The 2010 World Cup groups have been drawn and the entire football world is buzzing. The "group of death" has been accepted as Group C, involving Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea.
One of the storylines to look for, is how the African nations fair in the first World Cup held on their continent. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to impress the world as they did in the 80's or 90's now that the setting is to their advantage. Look for the Ivory Coast and Ghana to be Africa's best chances at a club lasting deep into the tournament.
Check out the updated 50 burning questions heading into the World Cup. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/396055-50-burning-questions-for-the-2010-fifa-world-cup
Many of the European powerhouses have a point to prove with England, Netherlands, Germany and Italy all having a tournament that will be very important in determining their place in the world.
The two favorites going in to the tournament are Brazil and Spain; but with many top clubs competing, I think we will have an exciting and emotional tournament sure to bring football to the world's forefront this June.
South Africa (4th)
This is a very interesting group as the host nation was handed a very difficult challenge. South Africa will have home advantage, but were drawn against two former world champions in France and Uruguay. France has to finish in the top two of this group or else there will be serious doubts about the national program internally. I see them finishing on top of the group. The Mexicans are a very strong and fast team that I feel will be too good for South Africa to keep up with. The critical match for 2nd in this group is going to be Mexico Vs. Uruguay. I see Mexico going through in 2nd.
South Korea (3rd)
I don't see any of these teams giving Argentina trouble, and the team with the 2009 Ballon D'or winner, Lionel Messi, should have no difficulty in running their group. Expect Maradona to be on his best behavior come world cup time as he'll be closely watched by FIFA. The rest of this group is interesting in that all three clubs could finish in the other qualifying position. Nigeria doesn't appear to be what they used to though, and I think that Greece will be able to get through in a group that could be remembered for having very low scores in the matches not involving Argentina.
United States (2nd)
This group will be won or lost in the match between England and the United States on June 15th. Algeria and Slovenia shouldn't be a challenge to either one of these clubs. The United States was very fortunate to draw a group in which they are clearly the second best team, something most other groups wouldn't have offered them. The real winner of the draw though was England, who sees themselves with three very winnable games. I can't see anyone in this group beating them. Slovenia was fortunate to beat Russia on away goals and are unlikely to be good enough to match the States.
If it wasn't for Brazil and Portugal being drawn together this would have been the group of death. While I don't believe this German team has what it takes to go as deep as usual in the tournament, I still think they will top their group. I would watch out for an upset in this group because if the Germans have difficulty finding goals, Serbia, Ghana, and Australia are all capable of beating them. I think Serbia will grind out 2nd place, but just barely. It's going to be a very tight race and if anyone can take a point off the Germans it will help their cause a lot.
The Netherlands always play well in the group stages and I would expect nothing different here. I see them picking up a full nine points. I have a strong belief that Denmark will be able to get through this group as well. I think that they are on a different level from Cameroon and Japan. Cameroon's best days are behind them and Japan is not good enough to compete with the European nations yet. Look for Japan to be out muscled in this group by the other teams, with Denmark moving through on the back of a few top flight players.
New Zealand (4th)
The Italians are the best team in this group, but this is nowhere near the same team that won in 2006. Look for the Italians to have difficulty with this group. They will finish on top, but will not pick up maximum points, as I see them slipping up. Paraguay will finish 2nd unless Slovakia or New Zealand are much more impressive than they seem. New Zealand looked out of their league against Spain in the confederations cup and I expect a similar story here. Paraguay was very impressive in qualifying, finishing only a point behind Brazil.
South Korea (4th)
Ivory Coast (2nd)
Some may find it a shock, but I don't think Portugal has what it takes. Aside from Ronaldo, they are a distinctly average side. Ivory Coast is the only African team I pick to progress past the group stages. I think Portugal will slip up and show that they are not the same team they were when they had the unstoppable Figo. In Euro 2008, when they first came up against real opposition, they fell flat. Ivory Coast will go through on the back of goals from Drogba and feeding off the advantage of playing in an African climate their players will have long before adapted to. Portugal's world cup ends here.
