubs. Qualifying for the first time after a brutal play-off in Bahrain, they had come fourth in the Concacaf group. Leo Beenhakker coached the Netherlands in the 1990 finals, also managed Real Madrid and rescued the campaign when he arrived at the halfway point. Their captain, Dwight Yorke, 34, now plays in Australia and operates in central midfield. He is partnered by Chris Birchall, 21, a Stafford-born Port Vale winger - the first white man to play for Trinidad & Tobago in 60 years. English-speaking and largely British-based, T&T will be fired up like FA Cup underdogs against England.

SWEDEN

Manager: Lars Lagerback.
Fifa ranking: 14.
Key man: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Juventus, above).
Previous World Cups: 10.
Best Finalists 1958.
Killer fact: Twelve players who appeared in the 2002 finals played in Sweden's final qualifying match for 2006. Henrik Larsson is the only survivor from USA '94.

The Football Association's David Davies may not have been so keen to slap Sven on the back over a second successive World Cup reunion with his compatriots had he seen England's recent record against Sweden. Sir Alf Ramsey was the last England manager to record a victory over the Scandinavians back in 1968. The subsequent 37 years have brought 11 meetings and not one English triumph, with their opening encounter at the 2002 World Cup offering the first indication that Eriksson's team did not have the stamina to sustain performances beyond half-time. Sol Campbell gave England the lead only for the then Everton midfielder Niclas Alexandersson to equalise, and Sweden may pose the sternest test in Group B. Fredi Ljungberg, Anders Svensson, Tobias Linderoth and Henrik Larsson are some of the familiar names to be facedin Cologne.

... and how the other groups shape up

GROUP A

GERMANY

Manager: Jürgen Klinsmann
Fifa ranking: 16
Key man: Michael Ballack (Bayern Munich)
Previous World Cups: 15
Best Winners 1990, 1954 & 1974
Killer fact: FIFA has granted German Evangelical churches the rights to screen World Cup matches free of charge.

COSTA RICA

Manager: Alexandre Guimaraes (Brazilian)
Fifa ranking: 21
Key man: Paulo Wanchope (Al Garafah, Qatar)
Previous World Cups: 2
Best Second-round 1990
Killer fact: Paolo Wanchope will be retiring from international duty at the age of 30 after the tournament.

POLAND

Manager: Pawel Janas
Fifa ranking: 23
Key man: Maciej Zurawski (Celtic)
Previous World Cups: 6
Best 3rd 1974 & 1982
Killer fact: The manager, Pawel Janas, played in all of Poland's matches in the '82 World Cup in Spain, when the Poles finished in third place.

ECUADOR

Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez (Colombian)
Fifa ranking: 37
Key man: Agustin Delgado (Southampton)
Previous World Cups: 1
Best Group Stage 2002
Killer fact: Fifa have banned Ecuador from hosting games in venues with extremely high altitudes.

GROUP C

ARGENTINA

Manager: Jose Pekerman
Fifa ranking: 4
Key man: Hernan Crespo (Chelsea)
Previous World Cups: 13
Best Winners 1978 & 1986
Killer fact: When he stopped playing, manager Jose Pekerman worked as a taxi driver before taking up management.

IVORY COAST

Manager: Henri Michel (Fr)
Fifa ranking: 41
Key man: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
Previous World Cups: None
Killer fact: In 2002, players were detained by military officials for their own safety, after elimination from the African Nations Cup, to protect them against reprisals from angry fans.

SERBIA & MONTENEGRO

Manager: Ilija Petkovic
Fifa ranking: 47
Key man: Mladen Krstajic (Schalke 04)

Previofus World Cups: 10.
Best SF 1930, 4th 1962 (as Yugoslavia)
Killer fact: Only conceded one goal in the qualifiers. The lowest total in the European qualifying section.

NETHERLANDS

Manager: Marco van Basten
Fifa ranking: 3
Key man: Ruud van Nistelrooy (Manchester Utd)
Previous World Cups: 7. RU 1974, 1978, 4th 1998, QF 1994
Killer fact: The Dutch's only international success came in 1988 when van Basten scored an outstanding volley in the European Championship final.

GROUP D

MEXICO

Manager: Ricardo Lavolpe
Fifa ranking: 7
Key man: Jared Borgetti (Bolton)
Previous World Cups: 12 Best: Qtr-finals 1970 & 1986
Killer fact: Only one player - Gerardo Torrado - survived from Mexico's 2002 squad to play in their final qualifying match for the 2006 competition.

IRAN

Manager: Branko Ivankovic
Fifa ranking: 19
Key man: Ali Karimi (Bayern Munich)
Previous World Cups: 2. Group stage 1978, 1998
Killer fact: Players are banned from curling hair, growing strange-looking beards, wearing ponytails, necklaces, earrings, rings or tight clothes

ANGOLA

Manager: Luis Oliveira Goncalves
Fifa ranking: 62
Key man: Fabrice Akwa (Al Wakra)
Previous World Cups: None
Killer fact: The Angolan FA is trying to recruit the former Brazil captain Carlos Dunga to coach the team at the World Cup, alongside Goncalves.

