2010 FIFA World Cup: How Far Can The Nations Go?
South Africa 2010 is just days away and with the squads finalized it is a good time to gauge the maximum potential in how far every nation can advance in the World’s most prestigious sporting event.
Even though it is every nation’s goal to ultimately win the World Cup, only seven nations in history have achieved this glory. This shows how difficult it is to be crowned champions of the world and limits the nations that can actually be seen as contenders in this summer’s version of the World Cup in South Africa.
The 32-team tournament definitely has some noticeable minnows, but the talent and depth of this qualified field of nations is deep and one that can provide numerous surprising runs, especially with the tournament being played on the continent of Africa for the first time ever.
So let's get to my breakdown of the best possible outcomes for each nation at this summer’s classic, South Africa 2010...
Happy To Be There
Led by their captain, Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung, Korea Republic looks to once again make another Cinderella-like run deep into the World Cup like in 2002, but this time they won’t have home field advantage or the referees by their side.
Group B is going to be a tough draw for the Koreans. Argentina looks to be a certainty to top the group and Nigeria and Greece are likely to provide more than stellar tests for Korea Republic.
The Tigers of Asia will fight and scratch and give full effort as usual, but there is no way to see them advancing past the group stage.
Qualifying for their fourth consecutive World Cup, the Japanese have hopes of expanding on their Asian success in South Africa this summer.
But drawn into Group E, it is not going to be an easy task at all. The Netherlands, Denmark, and Cameroon will be the competition, as Japan is clearly the underdog.
Samurai Blue won’t go down without a fight, but the challenge that lies ahead for the Japanese is too steep. A powerhouse Dutch squad is sure to punish Japan and a hungry Cameroon side will be eager to start off their tournament in a positive fashion in front of their African supporters.
A slow start will demoralize the Japanese and any hopes of advancing will be crushed early, as Japan is sure to finish bottom of the group.
The All Whites enter their second World Cup appearance this summer as big time underdogs.
Drawn into Group F with defending champions Italy, Paraguay, and Slovakia it is going to be tough for New Zealand to salvage a point in group play.
The minnows of the tournament have been respectable in a few friendlies over the past year, but it is much different at the FIFA World Cup, as results are tough to come by.
Look for New Zealand to hustle, fight, and scratch throughout all three of their matches, but if they come up empty in their opening match they might be headed for a 31st place finish.
Korea DPR is making its second World Cup appearance in its nation’s history. Their first showing is still recognized as one of the most surprising runs in World Cup history when they reached the quarterfinals back in 1966.
This North Korean nation once again isn’t given much hope at succeeding or accomplishing much in this summer’s World Cup, but they have the fighting spirit to push any squad that looks past them to the limit.
Otherwise recognized as North Korea, this Asian nation is the weakest side drawn into the “Group of Death.” They will have quite a challenge ahead of them grouped with Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast.
Despite a recent run of overachieving friendly results leading into the tournament it still is extremely difficult envisioning North Korea earning a point in this treacherous group.
Los Catrachos qualified as the third place nation from the CONCACAF zone. This will be the Hondurans second World Cup appearance and they are keen in search of their first World Cup victory.
This can probably be labeled the best Honduras squad ever led by the captain Amado Guevera and Wilson Palacios, who will provide from the midfield, as veteran strikers Pavon and Suazo hope to supply the goal scoring up front.
Honduras was drawn into Group H along with Spain, Chile, and Switzerland.
The Hondurans didn’t receive any favors getting put into Group H and with Spain a virtual lock for the top spot, Honduras will be in desperate need for results against an underrated Chile squad and a stingy Swiss side.
Honduras did well to qualify for their second FIFA World Cup appearance, but it isn’t realistic to really expect Honduras to advance past the group stage. A slow start against Chile and then a loss to Spain will dash their dreams before they even realize.
Survive the Group Stage
Bafana Bafana is backed by the experienced manager Carlos Alberto Parreira and led by their star player Steven Pienaar. In addition, they are the host nation and coming off a respectable Confederations Cup showing last summer.
The South Africans are continuing to grow to a stronger side as this summer’s tournament approaches and they are sure to be boosted by the huge emotional backing from their crowd’s supporting cheers.
