It's time to evaluate the chances of all nations to win the world cup. That eliminates all the second, third and fourth pot winners. Based on the history of football, no team ranked below ninth has a chance to win the World Cup. It would be nice, for instance, to see an African country winning the cup. But in reality, this will not happen.
Based on the current FIFA rankings and the criteria set out above, this leaves:
First of all, let's evaluate Portugal.
How in God's creation is Portugal ranked third in the world? Taking a closer look at the setup of this team will reveal that they has no chance of succeeding or winning the cup. They might not even make it out of the first round, given that they are in the Group of Death with Brazil and Ivory Coast.
In the past year, Portugal has not met, much less beaten, a true-quality opponent. Albania, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Hungary, Malta, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Mozambique and Bosnia: None of these names scream quality.
Carlos Queiroz is a bright manager, having worked alongside Sir Alex Ferguson. So, one would assume he would have learned a thing or two about winning and being a sore loser. His 12 wins in 19 games are very good, and this may be the strength of this team, a methodical manager with some tactical nous.
Lets look at the squad list:
Goalkeepers: Eduardo (Braga), Daniel Fernandes (Iraklis), Beto (Porto).
Defenders: Miguel (Valencia), Paulo Ferreira (Chelsea), Ricardo Carvalho (Chelsea), Bruno Alves (Porto), Rolando (Porto), Ricardo Costa (Lille), Duda (Malaga), Fabio Coentrao (Benfica).
Midfielders: Pedro Mendes (Sporting), Pepe (Real Madrid), Tiago (Atletico Madrid), Deco (Chelsea), Raul Meireles (Porto), Miguel Veloso (Sporting), Ruben Amorim, (Benfica)
Forwards: Simao Sabrosa (Atletico Madrid), Danny (Zenit St Petersburg), Liedson (Sporting), Hugo Almeida (Werder Bremen), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
I'm sorry, but not even 11 Ronaldo's can help this squad. With no recognized go-to striker and no quality goalkeeper, this will be a tall order for the Portuguese.
If they do happen to make it through to the second round, they will most likely face a very talented Spain team, who may be too strong for Portugal to defeat. So Portugal is no-go.
Next victim: France
France got in with a helping hand in more than one way (first the seeding for the qualifiers were botched, then the blatant double-dribble by Henry).
But that aside, can France actually win the cup?
Since we examined the coach of Portugal, lets look at the managerial record of Raymond Domenech.
Domenech is hated by the French media, and maybe even the fans. But he did get them to the 2006 World Cup Final, where he narrowly lost on penalty kicks. But there was a little man known as Zizou. And until Zizou was laying well, this machine did not function well.
There is no Zizou this time around.
Ribery, in my estimation, is overrated, and Zizou's boots are big boots to fill, which may be too big for Gourcuff. But the French are fast becoming a hit-or-miss team. If they hit, they will get far, and their road to the semis is not difficult, featuring possible meetings with Argentina in the second round and England in the semifinals.
A recent loss to China has to put an asterisk on the French.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Olympique Lyon), Steve Mandanda(Olympique Marseille), Cedric Carrasso (Girondins Bordeaux)
Defenders: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), William Gallas (Arsenal), Eric Abidal (Barcelona), Sebastien Squillaci (Sevilla), Marc Planus (Girondins Bordeaux), Gael Clichy(Arsenal), Anthony Reveillere (Olympique Lyon)
Midfielders: Alou Diarra(Girondins Bordeaux), Jeremy Toulalan (Olympique Lyon), Florent Malouda (Chelsea), Yoann Gourcuff (Girondins Bordeaux), Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
Forwards: Thierry Henry (Barcelona), Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Toulouse), Sidney Govou (Olympique Lyon), Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos), Mathieu Valbuena (Olympique Marseille)
Looking at the squad, it is filled with quality: The best left back in the world in Patrice Evra, experience in Henry, Gallas and Govou and upcoming talent in Gourcuff and Gignac.
However, even though I said not to rule-out the French, I don't think they will find their mojo fast enough. They didn't find it in 2002, neither did they in Euro 2008, and I think 2010 will be the same thing. They struggled to put the ball in the net against a Chinese team full of pride, but full of less than half average footballers.
France is a no-go.
Next up: England
Every year we hear from the English media, "Its our best chance to win a trophy since 1966." It always is, because you haven't won anything since 1966, and quite frankly, I'm getting tired of hearing it.
However, unlike ever other year, they have a manager who cares more about the team than any individual player. Fabio Capello is not the type of coach/manager to play someone who is killing his team, no matter how highly rated he is, prime example being David Beckham.
And he is not afraid to admit his mistakes, prime example being David Beckham. And at the time, who could have a bigger ego than David Beckham? Cristiano Ronaldo, maybe, but none at the time. Wherever Capello has gone, he has won: Roma, Juventus, Real Madrid, and now, England.
Rio is injured, but this may be a good thing. Rio hasn't played well this year and has been injured for most of it. They have one of the top-five best players in the world in Wayne Rooney, who has grown and shown a lot of maturity at Manchester United since the Ronaldo's departure.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), David James (Portsmouth), Robert Green (West Ham).
Defenders: Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Ledley King (Tottenham), John Terry (Chelsea), Matthew Upson (West Ham), Stephen Warnock (Aston Villa).
Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), James Milner (Aston Villa), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City).
Forwards: Peter Crouch (Tottenham), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), Emile Heskey (Aston Villa), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
England have looked weak in friendlies, but like a true Italian, Capello doesn't care about football. Capello would much rather have a scrappy, uninspiring 2-1 win, than a pretty 0-0 draw.
There is not much talent apart from Rooney up front—he is in a league of his own—but in the middle they do have Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. The two problems are who will partner John Terry in the middle? And who will be between the sticks?
I am inclined to say that England does have a chance to win in 2010, mainly because of Capello and the path to the finals.
So, England to the semifinals.
Next up: Argentina
Possibly the most talented attacking squad in the entire World Cup. Messi, Aguero, Tevez, Higauin, Milito and Di Maria. However, where is the defence? No Zanetti and no Cambiasso, but they still have Walter Samuel and Javier Mascherano.
Just like France, Argentina may be hampered by the decisions of their manager. Maradona was an excellent player, but is clearly clueless when it comes to management. His approach, if he weren't being judged in the media, could be to play all six strikers at the same time.
Maradona was recently quoted as saying he does not know his starting 11 until a couple days before the tournament begins. His squad is the most talented attacking team, yet had problems scoring in the qualifiers. He capped more than 70 players, clearly unclear as to the direction his team needs to take.
Argentina squad: Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (AZ Alkmaar), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Diego Pozo (Colon)
Defenders: Nicolas Burdisso (Inter Milan), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich), Walter Samuel (Inter Milan), Gabriel Heinze (Olympique Marseille), Nicolas Otamendi (Velez Sarsfield), Clemente Rodriguez (Estudiantes), Ariel Garce (Colon)
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Liverpool), Juan Sebastian Veron (Estudiantes), Maximiliano Rodriguez (Liverpool), Mario Bolatti (Fiorentina), Angel Di Maria (Benfica), Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle), