With the World Cup draw finally completed earlier today, all 32 qualified nations now know who they will be facing when the group stages kick off on June 11th 2010.
Below is a brief outline of each of the eight groups, and which teams might be confident of progression:
Use the comments section below to leave your view on how the group stages might play out.
More in-depth analysis of the group stages can be found here.
Read another perspective on the group stage draw here.
Read about the winners and losers of the World Cup draw here.
Games: 11-22 June
The hosts will be relatively pleased with this draw, which gives them a good chance of progressing to the knockout stages if they can somehow overcome two out of their three other group opponents.
In terms of talent, France are the undisputed class side of the group—but they have struggled to reach such heights under coach Raymond Domenech. With the hugely unpopular Domenech still likely to be in charge for the tournament next—he was sitting proudly at the draw in Cape Town—the other teams in the group will certainly fancy their chances of getting a decent result against them.
Uruguay, the last team to cement their place at the World Cup, are arguably the weakest side in the group, but with Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan to rely on will be confident they can progress.
Mexico may not be as strong as in competitions past, but in the likes of Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos and the evergreen Cuauhtemoc Blanco they have the sort of quality and experience that must make them likely progressors from this evenly-matched group.
Read about Mexico's perspective on the draw here.
Games: 12-22 June
Argentina manager Diego Maradona might have been banned from attending the draw, but even he will have found little about this group to really dislike.
Despite their struggles in qualifying, the former World Cup winner will be confident of seeing his side progress to the business end of the tournament, with all their fellow group teams clearly a notch below Argentina in terms of their international pedigree.
Greece, led by the astute Otto Rehhagel, will be an awkward opponent, and might be the marginal favourites to gain second in the group. South Korea, semi-finalists eight years ago, will feel they have a great opportunity—but without home advantage will surely struggle to repeat the feats of 2002.
African teams have been tipped to do well in the first World Cup on their continent, but Nigeria are not one of their best sides and will surely struggle to live up to the respectable performances of previous performances.
Any team that can call upon a strikeforce of Yakubu and Obafemi Martins needs to be respected, however, and if their suspect defence holds up they could grab second spot in the group that is also fairly open.
Read about Argentina's perspective of the draw here.
Games: 12-23 June
Fabio Capello won’t be complaining at this draw, which leaves England as heavy favourites to progress comfortably onto the Second Round.
Arguably the only negative for the Three Lions is that the game against the United States is their first of the tournament. Bob Bradley’s side are marginally the second strongest side of these four, and have the ability to catch out England if they start off slowly.
Success in South Africa during last summer’s Confederations Cup (where they made the final) should make them likely qualifiers from the group regardless of that first result, but Algeria will be another tough proposition.
The Fennecs proved themselves a mentally strong side by overcoming Egypt in a one-off qualification decider, and in the likes of Nadir Belhadj and Karim Ziani have a few players capable of causing any team problems.
Slovenia are undoubtedly the weakest team of the groups, but beat the widely-heralded Russia in the playoffs to make these Finals so cannot be underestimated.
Nevertheless, it would be a major surprise if their tournament lasted any longer than these three group games.
Read about England's view on the draw here.
Read an American assessment of the draw here.
Games: 13-23 June
Arguably this is the Group of Death, with four very good teams involved that all harbour realistic ambitions of reaching at least the quarter-finals.
Germany are the marginal favourites for the top spot, having made the semi-finals in 2006 and qualifying for this tournament in impressive fashion. On paper they are certainly the strongest team, although their perhaps lack the individual star power many have come to expect.
Australia, driven forward by Everton’s Tim Cahill, will fancy their chances of progression, although their lack of a top draw backline could hold them back come crunch time.
Ghana will prove a very difficult team to beat, especially as in Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari they have two world-class centre midfielders. But their attacking options look very limited—Asamoah Gyan excepted—and that could well prove their downfall against opponents that should score plenty of goals.
Serbia have been tipped by many to be the dark horse of the tournament, finally making a splash on the international stage after notable success at youth level in recent times. With the likes of Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Vidic in defence they have some real quality, while the likes of Milos Krasic, Dejan Stankovic have impressed in Europe this season.
With beanpole striker Nikola Zigic up front, they also have a aerial threat that could well propel them through what looks a very draining group stage for all involved.
Read Germany's perspective on the draw here.
Read Australia's perspective on the draw here.
Games: 14-24 June
The World Cup can still provide some very local ties, as proved by the fact European near-neighbours Netherlands and Denmark square off in the opening game of Group E.
The winner of that tie will gain a crucial advantage in the bid to escape the group, with the loser already facing a very difficult challenge if they want to achieve similar success.
Cameroon are not one of the most heralded African sides, but with Inter Milan hotshot Samuel Eto’o leading the line they will always be capable of scoring a goal.
Japan have long dominated Asian football, but might struggle against three sides that have a lot of experience in international tournaments. Nevertheless, with players of the quality of Shinsuke Nakamura to call upon—not to mention a fervent support—they could well cause a few surprises.
Read a Danish view on the draw here.
Games: 14-24 June
The World Cupholders might be experiencing something of an identity crisis when it comes to the current state of Calcio, but this sort of favourable draw might appease the Azzurri faithful for a little while longer.
Marcelo Lippi will be confident of seeing his side through the group stages, with few threats to their superiority as they look to build up some momentum.
Paraguay are a good, if limited outfit, who are regulars on this stage but will nontheless be pleased to make the Second Round.
Slovakia, led by Napoli star Marek Hamsik, might well fancy their chances of progressing on their first appearance at a World Cup. The meeting between those two sides, in fact, could well decide who follows Andrea Pirlo et al into the next round.
For New Zealand, however, even this relatively kind draw will not raise their hopes of progressing any deeper. In just making this tournament they have already succeeded, and even the All Whites' likely fourth place finish in this group will surely not hamper any of their spirits.
Read an Italian perspective on the draw here.
Read about New Zealand's view on the draw here.
Games: 15-25 June
Far and away the most interesting group of the opening draw. With three top-drawer sides and one punch-bag (no disrespect to North Korea), the head-to-head ties between Portugal, Brazil, and Ivory Coast will take on added significance.
That could increase the chances of Brazil suffering a shock early exit, but in reality Dunga’s side have looked so dominate in recent times that it is almost unfathomable that they will slip up.
That makes Portugal’s meeting with Ivory Coast the pivotal match of the group stages, with the winner highly likely to progress as group runners up. Portugal’s breadth of talent—Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Alves, Joao Moutinho—will make them favourites, but in Didier Drogba the Ivorians have a striker that has made every pundit pick them as one to watch.
With Yaya Toure enforcing in midfield and his brother at the back, they could well progress if Carlos Quieroz continues to struggle to get the Portuguese firing on all cylinders.
All in all, this is the sort of group that World Cups are made for.
Games: 15-25 June
The consensus favourites for the tournament before the draw, bookies and fans alike will see no reason to change that opinion after Vincent Del Bosque’s men found themselves in a very manageable group.
Barring a sizeable mishap—even greater than the one that saw them surprisingly beaten by South Africa in the Confederations Cup—Spain should progress to the knockout stages with a game to spare against eminently beatable opposition.
Switzerland will perhaps consider themselves the likely runners up of the other three, especially as in the likes of Johan Djourou, Tranquillo Barnetta, and Phillipe Senderos they have a good amount of experience on this stage.
Honduras will likely be the fall-guys of the group, with the hard-work of the likes of Premier League impressors Wilson Palacios, Hendry Thomas, and Maynor Figueroa likely to cause teams problems but not halt their progress.
Chile are another team with limited aspirations, although the wily tactics of former Argentina manager Marcelo Bielsa will doubtless make them a tough proposition. If the Swiss slip up, they could certainly be the ones to capitalise.
Read Spain's view on their draw here.
Agree or disagree with the views expressed above? Any other comments, thoughts, or opinions on the draw? Please leave them below!