The host nation has never been eliminated in the first round of the World Cup; so don’t expect that to change. But don’t expect South Africa to get any further than the Round of 16 at the same time.
A Group A runner up finish is the most likely outcome for South Africa, so elimination at the hands of Maradona and Argentina will be a respectable and well supported showing for the South Africans.
This North African nation is a scrappy squad that will fight and compete with any nation put on the pitch with them.
The Algerians finished in a respectable fourth place in the recent Africa Cup of Nations, while eliminating favorites Ivory Coast from the competition.
Not many know a lot about this Algerian squad, but it is not asking too much to see them take advantage of the continental home field to grab a surprising second place finish in the group stage.
But after a surprise advancement from the group stage that is as far as the Algerians will go in this summer’s World Cup. A likely matchup with the Germans would see them off.
This South American nation has won the World Cup two times (1930, 1950), but this summer’s Celeste squad doesn’t have what it takes to make a Cup run in South Africa.
Despite being drawn into the weakest of groups (Group A), the Uruguayans still don’t have an easy task dealing with the host nation of South Africa, last World Cup’s runner-ups France, and a talented Mexican side.
Though the Uruguay squad isn’t on a World Class level, they do have a able side consisting of veteran leaders (Lugano, Forlan) mixed with some talented youth (Muslera, Caceres, Gargano, Cavani).
If the Uruguayans play to their potential they can easily snatch second place in the group and move onto the Round of 16. But this is where the South American’s run would be sure to end to an elite Argentina side.
The Slovenians upset Russia in the European playoff to qualify for this summer’s World Cup and they look to build on that momentum on the world’s grandest stage.
Slovenia finished in second place in their qualifying group behind Slovakia despite beating the Slovaks in both of their fixtures. Slovenia only conceded six goals in their 12 qualifying matches.
This is the second World Cup appearance for the Slovenians and it is a goal of theirs to get past the group stage for the first time in its nation’s history.
If Slovenia keeps their defense tight and remained organized in the back line like they were throughout qualifying, the Slovenians can surely pull off a surprise second place finish in a group that can send any nation along with England to the knockout stages.
The Swiss qualified for their eighth World Cup by winning their qualifying group, which consisted of Greece and Israel.
Though not known to provide spectators with an exciting style of play, the Swiss are a tough gritty squad that likes to grind out results. The Swiss managed to advance past the group stage in the 2006 World Cup and get eliminated in the round of 16 without giving up a goal in the entire tournament.
The Swiss might not have much in the attack, but they make up for it with their tough and structured defense that make them so difficult to score on.
Switzerland was drawn into Group H with the likes of Spain, Chile, and Honduras.
The Swiss can definitely play themselves into the knockout stages, but a likely matchup with Brazil or Portugal will most likely send them home, as they clearly don’t have the firepower to keep up with such nations with so much at stake.
La Roja push into their seventh World Cup appearance with higher hopes than usual after finishing second in the CONMEBOL qualification zone.
Chile plays a very forward attacking style of play that is sure to provide some high scoring matches for both them and their opponents. What Chile lacks in defense they attempt to make up for in attack.
Drawn into Group H with Spain, Switzerland, and Honduras will surely provide an interesting battle for the second spot behind the Spanish.
The contrasting styles between Switzerland and Chile face-off in their second matches and it will most likely be the decider for the group’s runner-up position.
Chile does have the ability to advance past the group stage, but after that with a Brazil, Ivory Coast, or Portugal waiting Chile’s run is sure to come to an end do to the lack of concentration to the defensive end of the pitch.
Mexico stocked up the friendly calendar by scheduling eight exhibitions directly leading up to the World Cup and despite not getting the results they wanted against the top tier nations Mexico still feels they have prepared and equipped themselves properly for this summer’s tournament.
Mexico was drawn into Group A with South Africa, Uruguay, and France. They surely must be confident at their chances to advance from the group.
The Mexicans have advanced through the group stage in the last four World Cups and they look to continue that trend this summer in South Africa. Mexico could easily win the group, but they also are odds-on favorites to at least finish in the top two.
With the experienced Marquez anchoring the defense and a youthful injection to the Mexican attack with Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela, Mexico looks to continue their group stage success.
