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- It Seems To Me. . .-

At the World Cup, Arena chooses to do things his way.

With U.S. team in Germany, Adu makes gains at home.

MLS should lead the way by using second referee.

Arena's World Cup selections were made with a purpose.

Arena's selections for World Cup roster are fairly evident.

Arena needed to make no apology for loss to Germany.

Contiguglia presided over U.S. Soccer period of progress.

MLS business model is being eyed by European leagues.

Arena selections for Poland game give hints of World Cup roster.

Arena still doesn't get the respect he deserves.

It Seems To Me . . .

Injuries have trashed conventional wisdom on Cup Group E.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

HAMBURG, Hamburg (Friday, June 9, 2006) -- A month ago, popular opinion had Italy and the Czech Republic going through to the World Cup Round of 16 from Group E with the United States just falling short and Ghana being an afterthought. But, what a month this has been. Everything now seems up for grabs. Going into Monday's first group matches, it now seems just about anything could happen.

Group E might suddenly resembles a hospital ward. Every team in the group -- except Ghana - has been hit by injuries to key players and the eventual success of teams from the group might depend entirely on which can keep their players fit through the three first-round matches.

Even though the Czechs are the second-rated in world governing body FIFA's rankings, many observers felt they would not be able to get past Italy when the two teams were to meet here on the final day of group play and thus the Azzurri would emerge as the group winner. Now, if stories coming out of its training camp are to be believed, Italy is no longer a team, but rather a group of walking -- or maybe limping -- wounded.

Defender Gianluca Zambrotta and playmaking midfielder Gennaro Gattuso have been ruled out of Italy's opener Monday against Ghana with thigh injuries. The key to Italy's defense, Alessandro Nesta, also might miss the opener after aggravating an old adductor muscle injury. The central defender will have tests on Saturday to decide if he is fit to play. Meanwhile, striker Francesco Totti, who missed three months with a serious ankle injury ,is trying to regain his form by Monday.

"I'm going to end up being the player in the best shape around here," Totti told reporters after seeing Zambrotta and Gattuso go down in training..

Italian coach coach Marcello Lippi says if the injured can't play, then Fabio Grosso and Marco Materazzi will move into the back four and Simone Perrotta will replace Gattuso on the right side of midfield.

And the Italians may be considered healthy when compared to the United States' Monday opponent, the Czech Republic.

To start, midfielder Tomas Rosicky, perhaps the Czechs' most valuable player who last week transferred from Borussia Dortmund of Germany to Arsenal in England, has been struggling with a thigh injury. His loss would be comparable to the U.S. losing Claudio Reyna. Next, midfielder Vladimir Smicer, who has been out of action since February with a leg injury, strained a thigh muscle last week and is out of the World Cup

Striker Milan Baros is said to be doubtful to start against the U.S. because of a plantar arch injury in his foot. Czech coach Karel Bruckner said. "Regarding Milan, we do not know. It is a rather disagreeable injury."

Then key midfielder Pavel Nedved appeared to hurt his left knee and limped off during training yesterday though Bruckner played down the injury.

The good news for the Czechs seems to be that 6-foot-7 striker Jan Koller, who tore a knee ligament in September and injured his right leg last week, seems to be healthy enough. He scored twice and set up another tally last Saturday to lead the Czech Republic over Trinidad & Tobago 3-0 in its final warm-up before the World Cup.

Without some combination of Rosicky, Baros, and Nedved, the Czechs become a more ordinary team.

In the meantime, the expected doormat of the group, Ghana, has started to play well. The Black Stars, as they are known in Africa, have three quality players in Dortmund forward Matthew Amoah, Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien and midfielder Stephen Appiah of Fenerbahce of Turkey. All three have been scoring in training matches and their support players have been steady, especially in the back. The Ghanaese fans believe they can get through group play by beating the U.S. and taking a point from either Italy or the Czechs.

Finally, the U.S. seems healthier than it has been in awhile. Both of the big question marks -- midfielders Claudio Reyna and John O'Brien -- swear they are fully fit and are ready to go 90 minutes.

So how does one figure this group? If either the Czechs or the Italians actually have to play missing key men, they could be vulnerable. If Ghana is anywhere near as good as it thinks it is will give group opponents If the U.S. is completely healthy, it could play up to the potential it showed in South Korea in the 2002 Cup.

So the early handicapping probably means nothing. Given what has happened in the last fortnight, all bets seem off, at least until the first Group E matches are played Monday, when one can see who actually is playing and how well.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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