The pretenders

These teams are not quite in the class that would make them the favourites in the World Cup. Though they are very realistic about their chances in Germany 2006, they hope to leave the tournament with a POSITIVE MARK.

COSTA RICA Coach: Alexandre Guimaraes Tactics: Slow tempo but good in possession.

Star Player: Paulo Wanchope — unpredictable striker who is retiring after the finals — will want to go out with a bang.

Verdict: Enjoyed success at Italia 90 with wins over Scotland and Sweden but unlikely to match that this time round. Had a fraught qualifying campaign despite weak opposition and will not be a factor in Germany. Veteran Wanchope will be a handful, however. He is strong and quick and opposing defences will have to keep a close eye on the former West Ham, Derby and Manchester City striker.

POLAND Coach: Pawel Janas Tactics: Strong and workmanlike. Star Player: Grzegorz Rasiak

Verdict: Matched England for much of qualifying but Poland still look like nothing more than tournament fillers. Will give their all but a lack of real quality should stunt their progress. Tottenham striker Rasiak is strong in the air but he alone is unlikely to take the Poles into the last 16 despite a favourable draw.

ECUADOR Coach: Luis Suarez

Tactics: South American flair but weak away from home.

Star Player: Agustin Delgado — flopped in England but remains Ecuador's key striker.

Verdict: Beat both Brazil and Argentina in qualifying but struggled away from their Quito base. A third-placed finish in the South American zone suggests, however, they have the players to make an impact. The fact they are a relatively unknown quantity may count in their favour. Should progress past the group stages.

PARAGUAY Coach: Anibal Ruiz

Tactics: Quick going forward and clever in midfield.

Star Player: Roque Santa Cruz. The Bayern Munich striker is strong, quick and a good finisher.

Verdict: Have gone out at the two previous finals to 1998 winners France and 2002 runners-up Germany in the last 16. Could reach that stage again but anything more would be a surprise. Strong up front with Santa Cruz and the promising Nelson Haedo Valdez.

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO Coach: Leo Beenhakker Tactics: Well organised and physical.

Star Player: Dwight Yorke. He is vastly experienced and the only Trinidad and Tobago player to have succeeded at the highest level.

Verdict: Worthy winners over Bahrain in the play-offs but their adventure will end fairly swiftly in Germany. Beenhakker will have them well-drilled but they lack genuine class and that will be exposed against the best. Have little chance of making it past the group stage but are sure to enjoy their time in Germany.

SWEDEN Coach: Lars Lagerback Tactics: Efficient and potent up front.

Star Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Juventus star is strong and has wonderful feet.

Verdict: Always tricky to play against, Sweden have enough class throughout the side to present a problem to any opponent. Freddie Ljungberg can be relied upon to provide goals from midfield and Ibrahimovic and the evergreen Henrik Larsson are prolific at club level. Should make it through the group.

IVORY COAST Coach: Henri Michel Tactics: Well organised and strong in attack.

Star Player: Didier Drogba — strong, powerful Chelsea striker.

Verdict: Edged out Cameroon to qualify — an achievement which should alert opponents to their potential. Much depends on Drogba, whose finishing needs to be flawless as chances are likely to be at a premium. Strong side physically, they need to maintain their discipline in Germany. Not helped by a terrible draw.

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO Coach: Ilija Petkovic Tactics: Compact and well-organised.

Star Player: Mateja Kezman. He is a striker who is quick and sharp in the box.

Verdict: Topped a qualifying group which had Spain, so will be no pushovers. Kezman and Darko Kovacevic are experienced strikers who are likely to prove a handful. Have talented individuals and, if they click, could prove a dangerous outfit. Rugged at the back but discipline must be retained.

JARED BORGETTI ... The Mexican has an excellent international strike rate.-AP

MEXICO Coach: Ricardo Lavolpe

Tactics: Balance between South American flamboyance and European discipline.

Star Player: Jared Borgetti. He is an experienced striker with an excellent international strike rate.

Verdict: Blossoming side who should be good enough to make the second round. Problem might be in scoring goals. Borgetti is reliable but should he struggle then there does not seem to be a Plan B. Resolute and rugged in defence and in Barcelona's Rafael Marquez they have class in the centre of midfield.

IRAN Coach: Branko Ivankovic Tactics: Hard-working and passionate.

Star Player: Ali Daei. The veteran striker holds the Iranian record for goals in international football.

Verdict: Appearance in Germany will raise the profile of Iranian football but it will take a miracle for them to qualify for the last 16. Daei will be looking for at least one more goal to add to his collection before bowing out of international football after the tournament. Group makeweights.

ANGOLA Coach: Luis Oliveira Goncalves

Tactics: Defensively-minded, but quick on the counter.

Star Player: Fabrice `Akwa' Maieco. He has a habit of scoring crucial goals.

Verdict: Physically strong but lack experience at this level and will come unstuck even against the lesser teams in Germany. Gaining a point will be seen as a huge achievement. Germany will provide a great stage for some of their players to earn lucrative moves.

GHANA Coach: Ratomir Dujkovic Tactics: Physical and compact.

Star Player: Michael Essien. The Chelsea midfielder is the fulcrum of the side. He is powerful and comfortable on the ball.