If Mexico advances pass the group stage they will either meet with the Argentines like in the 2006 World Cup, where they pushed Argentina into extra time before losing on a stunning Maxi Rodriguez strike or one of Group B’s other three nations (Nigeria, Korea Republic, Greece).
Mexico clearly has the squad to dispose of any of those three nations, but after that Mexico’s run is sure to come to an end.
After qualifying for the World Cup in most controversial fashion (Henry handball), the French were drawn into what many would call the weakest group of the first round.
Manager Raymond Domenech is participating in his last major tournament in control of the French, and that is to the relief of many France supporters after his controversial squad selection. Some prominent French players that he has left off the roster in one way or another are Nasri, Mexes, Benzema, Frey, and Cissokho.
Having said that, the French do return five starters from last World Cup’s final and they do boast a roster filled with players from Europe’s top clubs.
Led by star Franck Ribery, the French can easily win Group A and draw a Nigeria, Korea Republic, or Greece in the Round of 16.
That being said, France has the ability to reach the quarterfinals, but that is where France’s run would most definitely come to an end due to their lack of firepower up front and absence of a dominant central defense.
This African nation is making their fourth World Cup appearance and will not be satisfied with a group stage elimination. The furthest Nigeria has ever advanced in the World Cup was the Round of 16 in 1994 and 1998.
The Super Eagles have the potential to ride the continental home field advantage to the quarterfinal stage despite this not being one of the best squads in the past two decades.
A second place finish in Group B looks likely as long as Nigeria gets favorable results against Korea Republic and Greece. Once in the round of 16, Nigeria is more than capable of beating any Group A winner. After that though Nigeria’s fairytale run will come to an end likely at the hands of an England or Germany.
The Greeks, who were Champions of Europe in 2004 under manager Otto Rehhagel return to the World Cup for the first time since 1994.
Many would see it as a shock if Greece were to advance to the quarterfinals considering this is only their second World Cup appearance and they have lost all three World Cup matches they have been in by a combined 10-0, but the Greeks are a defensive-minded squad that can’t be easily dissected.
Greece can easily produce a Switzerland-like run from the 2006 World Cup and even advance past the Round of 16 when paired up against a Group A advancer.
The Americans and their fan base expect a deep run in the upcoming tournament. After last summer’s Confederation’s Cup performance, USA is confident that they can compete with the elite nations in the soccer world.
Drawn into Group C, USA will play England, Algeria, and Slovenia. USA usually thrives in the underdog role, so the Americans must get a result against the English in their opening match.
After that they will be favorites in their final two group stage fixtures, where it can easily become 1998 all over again with Algeria and Slovenia playing the Yugoslavia and Iran role.
With a strong Tim Howard between the posts and the experienced captain Carlos Bocanegra leading the defense, USA hopes that Onyewu can get in form quickly or the Americans may run thin in the back line.
Bradley brings the grit in the midfield with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey left to provide the crucial role of forming an attack from the midfield, but USA’s destiny my lay in the hands of its young, strong striker Jozy Altidore.
USA has the fight in them to squeeze past the group stage if they play to their potential. It also helps that the Americans aren’t on European soil, where they have disappointed time after time.
If they avoid Germany in the round of 16, there is no reason to doubt a confident American side from reaching the quarters, but after that the USA run would come to an end.
The Socceroos are looking to build upon an impressive performance in World Cup 2006, where they were eliminated in the Round of 16 in last second fashion against the Italian side that went on to win the World Cup.
Australia casually strolled through their qualification under manager Pim Veerbeek. They will return and depend on some very familiar names in Schwarzer, Neill, Cahill, and Kewell.
The Aussies were drawn into Group D, which can easily be labeled the most competitive group in the tournament. The Germans will be the favorites; The Serbs will be the sleepers, and Ghana will one of Africa’s top threats to make a run in the tournament.
The Socceroos can easily finish at the bottom of this group, but if all goes well for the Aussies they can push themselves into an impressing second place finish.
Their relentless personality and tough style of play would also give them the ability to storm past any Group C opponent they draw in the Round of 16 aside from England.
So Australia can hope for another prime showing on the world’s stage and take it a step further this time around to achieve a quarterfinal berth.
