Group A
Poland v Costa Rica
Kick-off 15:00 (BST)

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The final round of group matches at the 2006 FIFA World Cup get underway today as the tournament begins to streamline itself. With the knockout stages starting at the weekend, the drama of sudden death is upon us as the stakes are raised – qualification or elimination is the fate awaiting the majority of teams who enter this round of crucial games.

There are, however, no dreams to be nourished and no hearts to be broken in the first of today’s match-ups in Hanover this afternoon. Both Costa Rica and Poland have already packed their bags after losing both of their opening matches to Group A rivals Germany and Ecuador, who will meet at the same time in Berlin to decide who tops the group. Costa Rica and Poland will be playing only for pride and third place in the group – and they will no doubt be eager to leave Germany on the first available flight home, having seen their World Cup dreams disintegrate over the last ten days or so.

This afternoon’s match will be the fourth between the two teams but the first competitive meeting. Poland have won all three previous encounters, all of them friendlies. The coaches, Poland’s Pawel Janas and Costa Rica’s Alexandre Guimaraes, will be eager to depart the finals on high as both of them will face searching questions regarding their futures from their respective FAs after the tournament.

It is Poland fans who will be the more disappointed at the way in which Group A has panned out. Plenty of neutral observers predicted that they would push hosts Germany all the way in Group A. Winning the group, not mere qualification, seemed to be a realistic target. However, the Poles never recovered from an opening day defeat against Ecuador in Gelsenkirchen and faced Germany last Wednesday under enormous pressure to take at least a point off their local rivals. This proved to be too big a task, and the fact that Germany needed to wait until Oliver Neuville’s 91st minute winner to break the deadlock only served to mask the one-sidedness of that contest.

The main conclusion to draw from Poland’s disappointing performance in this tournament is that they were lacking in many departments. The most glaring voids seemed to be a lack of pace and creativity, particularly in the advanced midfield areas and up front. The fact that Poland failed to get on the score-sheet against either Germany, whose defence is universally regarding as their weak link, and Ecuador speaks volumes. The tactics employed by Janas, featuring the use of a lone striker in both matches, are being blamed for this amongst Polish fans and journalists alike. His job is undoubtedly under severe threat.

As a result of the pressure he is obviously under, Janas has been reluctant to speak to the media at length so far this week and has left most of the press conferences to his assistant, Edward Klejndinst. Poland are likely to make widespread changes to their starting line-up today and the team will probably feature a host of young players as they look towards the future.

“We are all disappointed with how things have gone this time,” Klejndinst told the press on Monday.

“The boys really want to win their last match and will be giving 200% to do so. We’re going to do everything we can to win this game and give a little bit of pride back to our fans.”

Striker Maciej Zurawski, whose place is under threat after failing to find the net in the first two games, echoed Klejndinst’s comments.

“For us it’s a game about everything – about face, about pride and about showing we can win at the World Cup and score goals. For sure, a number of younger players will come into the team. The same thing happened at the last World Cup, when we lost our opening two games, changed the team and beat the USA 3-1 in our last match.”

Low expectations
Costa Rican coach Guimaraes is under less pressure than his Polish counterpart due to the lower expectations of his adopted nation but has accepted responsibility for his team’s poor showing. Costa Rica won many friends during their opening loss to the hosts. The ‘Ticos’ were brave in defeat against Germany and, despite conceding an early goal, they remained in the contest right up until Torsten Frings’ clincher in the 89th minute.

Their performance in that match gave the players and fans optimism for the second game against Ecuador in Hamburg, but in the end they were soundly beaten 3-0 and dumped out of the competition. The concession of seven goals in two games speaks volumes about Costa Rica’s leaky defence, which has ultimately been their undoing at World Cup 2006. The coach agreed with this assessment and took responsibility on Monday morning when addressing the press, but failed to come up with an explanation.

“I’m in charge of the team and make the decisions, so our problems are mainly down to me,” he admitted.

“We’ll come to our conclusions after the third game tomorrow, but to concede seven goals in two games is just too much – especially when we have worked so hard on our defensive system in training.”

“We have played very badly, particularly against Ecuador, and we have not done ourselves justice. We have the opportunity to do something better against Poland but it will be tough as neither side wants to finish bottom of the group.”

Guimaraes, who appeared three times for his adopted country at the 1990 World Cup, is tipped to mainly stick with the same team that lost so comprehensively Ecuador. He will be hoping that his team’s bruised pride will be enough to motivate them against what will probably be a young and hungry, though inexperienced, Poland team this afternoon.
By Mark Robinson

Probable teams:
Poland: Porras; Marin, Umana, Wallace, Gonzalez; Solis, Centeno, Sequeira, Fonseca, Gomez; Wanchope

Costa Rica: Boruc; Baszczynski, Bak, Bosacki, Zewlakow; Krzynowek, Radomski, Szymkowiak, Jelen, Smolarek; Rasiak

Referee: Shamsul Maidin (Singapore)

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