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Ghana go into their first-ever FIFA World Cupô finals in a group containing three of the top 12 teams in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Despite being one of the seeded teams, the draw has hardly been kind to Italy, who find their path to glory obstructed by the high-flying Czech Republic and a USA side intent on proving that their quarter-final finish in 2002 was no fluke. The tussle for the top two spots promises to be thoroughly absorbing.
  Standings and Results
 
Group E MP W D L GF GA Pts
ITA 3 2 1 0 5 1 7
GHA 3 2 0 1 4 3 6
CZE 3 1 0 2 3 4 3
USA 3 0 1 2 2 6 1

12 Jun ITA : GHA 2:0
12 Jun USA : CZE 0:3
17 Jun ITA : USA 1:1
17 Jun CZE : GHA 0:2
22 Jun CZE : ITA  
22 Jun GHA : USA  
Matches

Date in your diary: Hamburg, 22 June, Czech Republic v Italy
In such an evenly balanced group, there should still be plenty to play for come this last match between two of Europe's giants. When Pavel Nedved and his fellow UEFA EURO 2004 semi-finalists take on a new-look Squadra Azzurra bursting with ambition, a mouth-watering encounter should be on the cards.

David v Goliath: Hanover, 12 June, Italy v Ghana
For their FIFA World Cup debut, the Ghanaians kick off against Italy, old stagers at football's supreme event, with no less than 16 FIFA World Cup tournaments under their belt.

History repeats itself: Italy v USA In Rome in 1934, the Italians inflicted a real drubbing upon the Americans, running out 7-1 winners in the first round of the second FIFA World Cup. The Italians went on to lift the trophy.

Analysis
Italy's group, along with those of Argentina and England, is one of the toughest, as everyone had been keen to avoid the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Despite their seeded status, the Azzurri have drawn the short straw and simply cannot afford to slip up in their opening game against Ghana. The Africans may be newcomers, but pushovers they are not, as Radomir Dujkovic's charges conceded just four goals in all 12 of their qualifying games. But in hungry young wolves Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino, Italy will feel they have sufficient firepower up front, not to mention a typically unyielding defence.

In what is actually their fifth consecutive final phase, the United States will certainly have experience on their side. Moreover, they have never been as strong, having finished ahead of Mexico in qualifying. With their harmonious blend of old hands and solid young talent, Bruce Arena's charges are not to be taken lightly.

Despite having had to come through the play-offs, Czech Republic have (finally) booked their place at the global football festival and for this very experienced and close-knit group of players, it most likely represents a last chance of major silverware: the likes of Pavel Nedved and Jan Koller may not be as young as they were, but they are still just as talented.

Did you know?
Pavel Nedved, who retired from international football before going back on his decision, will probably come up against a number of his Italian team-mates from Juventus. Another familiar face will be Fenerbahce's Stephen Appiah, one of his midfield partners last season in Turin.