In the 2006 World Cup, when they competed as Serbia and Montenegro, they finished dead last in the tournament.
But Serbia is out to prove themselves this time around after qualifying for the first time as an independent nation. Serbia impressed by topping their group that included France.
Serbia is lead by two veterans in Dejan Stankovic and Nemanja Vidic. Manager Radomir Antic is looking to continue on his very successful start and hoping to do it at this summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
But Beli Orlovi didn’t catch a break in drawing into Group D with Germany, Australia, and Ghana.
Serbia has the talent and squad to compete with this very ready for action group. If Serbia is mentally prepared and organized as a side they can definitely place in their group and advance to the knockout stages.
Once in the round of 16 Serbia will hope to avoid the English, as they would likely be favored over any of the other three nations from Group C. After a win over USA, Algeria, or Slovenia, Serbia’s respectable run would come to an end.
The Black Stars handled qualifying with ease and now look to build from their 2006 World Cup debut. In 2006’s tournament Ghana managed to advance from their tough group before being eliminated by Brazil in the round of 16.
Ghana was done no favors at the World Cup draw, as they were grouped with Germany, Serbia, and Australia in Group D.
Manager Milovan Rajevac, a Serb himself, was dealt a recent crushing blow with the news that Michael Essien will not be able to take part in this summer’s World Cup. This certainly puts a dent in the Ghanaian midfield and lifts the pressure to perform on Appiah and Muntari.
The Ghanaians are another African nation bound to take advantage of the continental home field. This should give them the slight advantage to fight past the tough Serbian and Australian sides to advance to the knockout stages.
Once through to the Round of 16, Ghana is more than capable of disposing any Group C opponent other than England with relative ease.
So the placing of the two groups will be key, but after a Round of 16 victory Ghana will likely be outdone by a classier more complete squad and send the Ghanaians home with their heads held high.
Denmark will be appearing in their fourth World Cup this summer in South Africa. They have advanced past the group stage in all three of their previous showings and they don’t plan on altering that pattern at all this time around.
Manager Morton Olsen’s squad was impressive in qualifying, winning their group that included Portugal and Sweden.
Drawn into Group E, Denmark looks to have a battle ahead of them with a strong Dutch side and tough Cameroon squad competing with them.
Denmark has the toughness and fight to push Holland for a draw in the initial match and they must assure themselves of a point for Cameroon in their second match too.
The Olsen Gang will then most likely need a win over the Japanese, which they are more than capable of producing to grab one of the top two spots in the group.
Once through the group stage, Denmark has the squad to take down any nation from Group F other then the Italians. Once through to the quarterfinals, Denmark’s run to glory would come to an end.
The Indomitable Lions are commonly known as Africa’s most successful soccer nation and South Africa 2010 seems like the best opportunity to add to their reputable resume.
Group E won’t be an easy group for Cameroon to advance out of with Holland and Denmark standing in their way. It doesn’t help that there is some inner-squad animosity with the Eto’o threat to walk away from the squad do to heavy criticisms from Cameroon legend Roger Milla.
Cameroon is going to need Eto’o if they plan on maximizing their potential to succeed at this summer’s World Cup.
If the Indomitable Lions do manage to top Denmark in the battle for the second advancing spot from the group they will also have to hope to avoid Italy in the round of 16.
Cameroon has the squad to eliminate either of Paraguay or Slovakia, but once in the quarterfinals Cameroon’s special run will come to an end.
La Albirroja come into this summer’s World Cup after impressing in the CONMEBOL qualification zone. They defeated each of the other four nations that qualified from their zone (including Brazil and Argentina) and look to ride this confidence into South Africa this summer.
Paraguay boasts an experienced side in defense and a legit goal scoring threat in Roque Santa Cruz up front to compete with the world’s best in this upcoming tournament.
This South American nation is prepared to put together one of their finest showings ever in this summer’s FIFA World Cup.
Paraguay has never advanced to the quarterfinals in their history and with the right matchups this squad can be the first in its nation’s history to do so.
Paraguay should edge out Slovakia for the second advancing spot from Group F and then a Round of 16 match against any nation other then the Netherlands and they will have a great opportunity to be Quarterfinalists for the first time.
