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Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
World Cup predictions
Jonathan PearceAlan ShearerLeonardoIan WrightMark Lawrenson

Match of the Day's expert panel of pundits will be based in Berlin for five weeks during the World Cup.

They've done their research, studied the form guide and here they reveal the stars they expect to shine in Germany this June.


Jonathan Pearce
Match of the Day commentator

Who will win the World Cup?
Brazil should win it if Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Adriano and Robinho are playing anywhere near their best.

But Italy, Argentina and Holland could also win it, not forgetting England, of course.

Team to watch
If England get off to a flying start there's no reason why they can't reach the semi-finals at least.

The fans, their passion and the whole drama surrounding England always makes for compelling viewing.

Player to watch
I've been convinced for two years that 2006 would be Wayne Rooney's year.

Germany's manager Jurgen Klinsmann told me recently that he thought Rooney could have become a global superstar this summer, but all that was before the injury.

Now while we wait to see if he'll be fit, keep your eyes on Luca Toni of Italy.

Surprise player
Toni has hit a staggering 33 goals this season for Fiorentina and is outstanding value at 18-1 to become the tournament's top scorer. Looks like a young Christian Vieri as he's big, powerful and a good source of important goals.

Surprise team
Ivory Coast. They are athletic and powerful enough to cause Argentina problems in Group C, especially with Emmanuel Eboue, Kolo Toure and Didier Drogba all on form.

Also look out for Mexico, who went 20 games unbeaten last year.

What are you most looking forward to at the World Cup?
I love seeing the fans from all over the globe coming to one place and bringing so much colour and so many different footballing experiences.

I'm also waiting to see who this year's young superstar will be. Klinsmann said: "The World Cup always finds its stars." He's not wrong.


Alan Shearer
Match of the Day analyst

Who will win the World Cup?
I've been sure England are going to win the World Cup for the last 18 months. But that was before the injuries.

Everything hinges around Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney - but if those two are fit we have a fantastic chance of winning.

Team to watch
England. Just look at the team - Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand, Cole, Owen and - fingers crossed - Rooney. With everyone fit, we've got arguably the strongest XI in the tournament.

There's a lot of experience in that side, both at international and club level, and we've got the potential to do something very exciting.

Surprise team
Ivory Coast. They have a lot of top players, like Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora, and looked awesome at the African Nations Cup.

What are you most looking forward to at the World Cup?
England lifting the World Cup in Berlin on 9 July.


Leonardo
Match of the Day analyst

Who will win the World Cup?
It's very difficult to say who will win, but I think Brazil are the favourites.

This is the best Brazilian squad of players since the 1970 generation.

They have the best players in the world, who are used to playing with big pressure at their club teams. Germany, Italy, France, England and Argentina are always big candidates to win but I think they'll need to prove themselves during the competition.

Team to watch
I think England have a very good chance to confirm how important the World Cup is to them and how they are deservedly part of its tradition, which is something they didn't do in the last World Cup.

A lot of the England team have come on well in the last few years - Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole in particular, and you still have David Beckham, Gary Neville and Michael Owen, which all makes for a very strong team.

I also think that the African teams can do good things at this World Cup.

Player to watch
Ronaldinho. I think he has created a new concept of football.

His skills, magical dribbles and vision are incredible, but principally, his style and how he communicates with the supporters set him apart. He's always dreaming up something new, which is brilliant to watch.

Surprise player
Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina. I hope he can be fit to start the World Cup.

What he did last season demonstrated that he can become a big star. He's only 18 years old and with his ability, speed and technique, he can be a pleasant surprise.

Surprise team
Mexico and Czech Republic are doing very well at this moment. Mexico produced a very good under-20 team, winner of the World Championship last year.

The youngsters, mixed in with the old players who have important experience with big clubs in Europe, means they could be a nice surprise.

The Czech Republic had a very good European Championship and when we talk about players like Pavel Nedved, Jan Koller, Karel Poborsky, Milan Baros, Marek Jankulovski, Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky, they can rightfully have big expectations.

