2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™

2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™

9 June - 9 July

2006 FIFA World Cup™

26 June: First-time meetings for quartet

The day's opening encounter is a classic David and Goliath affair as Australia take on the FIFA World Cup™ colossus that is Italy. Through to the Round of 16 for the eighth consecutive tournament, the Azzurri start as clear favourites against the valiant Aussies, who are complete novices at this stage of the competition. The second duel of the day is one of the hardest second-round clashes to call, as Ukraine face the best Swiss side for over a decade.

The matches
Italy-Australia, 17:00, Kaiserslautern *
The Italian squad arrived in Germany in uncharacteristically sombre mood. The Serie A scandal, Francesco Totti's poor form and a tricky group seemed to combine to cast a black cloud over them. As it turned out, the *Nazionale
qualified for the knockout stage without too much fuss but will take on Australia without Daniele De Rossi, who is suspended for four games, and injured defensive kingpin Alessandro Nesta. As one of the surprise packages of the opening round, Guus Hiddink's boys will go into the game feeling they have nothing to lose.

Switzerland-Ukraine, 21:00, Cologne

The Swiss new guard came to Germany to learn some lessons prior to UEFA EURO 2008 on home soil. Their apprenticeship is proving an unqualified success, as they finished top of Group G and will now view any further achievements as a bonus. Extremely resolute in defence and determined in attack, Kobi Kuhn's men could well spring one or two more surprises, although the loss of Philippe Senderos to injury represents a serious dent to their chances. Facing them will be the rejuvenated Ukrainians who are getting back to full strength after being taught a humiliating lesson themselves, in a 4-0 drubbing by Spain. Oleg Blokhin's braves will also be hoping that Andriy Shevchenko can turn on the style.

The duel
Harry Kewell v Gianluigi Buffon

Kewell has been in impudent form since the start of the tournament. Finally free from injury, he is at last able to fully express his prodigious talent, every ounce of which will be required to break through the formidable Italian fortifications. Should he find a chink in the Italian armour, the Liverpool man will then have to beat the last line of the Azzurri defence formed by Buffon , a player long regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world and at the peak of his considerable powers here.

The absentees

Brett Emerton (AUS)
Daniele de Rossi (ITA)
Andriy Rusol (UKR)
Vyacheslaw Sviderski (UKR)

Past meetings
Both Round of 16 clashes are match-ups between teams who have never met before.

The question
Will Andriy Shevchenko at last show the extent of his talent? He fired his team to the finals with six vital goals, but, troubled by fitness concerns, the Ukrainian star has so far been unable to exert his usual influence on the national team. If Ukraine are to overcome the obstinate Swiss and their particularly strong defence, ‘Sheva' - who, to his credit, has struck two goals - is going to have to be at his brilliant best.

The figures
915: the number of points garnered by Spain, who top the tournament fair play table so far.
25: the length of the Spaniards' current unbeaten run. Their all-time record is 31.
2.43: the goals per game average for the first round (117 goals in 48 games)

Birthdays
Paolo Maldini celebrates his 38th birthday on 26 June. Despite accumulating a vast haul of medals at club level, the Milan man never won the ultimate football honour. Third in 1990 on home soil, he was a finalist in 1994 and was also involved in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. Jean-Paul Abalo of Togo is also celebrating 31 years on planet football today.

A FIFA World Cup blast from the past

26 June 1974, Netherlands 4-0 Argentina, Gelsenkirchen

This was the day on which the 'Clockwork Orange' produced what was arguably their best-ever performance. The Argentinians were completely overwhelmed as they battled to contain the Dutch masters by any means necessary. Orchestrating the total football was the great Johan Cruyff, at the peak of his powers that day and the scorer of a splendid double.

Not a lot of people know this

Former Atletico Mineiro player and car accident victim Mario Azevedo was forced to hang up his boots three years ago. As passionate as ever, the Brazilian is a volunteer in the mixed zone at Berlin's Olympiastadion, where he had an unexpected emotional reunion with a former team-mate from Mineiro, the Paraguayan Julio Cesar Caceres.

Having a laugh

Raymond Domenech on the average age of the France side: "Better older players who run than youngsters who sleep."

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