The Slovakians enter this summer’s World Cup as a sleeper squad, who if looked past can make any nation pay the price.
This will be Slovakia’s first World Cup appearance as an independent nation after qualifying by topping their group that included Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Poland.
Team captain and Slovakia’s most talented player is Marek Hamsik, who happens to play his club football in Napoli. Another well-known, talented player from this Slovakian side is defender Martin Skrtel who has made a name for himself at Liverpool.
Group F is certain to challenge this Slovakian squad, but a well-prepared side that catches a break here and there can honestly make a run to the Quarterfinals if they avoid a strong Dutch side in the round of 16.
The Dutch squad enters the FIFA World Cup roaring after qualifying with ease. Holland was a perfect 8-0-0, outscoring their competition 17-2.
Oranje will arrive at this tournament still living up to the reputation of their beautiful free flowing style of play. But this time they want to leave the World Cup with trophy in hand rather then empty hands with compliments.
The Dutch will be led by in form by match changers like Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. These two players have been playing phenomenal for their clubs, but will they be able to transform their form to the international stage together?
Other key contributors for Holland will be captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who will anchor the defense; Mark van Bommel, who will provide stability to the midfield; and Robin van Persie, who will provide the finishing from his rocket left foot up front.
The Netherlands is clear favorites in Group E with Cameroon, Denmark, and Japan.
Though the Dutch side can match any nation with talent and flare, do they have the organization and mentality to advance deep through the knockout stages when the going gets tough?
Once in the knockout stages The Netherlands will be put to the test. Look for the Dutch to look spectacular throughout the first four or so matches, but just when they get labeled as serious favorites they will be ousted by a more organized and disciplined nation.
Les Elephants qualified in style for their second World Cup appearance as they coasted through the CAF zone without a defeat on their record.
After a respectable showing in the 2006 tournament Ivory Coast has only grown and gained more experience for this African version of the World Cup.
The squad is filled up and down with talent and this nation is clearly the biggest threat of an African side lifting the trophy in July.
Up front, they are led by the goal scoring force of Didier Drogba, while the Toure brothers will provide the fight in the midfield and defense. Other big names that fill the roster are Eboue, Zakora, Keita, and Kalou.
Cote d’Ivoire didn’t receive any favors from the draw again this time around, as they were grouped with Brazil and Portugal. But Ivory Coast has the potential and more comfortable conditions to likely top Portugal in the race for the second spot in Group G.
Once into the knockout stages, it would be ideal for Les Elephants to avoid the Spanish in the round of 16. If they end up drawing sides like Chile, Denmark, and Paraguay they can easily be the surprising African run to the semifinals.
World Cup Final: A Step Too Short
The Germans are no strangers to success at the World Cup, and despite their critics Germany has the history and mental toughness to beat any nation in the world.
The three-time World Cup Champions are as sure of a bet as there is at the World’s most prestigious tournament. They have reached the semifinals in 11 of their 16 appearances at the World Cup.
Germany finished in third place in the 2006 World Cup, which they hosted, and lost in the Final at Euro 2008 before breezing through their qualifying group heading into South Africa 2010.
Manager Joachim Low was dealt a late harsh blow with the news of captain and most experienced midfielder Michael Ballack being ruled out of this summer’s tournament.
Newly appointed captain Lahm and central defender Mertesacker will lead the defense. An inexperienced major tournament keeper will fill the goalkeeper position, as they three keepers combine for eight caps.
The midfield seems to lack a pinch due to the Ballack deficiency, which puts massive pressure on Schweinsteiger. Up front, the Germans will need a burst of form from one of their big named attackers. Klose, Podolski, and Gomez desperately need to regain form, and Muller lacks experience.
Despite being drawn into what can be called the group of death in Group D with Australia, Serbia, and Ghana, the Germans should still win their group, though it will be far from easy.
In the knockout stages, Germany will not be intimidated by any nation that steps on the pitch with them.
It may be a sin to not label Germany as a legit title contender due to their past and history of machine-like results no matter the obstacle, but with the Ballack absence and out of form strikers, it just seems that Germany would lack that final bite to win the whole tournament.
Diego Maradona’s squad is one that is sure to play open, free flowing, attacking futbol behind the brilliance of Lionel Messi and in-form striker Diego Milito. The depth of attackers is also a problem every nation wishes they had, with Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, and Gonzalo Higuain on top of that.
