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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 22:50 GMT 23:50 UK
Claridge: Big guns will win
Claridge said the top teams will qualify from the group
Claridge: Brazil are still my favourites to win
Steve Claridge

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A few of the fancied teams are struggling to qualify from their groups - but I expect them all to reach the second round.

At the World Cup good teams with a proven pedigree invariably do what they have to when it matters most.

And if Italy, Argentina and France know that winning their final group games equals qualification to the second round then I expect that to happen.

Claridge expects the struggling top teams to qualify from their group
France will qualify from their group
People are suggesting that some of the European teams are tired after a long domestic season.

I don't really think so - and you must remember there are lots of reasons why a team does not play well.

You could argue tiredness was the reason behind England's poor performance against Sweden - but it had nothing to do with that and more to do with the way the team was set up.

And it's not as though these are ordinary games - we are talking about World Cup fixtures and players are totally up for it.

Tiredness will probably hit the players when they get back and start the new season.

They won't have had a rest and will have to readjust to life after coming down off the plateaux of playing in the World Cup.

I think you might see a knock-on effect during next season's Premiership season - but not now.

Mental fatigue

It's not even so much the physical aspect of the game - it is the mental side as well.

People sometimes don't realise that professionals play for 10 solid months a year - it is not as though we can take a week off here and there.

You can get sick of football and players who have not had a break will feel tired.

Not that motivational problems are affecting England at the moment.

England have gone from a team that people would have wanted to play to a team that no-one really wants to come up against.

Japan have not been tested a decent team
Japan play without fear and have lots of energy
The nightmare is that England could win their group - easily the most difficult - and then find themselves up against a France team that has just scraped out of theirs.

I could see England beating France - but then I could see them beating us and it's not really a game we want at this stage.

You are always going to get one or two surprises but the cream will rise to the top as the tournament progresses.

Before the World Cup started I tipped Brazil at 8-1 to win and Italy's Christian Vieri to finish top goalscorer at 14-1.

On the evidence so far - Brazil look sharp and Vieri has scored three goals - my bets aren't looking too bad.


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