Star names change but old order intact
BERLIN, June 17 (Reuters) A generational shift is under way among the players but it is increasingly clear there will be no big shake-up in football's world order as the major powers reassert their authority after the shocks of four years ago.
Over a third of the way into the 2006 World Cup and you have to scratch around pretty hard to find any real surprises.
Trinidad&Tobago held Sweden to a goalless draw and the Soca Warriors came close to another shut-out against England before late goals from Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard gave the 1966 winners a 2-0 win.
Angola also managed a 0-0 draw against Group D seeds Mexico but such results are hardly the stuff of World Cup legend.
The five African teams have played seven matches at the tournament so far and managed two draws and five defeats, with Tunisia's draw with Saudi Arabia the only other plus point.
Meanwhile the traditional favourites have prospered.
Argentina saw off Ivory Coast 2-1 before clinching a place in the last 16 with a 6-0 win over Serbia&Montenegro that featured passing moves of an almost hypnotic beauty.
The Netherlands are safely through, as are hosts Germany and Ecuador, who have comfortably lived up to their status as the third best team in South America.
Brazil, Italy, Spain and Czech Republic also won their opening games with varying degrees of ease against teams who had been expected to do well. Even France could be happy enough with a goalless draw against a dangerous Switzerland side in Group G.
SHOCK RESULTS It was not like this four years ago in South Korea and Japan, when France, then the defending champions, went down 1-0 to Senegal in an opening match that was to set the tone for the tournament.
Argentina and Portugal, like France, went out in the first round and there were earlier than expected exits for Italy, Spain and England as Turkey and co-hosts South Korea reached the semi-finals.
In the end it was two familiar faces in the final, where Brazil beat Germany 2-0, but the tournament at least hinted at a shift away from the absolute dominance of South America and western Europe.
If that has failed to occur, there has at least been a change in the players making the headlines.
Players like David Beckham, Ronaldo, Raul, Luis Figo, Michael Owen and Zinedine Zidane -- to name only those who play or have played for Real Madrid -- still feature in the lavish TV adverts for sportswear manufacturers but they have not been the story of this World Cup.
David Villa took Raul's place in the Spain team and scored twice in a brilliant 4-0 win that was orchestrated by the unassuming midfielder Xavi.
Ronaldo may as well have been off the pitch for the good he did in Brazil's 1-0 win over Croatia, when even Ronaldinho was upstaged by the brilliance of Kaka.
For Argentina, it was Javier Saviola, Maxi Rodriguez and Esteban Cambiasso who did the damage against Serbia&Montenegro before Lionel Messi came on to give a small taste of what might be to come from the world's most talented teenager.
Shock results may be thin on the ground, but previously unheralded players are providing the best moments for the big teams and that in itself is a pleasant surprise as we enter the post-Galactico era.
Reuters PM VV1728