What are you most looking forward to at the World Cup?
For me football is art, and so a reflex of a mentality.

After several years when all teams have looked for is a consistent defence, tactical organisation and strong players, I think football is changing.

We can see big clubs in Europe playing with three forwards, attacking full-backs, the return of offensive midfield scorers. So we should see more goals than in past World Cups.

Like everybody, I'm looking forward to watching good games, a high level of technique, dribbling and freedom to play.

I think football should be fun and if we can see that in this World Cup then hopefully a new era in football will start.


Ian Wright
Match of the Day analyst

Who will win the World Cup?
Obviously I've got my fingers crossed for England, but I don't want to tempt fate so I'll say Italy or Brazil. Brazil are favourites - they always are.

But South American teams don't have the best record in Europe, so Italy could be the team to win it.

Their squad is so strong. But I always think Italy will win it and then they go and self-destruct, so your guess is as good as mine.

Team to watch
Czech Republic. If they play well, they can beat anyone.

They scored more goals than any of the other European teams in qualifying. They were brilliant at Euro 2004, and this could be the tournament where it all comes together for them.

But with Italy, USA and Ghana in their group, they're going to have their work cut out to even make the knockout stages.

Player to watch/surprise player
Argentina and Barcelona midfielder Lionel Messi.

Not a household name yet (although Chelsea fans definitely know who he is!) but that might change after the summer. Loads of players have been called the next Maradona, but this kid is the real deal.

I've seen him play a couple of times, and nothing fazes him. He's got the lot - vision, pace, every trick in the book and an eye for goal. Very much like a young Ian Wright in fact!

Surprise team
Ivory Coast. They were brilliant at the African Nations Cup and should have won the final.

They're talented athletically and they've no fear, which is important for a tournament. They've got probably the toughest group, but if they can get out of it, they could go all the way.

What are you most looking forward to?
The second round onwards is when things get exciting, when every game is a knockout. For me, that's when the World Cup really comes alive.


Mark Lawrenson
Match of the Day co-commentator

Who will win the World Cup?
I'm tipping Argentina. They've got the players, that goes without saying.

But they also nearly all play in Europe, so the old adage that South Americans can't win in Europe is gone for me. The Argentines also have a bit of steel about them and I think they're also really good at stopping teams playing.

Everyone knows about Brazil, but I don't think they're as good at stopping people playing.

Team to watch
They're playing themselves down and they're in a really tough group, but I'm going to go for the Netherlands.

In the past whenever they've looked like they're going to do really well they've had a row and it can be about someone putting the wrong teabags in the teapot, or something equally petty.

But I think Marco van Basten has sorted all that out and everyone is singing from the same song sheet.

In qualification they were very, very good, not a lot of people have mentioned them and they've got one or two players in the squad, like Ruud van Nistelrooy, who might think they have a point to prove.

Player to watch
Argentina playmaker Riquelme.

He was outstanding for Villarreal as they reached the Champions League semi-finals, but I just feel he might need an even bigger stage and I think this might be it. And he's also in a really good team, as I mentioned above!

Surprise player
Nelson Haedo Valdez of Paraguay - he's a 22 year-old who plays for Werder Bremen in Germany who is an undiscovered gem at international level.

John Motson has told me all about him. We might only see him play in three games, but he could be the next big thing.

Surprise team
If any team are going to cause a surprise, I think it could be Ivory Coast. Obviously I've already picked Argentina and Holland to progress from Group C, but Ivory Coast could easily surprise us all and make it into the last 16.

We already know a few of their players from the Premiership. They're all extremely fit and very athletic.

They also have a great team spirit, and they'll be a team that the big boys won't want to play.

I think they could be a bit like Cameroon in 1990. It was only after the tournament that you realised what a really good side they were.

What are you most looking forward to at the World Cup?
Ian Wright to stop talking for 10 seconds!



SEE ALSO
World Cup on BBC TV
19 May 06 |  BBC coverage


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