Argentina was drawn into Group B with Nigeria, Greece, and Korea Republic. La Albiceleste are the runaway favorites to top the group, and barring a disaster they should do it in rather comfortable fashion.
Some may see it as a sin not to have Argentina as a true World Cup title contender, but there is reasoning behind doubting the mighty Argentines and it begins with the manager.
Maradona is known for being the legendary player that some may call the best ever, but his managerial decisions are a completely different matter. His exclusions of Cambiasso and Zanetti are inexcusable and others feel Lisandro Lopez’s omission to be just as harsh.
Even after looking past these exclusions, the Argentine back line leaves much to be desired. Aside from a dependable Walter Samuel not one of these defenders can be trusted to keep elite strikers from finding the back of the net in the late stages of the World Cup.
No disrespect to Argentina, as they are the fourth most successful nation in football history and one of the favorites for this summer’s World Cup, but their talent in attack will only be able to take them so far. Once they reach the quarterfinals or later they will eventually be knocked out by a better managed, more organized, and complete squad.
Seleccao das Quinas enter the 2010 World Cup eager for redemption after being eliminated in the last World Cup a step short of the final.
Qualifying was a bit of a scare for the Portuguese, as they needed results in each of their final five qualifiers and they still needed to overcome Bosnia-Herzegovina in a playoff to qualify.
Portugal is lead by their captain Cristiano Ronaldo. The pacey, skilled goal scorer is recognized as one of the world’s finest footballers. His form will be crucial if he wants to guide his nation to glory.
Other key contributors to this Portuguese squad will be Ferreira, Carvalho, and Bruno Alves in defense, Pepe and Deco in the midfield, and Simao and Nani in attack.
Drawn into the “Group of Death,” Portugal will have to compete with Brazil and Ivory Coast for the two advancing places in Group G.
Portugal clearly has the talent and roster to go deep in the tournament. They will need to be at the top of their form in order to get much needed results against Brazil and Ivory Coast.
If they manage to survive the tough group stage they will surely ride a wave of momentum especially if they avoid Spain in the round of 16.
Though extremely talented, this Portuguese squad seems to lack that certainty in the defense and goalkeeper position to lift the trophy this summer. It is also a concern that they may be too reliant on Ronaldo.
Once in the late stages of the World’s finest tournament, nations will find the right formula to contain the Portuguese attack and this will prevent them from reaching their ultimate goal, but not stop them from coming mighty close.
World Cup Glory: The True Title Contenders
The English have only advanced past the quarterfinals twice in World Cup history, but under Italian manager Fabio Capello, look for England to make the most of their talented squad this time around in South Africa 2010.
Capello brings some organization and a master tactician’s technique to side that has the ingredients to win it all if the cards fall in place.
The Three Lions boast an experienced side that breezed through qualifying. Terry and Ferdinand will anchor the defense. Lampard, Gerrard, Carrick, and Barry will execute in the midfield, and Rooney and Defoe will be a constant threat in attack.
England was drawn into a favorable Group C containing USA, Algeria, and Slovenia. A win in their opening match against the Americans would be ideal for the English to cruise past the group stage.
The English are sure to advance past the group stage and hope to avoid Germany in the Round of 16 match. If England can then manage to avoid Argentina in the quarters, they can get through to the semifinals without having to play an elite nation.
Not that England can’t handle an elite nation, as they certainly will have to dispose of two or three if they plan on achieving glory for the second time in World Cup history.
South Africa 2010 is clearly the best opportunity England has had to win the World Cup in decades. If Wayne Rooney stays healthy and a goalkeeper steps up for England, there is no reason to not see the possibility of them lifting the Cup when all is said and done in July.
This highly doubted Italian squad may not have the fancy names in attack and the critics might consider them old, but no one can distrust manager Marcello Lippi’s genius and team-first mentality.
After conquering the world in 2006, the Italians aren’t be given any respect heading into South Africa 2010 and that is just way they like it. Just like in 2006, nobody is picking the Azzurri to repeat their run to glory and that might be just the motivation they need.
Italia returns nine players from the 2006 World Cup champion squad, with five of them to be certain contributors in this summer’s tournament also.
