Sports - Football - International - 2010 World Cup South Africa
With just a couple of days left until the World Cup kicks off in Johannesburg, expectations are high and the nerves in tatters - who will cry tears of joy and glory, whose sobs will be in grief and defeat? We will not know the answer until the final whistle is blown and the competition concludes on the final day on 11 July, but, here are my thoughts and predictions, the winners highlighted bold:
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France: Despite their home advantage, I do not think South Africa will be able to contend successfully against the established likes of Mexico and France. Although "les bleus" were lucky to scrape through against the Republic of Ireland, the heartbreaking encounter should have been a good enough wake-up-call for them to make up for the blushes and make the best and most of the competition.
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece: Argentina's strong lineup which includes Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano and with none other than Diego Maradona at the helm, there is no question about who will top this group. Who will follow them into the last 16 is a tougher one to answer with South Korea's and Greece's success-stories being long, distant memories. I think Otto Rehhagel's men will be able to make the push.
Group C: England, USA, Algeria, Slovenia: England have had their fair share of scandals and injuries as always before major competitions, but were let-off by a comparatively easy draw for a change and could not have been given a much easier pass into the last 16. The US look stronger than ever though under manager Bob Bradley and captain Landon Donovan. I would not be surprised to see them make this their best competition display and progess yet.
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana: This one's my dark horse/shocker-prediction: Having followed Germany's friendlies, dire displays, injury setbacks and crises talks, I think it gives the rest of the group the best chance to capitalise on. Australia have Mark Schwarzer and Lucas Neill to keep them out and Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell to knock them down and in; whilst Serbia can count on Nemanja Vidic and Milan Jovanovic along the same lines.
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameron: The European sides take pole position again with experienced players and strong lineups. World number three Netherlands thrashed their way through the warm-up games in preparation to the competition and I see them continue in that fashion with Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar et al over-filling the scoreboards.
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia: The defending world champions are a shadow of the side that won the cup in 2006, but should be able to top the group with their star keeper Gianluigi Buffon, world cup winning skipper Fabio Cannavaro and energy source and runner Daniele de Rossi. Paraguay should follow them into the last 16 with their focal men in attack Roque Santa Cruz and Nelson Haedo Valdez.
Group G: Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil, North Korea: With Ivory Coast's top striker Didier Drogba out with a fractured arm, the 2006 semi-finalists Portugal and record world champions Brazil should cruise through the group stage. Both sides are star-struck with their lineups including Ronaldo, Simao and Nani; Kaka, Lucio and Robinho, respectively. Finals without those well-established names is unimaginable.
Group H: Honduras, Chile, Spain, Switzerland: Ottmar Hitzfeld had tears in his eyes to see his home country qualify for the world cup and I see this as his best chance to make the dream-come-true get even better. World number one and world cup favourites Spain should be able to yawn and sleepwalk their way through this stage with star men like Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas.
So, my European bias sees ten European countries progress into the last 16, joined by four South American countries, USA and Australia. My German bias normally gives Germany the advantage as they have always proven to be successful no matter how miserable their form or display has been. But this time round, under Joachim Löw, I see their luck has run out and I forecast their demise against more competitive and hungry opponents. I am optimistic for England, more than ever, and hope they can enjoy some sweet revenge and success, but am prepared for heartbreaking scenes as always...
Last 16: France v Greece, Mexico v Argentina, England v Serbia, USA v Australia, Netherlands v Paraguay, Denmark v Italy, Portugal v Switzerland, Brazil v Spain
Quarter Finals: Netherlands v Portugal, France v England, Argentina v Australia, Italy v Spain
Semi Finals: England v Portugal, Argentina v Spain
Third Place: Portugal v Argentina
Final: England v Spain