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Group H shows World Cup balance

June 8, 2006 at 8:29 AM   |   Comments

BERLIN, June 8 (UPI) -- Spain has the best ranking in the World Cup's Group H but any of the four teams are capable of advancing through group play.

Spain is rated No. 5 by FIFA but the route to the World Cup hasn't been smooth. The latest bump was an injury to Asier del Horno that led the team last week to ask permission to replace him on the roster.

The up-and-down nature of the team showed in a qualifying run that included five ties but also had a total of 25 goals from team captain Raul Gonzalez and Fernando Torres. That many goals shouldn't allow for that many ties.

Which Spain will show this month? If the team is on the upswing, Spain could go far. If the pendulum is going the other way, getting out of Group H could be difficult.

Ukraine is making its first World Cup appearance. However, its players -- many of whom played for the Soviet Union -- aren't and it's the players and not the uniform that count. If Ukraine comes up big, it'll probably be because of the play of Andriy -- either Andriy Rusol, Andriy Shevchenko or Andriy Vororin.

Tunisia is making its fourth trip to the World Cup but it has just one victory to show for the previous three showings. It's almost a Brazilian-light team since native Brazilians Jose Clayton and Francileudo Silva dos Santos are naturalized Tunisians. If the rest of the team imitates Brazil, something magical may happen for the Tunisians.

Saudi Arabia is also in its fourth consecutive World Cup but has only made it out of group play once -- in 1994. They're relying on a big name to help them get over the hump by convincing Saudi soccer legend Sami al-Jaber to leave retirement.

Spain and Ukraine look to be the teams most likely to move on but Tunisia and Saudi Arabia are one big game from changing that.

Group H is the last to get under way, playing its first games Wednesday. Spain meets Ukraine in Leipzig, Germany, in a pairing that could go a long way in sorting out this group, and Tunisia faces Saudi Arabia in Munich, Germany, in the other.

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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