The largest sporting event in the world is finally back. After a seemingly eternal four years, 32 teams are set to congregate in South Africa this June for the first World Cup to be held on the African continent. There are speculations about whether or not South Africa – or its facilities – are ready to host, but one thing is for certain: the teams are ready to play. Here is my take on how each team will fare:Group A: South Africa – The hosts will look to avoid becoming the first host nation not to make it out of the group stages. On that basis alone, I think they will be motivated enough to move on. Second in group, lose in second round. France – The team relied on a missed call to beat Ireland and get into the finals, and I think their poor performance in qualification, problems with coaching and lack of players named Zidane will lead to their horrible demise. Fourth in group. Mexico – This team relied on their home-turf advantage to get through qualifying and they will not have that edge in South Africa. Everything will rest on whether or not they can defeat the South Africans. Third in group. Uruguay – The Uruguayans have a potent pair of attackers in Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan. I think they will surprise their group, but no one else. First in group, lose in second round.
Group B: Argentina – This squad has some of the most gifted players in the world – including the most gifted, Lionel Messi – and should do well even though Diego Maradona is not extremely competent as a coach. First in group, lose in semifinals. Greece – Though my heart will hope for the Greeks, there is just not enough talent on this squad to score goals, and 0-0 draws are not good enough to advance. Fourth in group. Nigeria – The Super Eagles have speed, strength, and skill to go with their incredible inconsistency. I think they will pull it together and make a little run. Second in group, lose in quarterfinals. South Korea – The South Koreans are another streaky bunch. I think they will match up well with the Greeks, but that’s about it. Third in group.
Group C: Algeria – The Algerians narrowly made it into the finals, squeaking by a talented Egyptian side to qualify. I don’t think they have what it takes to get past this group. Third in group. Slovenia – This is a team of unknowns. There is not enough talent and they should take pride in simply making it through European qualification. Fourth in group. England – They finally have a coach who knows what he is doing, and if Wayne Rooney stays fit, they will go far. First in group, lose in semifinals. United States – If we bring the team that upset Spain to reach the final of the Confederation’s Cup last summer, look out world. We need to beat England first, though. Second in group, lose in quarterfinals.
Group D: Australia – The Socceroos have a lot to measure up to based on their performance in 2006, and I think their golden years have passed. Fourth in group. Germany – The Germans will be without their captain, Michael Ballack, and with him goes their force in the midfield. I think this team will fall apart. Third in group. Ghana – The Black Stars also did well in 2006, and if Michael Essien can get healthy, this team will be a formidable opponent for anybody. First in group, lose in second round. Serbia – The Serbs have a fair amount of talent spread across the field, particularly in the back line. I think they will be the surprise of the tournament. Second in group, lose in second round.
Group E: Cameroon – The Indomitable Lions are fast, talented and in an easy group. They will move on. Second in group, lose in second round. Denmark – They qualified for the finals, but I don’t think they are better than Cameroon or the Netherlands, and they don’t have game-changing players. Third in group. Japan – Japan is going to rely on their older players who have more experience, but have been showing their age of late. It’s up to the younger players to step up, or not. Fourth in group. Netherlands – This team possesses a truly talented group of players, but they will cruise through this group like they did their qualifying group. They will be ruing their lack of tough-match experience when they meet Brazil. First in group, lose in quarterfinals.
Group F: Italy – The reigning champions are over-hyped, in my book. The addition of their “fashionable” kits makes them a hairy mole on the face of the beautiful game. They will not repeat. Second in group, lose in second round. New Zealand – This team only qualified because Australia switched regions. They will be happy just to hear their names called. Fourth in group. Paraguay – The Paraguayans led Brazil in South American qualifying for a while, there is talent in the squad, especially up top. First in group, lose in quarterfinals. Slovakia – This is another team low on talent, but they will battle it out with New Zealand in the consolation match in this group. Third in group.
Group G: Brazil – It’s Brazil. Who am I kidding? They will go far. First in group, lose in final. Ivory Coast – This team is rated the highest in Africa. If they can find their feet under their new coach, they will be a fearsome squad. If only they could avoid Spain… Second in group, lose in second round. North Korea – No one really knows how this team got here, but most people know that they won’t exactly be favorites. Fourth in group. Portugal – Portugal’s success hinges upon the referees’ willingness to acknowledge Cristiano Ronaldo for complaining after a slight wind knocked him flailing to the ground. Third in group.
Group H: Chile – The Chileans finished in the top four in South American qualifying. That is an accomplishment, and I shall reward it by predicting their passage through this group. Second in group, lose in second round. Honduras – This will be the Hondurans’ first trip to the finals since 1982. Don’t expect them to beat Spain – or anybody else. Fourth in group. Switzerland – They have a player bound for my Sounders after the tournament, so I must hope for an early exit for this less than talented team. Third in group. Spain – The European Champions have the best team and play the most beautiful game. They have enough talent to start world-class players on the bench. They will win. That is, unless the run into the USA again… First in group, and this is your 2010 World Cup champion!