The European champions were handed a fairly straight forward draw. I can't see them doing anything but winning three straight. Chile is a very good team and could present a slight problem for Spain, but I just don't see Spain dropping points against them. Honduras and Switzerland will not be able to handle the South American's skill and will both surely check out here.
Round of 16
France Vs. Greece
Look to see France go through here without too much difficulty or with any need for a handball. Greece will not have the ability going forward to provide a challenge.
Argentina vs. Mexico
This will be a close affair. Expect plenty of goals. I think Argentina will edge it in extra time based on the depth in their squad.
England Vs. Serbia
It won't be an easy match, but the English should go through. Serbia is a very difficult opponent, but I don't see them having the ability to go forward and get a goal against England.
Germany Vs. United States
The United States will put up a good fight but the German's are a very difficult team. Their international experience will see them through to the quarterfinals. I could see the States getting this to penalty kicks but no further.
Netherlands Vs. Paraguay
Paraguay are just not at the same level as the Netherlands. The efficient Dutch side should be able to dispatch of Paraguay and take their place in the next round.
Italy Vs. Denmark
I'm picking an upset here. I see the Danes able to push past a weakening Italian side. The Italians will wear down by this point in the tournament; look for the Danes to sneak through, possibly in extra time.
Brazil Vs. Chile
This is a big time rivalry game from South America. Expect something special if this match happens, as Chile would be desperate to earn a victory against Brazil. I still think that Brazil is one of the elite teams in the world and will be able to get past the Chileans.
Spain Vs. Ivory Coast
Spain will go through if this match happens; it's as simple as that. Ivory Coast will attempt to use the African conditions to get an edge on the Spanish, but the sheer quality and tactical advancement that Spain has over them will be too much.
France Vs. England
The French just snuck past the Irish, but their long time rivals England will go through here. This could be a fantastic match between European rivals, but I think it will probably go 2-0 to England.
Argentina Vs. Germany
Michael Ballack himself said that expectations shouldn't be too high for this German team and I think coming up against a squad like Argentina will send them out. The multiple attack options available for Argentina will be too much for them to handle. 3-1 Argentina.
Brazil Vs. Netherlands
This could be the match of the tournament. The Brazilian flare will win out in the end though. The Netherlands can't seem to do it in big tournaments and I think facing Brazil would be too big a hurdle for them to overcome. 2-1 to Brazil.
Denmark Vs. Spain
Spain will be the other European representation in the semi-finals. Simply put, Denmark will not be able to match the Euro 2008 winners. Spain has yet to come up against a difficult team in the knockout phases, playing possibly the easiest team in both rounds.
England Vs. Brazil
Brazil beat England in a friendly a short while ago, but this will not be the same England team that they faced then. The three lions will push on and with incredible heart beat Brazil in extra time 3-2 to go to their first final since the historic 1966 final.
Argentina Vs. Spain
Argentina has the talent to go all the way to the final. If they can keep off-field distractions to a minimum, I believe that they are good enough to beat a Spanish side that won't be sharp from having played easy games in the tournament.
3rd Place Playoff
Spain Vs. Brazil
This is the final that most of the football world is cheering for going into the world cup, but I believe it will be the third placed match. Finishing third will mean more to Spain, expect Brazil to play second string players and finish behind Spain.
World Cup Final
Argentina Vs. England
England will end their cursed streak by beating Argentina in the final. Expect a match with emotions running high and Maradona in the equation. Capello's cool head will win out, and England will win only the second world cup for the team from where the game was invented.
Golden Boot - Fernando Torres
Golden Ball- John Terry
Yashin Award- Iker Casillas
Best Young Player- Lionel Messi
Those are my picks and previews. Only 176 days left until the tournament kicks off with South Africa against Mexico.