Verdict: Not to be underestimated, Ghana are sure to be a strong, powerful unit. And with Essien, one of Europe's best midfielders, in their side, they also have the quality to hurt opponents. Whether they are strong enough defensively remains to be seen. May struggle against the very best and not helped by a tricky group.

USA Coach: Bruce Arena

Tactics: Extremely fit and strong defensively.

Star Player: Claudio Reyna. A star in World Cup 2002, the Manchester City schemer rarely loses possession.

Verdict: Not being seeded could prove to be their undoing as they have been placed in a difficult group. They will lack for nothing when it comes to effort, however. Arena has assembled a hard-working unit and with Reyna sitting in front of a compact back four, the USA will be hard to break down. Will do well to make last 16.

CZECH REPUBLIC Coach: Karel Bruckner

Tactics: Expansive, flamboyant, with the emphasis on attack.

Star Player: Pavel Nedved. He returned for the play-offs and made the difference.

Verdict: A team no-one wants to face. A dangerous floater who could make the last four. In Nedved, Milan Baros and Tomas Rosicky, the Czechs possess the talent to trouble any opponent. Their attacking style sometimes leaves them open at the back meaning Fiorentina defender Tomas Ujfalusi is the key.

CROATIA Coach: Zlatko Kranjcar

Tactics: Patient in possession with talented players in midfield.

Star Player: Dado Prso. The burly striker is particularly strong in the air.

Verdict: Could go either way. Don't have the star names of the past such as Zvonimir Boban, Alen Boksic, Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker but that has been replaced by a strong team ethic. Talented squad but morale is quick to evaporate when things go wrong. A good start is crucial.

Mark Viduka of Australia... a keen eye for goal.-AP

AUSTRALIA Coach: Guus Hiddink

Tactics: Fit and physical with a sprinkling of quality.

Star Player: Mark Viduka. He is a strong striker with a keen eye for goal.

Verdict: Scraped through to the finals with a narrow play-off win against Uruguay — a success which shows they are not to be underestimated. Will be difficult to beat due to their physical nature although in Viduka, Harry Kewell and Craig Moore they have players who have played at the top level in Europe. And in Hiddink, they have a coach who guided South Korea to the semifinals in 2002.

JAPAN Coach: Zico

Tactics: Hard-working and with a sprinkling of flair.

Star Player: Hidetoshi Nakata — direct midfielder with an eye for goal.

Verdict: Brazilian legend Zico has installed a degree of flair to the side but good organisation remains their key strength. Hard working and disciplined they will prove stiff opponents. A lack of genuine quality means they will do well to advance past the group stage, however.

SWITZERLAND Coach: Kobi Kuhn

Tactics: Efficient without being particularly exciting.

Star Player: Johann Vogel. The AC Milan midfielder provides a steadying influence in midfield.

Verdict: Have already surpassed expectations in reaching the finals after coming through a bruising play-off against Turkey. Happy to mix it physically, they are also capable of playing a neat passing game with Vogel at the hub. And with striker Alexander Frei a danger up front, the Swiss may surprise a few.

SOUTH KOREA Coach: Dick Advocaat

Tactics: Strong team-ethic allied to supreme organisation.

Star Player: Park Ji-Sung. The attacking midfielder has experience of Champions League football with PSV Eindhoven and Manchester United.

Verdict: Semifinalists as co-hosts in 2002, the Koreans lost their way following the departure of coach Guus Hiddink. But with another Dutchman in charge, the vastly experienced Advocaat, they will be tricky opponents. That said, unlikely to match their achievements of four years ago on foreign soil.

TOGO Coach: Stephen Keshi Tactics: Physical and committed.

Star Player: Emmanuel Adebayor. The bustling striker's experience will be crucial in Germany.

Verdict: Rank outsiders, Togo will enjoy the spotlight but little else in Germany. Tough group for Keshi's men to negotiate and the likes of France could really do some damage. The Africans will not lack effort though and their physical style should compensate for their technical deficiencies. Adebayor is key if they are to spring a surprise.

UKRAINE Coach: Oleg Blokhin

Tactics: Swift on the counter with plenty of creativity in midfield.

Star Player: Andriy Shevchenko. He is one of the world greats who will finally make it on to the greatest stage of all.

Verdict: The first European team to qualify, Ukraine could trouble the favourites although they may not have the squad to go all the way. Strong in defence and clever in midfield, it is in attack where the real star lies. Shevchenko is arguably the best finisher in world football and if he hits form then the sparks could fly.

TUNISIA Coach: Roger Lemerre

Tactics: Orthodox 4-4-2 with plenty of pace in attack.

Star Player: Francileudo Santos. The Brazil-born striker possesses plenty of tricks.

Verdict: Will struggle to beat either Spain or Ukraine to qualification. In Lemerre, they have a coach with a mixed track record at the finals. He was assistant to Aime Jacquet in 1998 when France won the tournament but then led Les Bleus at their terrible 2002 campaign. He is set for more misery this time round.

SAUDI ARABIA Coach: Gabriel Calderon Tactics: Short passing and high tempo game.

Star Player: Mohammad al Shloob. Known as `Baby Maradona', he is one of the Middle East's rising stars.

Verdict: Little chance of getting past the group stages, Saudi Arabia's main ambition will be to avoid humiliation, as an 8-0 thrashing at the hands of Germany in 2002 is still fresh in memory. Their only hope is that organisation and hard work will minimise the damage.

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