PORTUGAL

Manager: Luis Felipe Scolari (Brazilian)
Fifa ranking: 10
Key man: Deco (Barcelona)
Previous World Cups: 3.
Best 3rd 1966
Killer fact: Porto striker Pauleta is now Portugal's leading scorer with 42 goals in 77 games. He passed Eusebio's 41-goal mark in qualifying.

GROUP E

ITALY

Manager: Marcello Lippi
Fifa ranking: 12
Key man: Francesco Totti (Roma)
Previous World Cups: 15
Best Winners 1982, 1934 & 1938
Killer fact: Italy have lost all three of the penalty shoot-outs they have been involved in World Cup finals.

GHANA

Manager: Ratomir Duijkovic (Serbian)
Fifa ranking: 50
Key man: Michael Essien (Chelsea)
Previous World Cups: None
Killer fact: Beat Somalia 7-0 over two legs in a play-off to qualify for the group stage. Four times African Nations Cup champions - 1963, 1965, 1978, 1982.

UNITED STATES

Manager: Bruce Arena
Fifa ranking: 8
Key man: DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven)
Previous World Cups: 7.
Best SF 1930
Killer fact: The USA have the biggest pool of players to choose from with the largest population - 290.3m. But soccer is only the fifth choice sport.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Manager: Karel Bruckner
Fifa ranking: 2
Key man: Pavel Nedved (Juventus)
Previous World Cups: 8
Best Runners-up 1934 & 1962 (as Czechoslovakia)
Killer fact: In the two finals they reached the Czechs led both times, only to finishing on the losing side.

GROUP F

BRAZIL

Manager: Carlos Parreira
Fifa ranking: 1
Key man: Ronaldinho (Barcelona)
Previous World Cups: 17
Best Winners 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, & 2002.
Killer fact: Brazil have taken part in every World Cup finals. But for the first time the holders had to qualify.

CROATIA

Manager: Zlatko Kranjcar
Fifa ranking: 20
Key man: Dado Prso (Rangers)
Previous World Cups: 2
Best 3rd 1998
Killer fact: Midfielder Niko Kranjcar is the only domestic based player in the starting XI. He was promoted from the Under-20s by his father - the manager.

AUSTRALIA

Manager: Guus Hiddink (Dutch)
Fifa ranking: 49
Key man: Mark Viduka (Middlesbrough)
Previous World Cups: 1
Best Group stage 1974
Killer fact: The penalty spot from which John Aloisi sealed the Socceroos' passage is to be preserved.

JAPAN

Manager: Zico (Brazilian)
Fifa ranking: 15
Key man: Hidetoshi Nakata (Bolton Wanderers)
Previous World Cups: 2
Best Second-round 2002
Killer fact: Qualifying for the last three World Cups is no coincidence. It is part of a plan by the Japan FA "to make football a sport everyone can enjoy".

GROUP G

FRANCE

Manager: Raymond Domenech
Fifa ranking: 5
Key man: Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
Previous World Cups: 11
Best Winners 1998
Killer fact: In 2002, they became the first holders to fail to score a single goal trying to defend their title.

SWITZERLAND

Manager: Kobi Kuhn
Fifa ranking: 36
Key man: Alexander Frei (Rennes)
Previous World Cups: 7.

Best; QF 1934, 1938 & 1954
Killer fact: Switzerland qualified with the fewest points in the European groups only beating Cyprus and Faroe Islands. They beat Turkey in a play-off.

SOUTH KOREA

Manager: Dick Advocaat (Dutch)
Fifa ranking: 29
Key man: Park Ji-Sung (Manchester Utd)
Previous World Cups: 6.
Best SF 1930, 4th 2002
Killer fact: Prior to 2002, South Korea had not won a game in 14 World Cup finals matches

TOGO

Manager: Stephen Keshi
Fifa ranking: 56
Key man: Emmanuel Adebayor (Monaco)
Previous World Cups: None
Killer fact: Keshi was the captain of Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. West Ham were due to sign Adebayor but Monaco pulled the plug at the last minute

GROUP H

SPAIN

Manager: Luis Aragones
Fifa ranking 6
Key man: Joaquin (Real Betis)
Previous World Cups: 11.
Best QF 1934, 1986, 1994, 2002
Killer fact: Perennial underachievers, but often fancied; Spain are eighth favourites to win the competition at 16-1, below unseeded Netherlands.

UKRAINE

Manager: Oleg Blokhin
Fifa ranking: 40
Key man: Andrei Shevchenko (Milan)
Previous World Cups: None.
Killer fact: Both the manager, Olek Blokhin, and the striker, Andrei Shevchenko, have been named European Footballer of the Year. Blokhin in 1975 and Shevchenko in 2004.

TUNISIA

Manager: Roger Lemerre (French)
Fifa ranking: 28
Key man: Hatem Trabelsi (Ajax)
Previous World Cups: 3
Best Group stage, 1978, 1998 & 2002
Killer fact: In 1978 they became the first African nation to win a World Cup game beating Mexico 3-1.

SAUDI ARABIA

Manager: Gabriel Calderon (Paraguayan)
Fifa ranking: 32
Key man: Yasser Al Qahtani (Al Hilal)
Previous World Cups: 3.
Best 2R 1994
Killer fact: The Saudi Education Ministry has postponed school exams in June so pupils can watch the finals

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