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Germany Favored in World Cup Group A

Host Germany is favored to top Group A at the next month's 32-nation World Cup football finals. No World Cup host has ever failed to make it out of the group stage on home soil, and that trend is expected to continue.

Germany was put into Group A in order to play at the country's three biggest stadiums, then got a fortuitous draw in December when Poland, Ecuador and Costa Rica were added to the group as first round opponents.

International football expert commentator Derek Rae predicts that despite some problems, the draw could help Germany win Group A.

"It could have been an awful lot more difficult from the German point of view," he says. "The worst fear was that they might get a nightmare draw. As it is, it is fairly straight-forward for a German side that has not exactly impressed over the last few months."

Derek Rae says German fans are concerned for several reasons.

"They have had difficulties in the build-up to the World Cup finals," he explains. "Coach Juergen Klinsmann, continues to live in California. He does fly to Germany regularly, but that is not good enough for a lot of people in Germany. And they have a young, raw side and certainly not the most gifted German team of all time."

Juergen Klinsmann, who played for Germany on its last World Cup winning team in 1990, took over as coach after Rudi Voeller's disappointing showing at the 2004 European Championship. But Klinsmann's non-traditional coaching methods have drawn the ire of many fans.

Few believe Germany has what it takes to win the World Cup. But with the home country advantage and players like Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose, Rae likes Germany's chances of making it to the second round.

"I think Germany should win this group. Poland is not the strongest of European sides," he notes. "Ecuador and Costa Rica might have their moments in the group. Ecuador though, does not travel very well. Costa Rica has some merit to them. They came desperately close to coming out of the group at the last World Cup Finals in the Far East. So they will have to be watched and they, of course, will be Germany's first opponent - they will begin the competition in Munich on the ninth of June."

There was some controversy when Klinsmann named Jens Lehmann as his starting goalkeeper ahead of Oliver Kahn, who backstopped Germany to the World Cup final in 2002. But Rae says the move makes sense.

"I think if you study Juergen Klinsmann and his methods, I do not know that it is such a big surprise," he says. "Jens Lehmann is the sort of goalkeeper who I think goes along and fits into Juergen Klinsmann's playing system much more. And I think that just personality-wise he is perhaps a better fit as well."

Just two teams will advance from Group A, but none of the teams are ready to admit that they will not make it to the second round. Poland had a disappointing World Cup in 2002, failing to advance out of the first round despite a victory over the United States. But while coach Pawel Janas expects his team to make it into the second round, he says "you have to prepare and show it on the field."

Ecuador finished third in South American qualifying behind Brazil and Argentina, and coach Luis Fernando Suarez is hoping an immigrant trafficking scandal off the field will not be a distraction. Costa Rica is hoping to catch opening game opponent Germany off guard, powered by a crop of newcomers who join nine veterans from 2002, when the Costa Ricans failed to advance to the second round only because of goal difference.