Fabio Cannavaro, the captain, returns back to the grandest stage where he performed as well as any defender could dream to execute on way to lifting the trophy. Gianluigi Buffon returns between the posts to reestablish himself as the best keeper in the world. Andrea Pirlo returns to bring his playmaking midfield ability to the forefront on a squad that will need his contributions desperately.
Daniele De Rossi will partner up with Pirlo in the midfield and will also have high expectations to perform. Alberto Gilardino will get the most action as the lone front man, but if he gets off to a slow start look for Giampaolo Pazzini to step into his role.
Other newcomers to the World Cup that are certain to be vital in Italia’s World Cup run are Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio.
Italia is drawn into Group F with Paraguay, Slovakia, and New Zealand. This may seem like an easy group for the Italians at first glance, but a solid Slovakia side gets New Zealand first and Paraguay and Italia are likely to have to battle from behind to win this group.
The Azzurri are still favorites to win the group and no matter what nation they line up against in the knockout stages they will never be intimidated or overmatched.
This Italian squad is led by master tactician Marcello Lippi and he is sure to have his side well prepared and ready to fight and scratch together as one unit to complete their mission to repeat as Campiones del mondo.
FIFA has them ranked No. 1 in the rankings going into the South Africa 2010 for a reason. This Brazilian squad not only packs in the talent, but under manager Dunga they also bring a strong mentality and more conservative approach.
The Selecao finished atop the CONMEBOL qualification zone and won the 2009 Confederations Cup. This has Brazil as confident as ever in their journey to win their sixth World Cup title.
The Samba Kings may be without famous names like Ronaldhino, Pato, Adriano, and Ronaldo this time around, but Dunga makes up for it with a more organized team style of play.
Julio Cesar will be between the posts looking to establish himself as the best goalkeeper in the world after a successful season of club football at Inter. The defense in front of him will also consist of some extreme talents in Inter teammates Lucio and Maicon along with Juan, Daniel Alves, and Thiago Silva.
Many Brazilian supporters feel they lack in the normally deep attacking corps. Much reliance will be on Kaka, Robinho, and the goal scoring Luis Fabiano.
Brazil was drawn into Group G with Portugal and Ivory Coast, and despite being labeled the favorites to win it all it is not automatic that they will advance from their group for the first time in over 20 years.
That being said, the Brazilians will likely win the group and be favorites in every match they play up to the final if they continue to advance.
Some may not view Brazil as entertaining as they have been in previous World Cups, but this doesn’t decrease their ability to win the competition in any way.
Dunga brings a more physical and ordered approach that makes Brazil more than just the skill and flare, but focused on defense and hard work in the midfield.
It may take a while to get used to the new Dunga-style Brazil squad, but after a few wins and a likely deep run into the tournament, Brazil supporters will be awaiting a trip to their fourth final in the past five World Cups.
Champions of Europe just two summers ago, this Spanish side might be the squad to finally push Spain through to their first World Cup title.
La Furia Roja clobbered their competition in qualifying winning all 10 of their matches and topping their group in style, while outscoring their opponents 28-5 in the process.
Spain boasts a complete squad filled with elite talent that finally may also have the mentality to breakthrough the ceiling that has held back Spain throughout history.
Captain Iker Casillas will guard the goal and the strong defense in front of him will include big names like Puyol, Pique, and Sergio Ramos. The talent continues to overflow in the midfield and up front also. The midfield boasts names like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, and Alonso.
If that weren’t enough Spain now also contains three strikers in Fernando Torres, David Villa, and newcomer Pedro Rodriguez.
Drawn into Group H, Spain is a big time favorite over Chile, Switzerland, and Honduras.
The Spanish are certain to top their group, and once in the knockout stages they will likely to be the favorite in any matchup they draw.
They certainly will be put to the test immediately after the group stage, as they are likely to face off against Brazil, Portugal, or Ivory Coast in the round of 16 and Italy in the quarterfinals.
If they advance beyond this point their confidence will be sky high and they will clearly have earned their way to their first Final appearance.
If Torres, Iniesta, and Fabregas can prove to be fit and in form in time for the knockout stage there is no reason why Spain can’t win it all.