So – which players are we going to be watching, and which players have missed out?
United have a sole representative in Gabriel Heinze – the hard-tackling, no-nonsense left back who has been sorely missed in this year’s campaign. Recently returned from injury, and will be hoping to be match fit when Argentina take on the Ivory Coast on Saturday.
Wayne Rooney, Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand are all guaranteed first-starters, although desipte Rooney’s near-miraculous recovery he will not be risked until at least 20th June against Sweden, and even then that would only be as a substitute.
This is Gary’s last World Cup as he missed the last one through injury. The United skipper will be fighting to make this time count (after Euro 2004) and he will have the disappointment of United’s recent unsuccessful campaigns to drive him on as well. Lacks pace though, and despite his skill and knowledge I’m plumping for him being replaced by Carragher.
Rio Ferdinand – this could be a reprise of World Cup 2002, when he, along with Sol Campbell, bailed England out against Argentina’s siege in the group match. Has looked out of sorts in the last year but is still the best defender in England (with all due respect to Terry). England’s success depends on him.
The one player who’s really missed out is Wes Brown – he has been excellent for Manchester United at the back all year, and on form should have taken Sol Campbell’s place in the squad. At the very least, he should be there providing cover for Gary Neville or something. His chance will come in Euro 2008 though, when Campbell will definitely not be playing (although with Ledley King expected to be in the mix as well it will be tough).
Mikael Silvestre is not well-loved by United fans, but the left-back is part of United’s and France’s squads and will be hoping to impress in the World Cup. Prone to rash tackles and has a inexplicable tendency to give the ball away to the opposition. Not my favorite player, as you can tell.
Louis Saha is going into the World Cup on the back of an impressive finish of the Premiership, where he (with some help from Ferguson) displaced Ruud van Nistelrooy to take up striking duties alongside Rooney and scored a hatful of goals. Has linked up pretty well with Henry in the warmup friendlies and would be hoping to build up on his recent good performances.
Two players vastly contrasting in all aspects. Edwin van der Sar has been United’s Mr. Reliable, maintaining clean sheets and marshalling the back four effectively. On the other hand, Ruud van Nistelrooy has fallen out of favor with Ferguson and his recent goal in the friendlies apart, has looked rusty in the last few months. Has a big point to prove in the World Cup and I expect him to do everything he can to prove that he still amongst the best strikers. A haul of 150 goals in 200 club matches suggests that he is, although Ferguson isn’t listening.
Cristiano Ronaldo hopes to become a world star with an impressive showing at football’s main stage. His ambition is matched by his ability though, and if he can keep away from his showboating he will be key to Portugal’s chances of progressing beyond the 2nd round.
Serbia & Montenegro
Nemanja Vidic is one-half of the famed Serbian defense, and while on paper they will be whipping boys Vidic will be hoping to prove that in defense at least, Serbia are formidable.
Ji-Sung Park will be hoping to build on Korea’s strong showing in the last World Cup. I don’t see them going very far though – 2nd group maximum unless they pull off a massive upset.
Tim Howard – ok, not much to say about him except that he was extremely unlucky last year to be dropped for Roy Carroll, who turned out to be an even worse goalkeeper. He’s out on loan next season, so I hope he performs well and starts the next season with confidence.
Oh look – it’s almost time for the World Cup 🙂 I’ll be keeping you guys posted on the progress of this group of players as their matches happen.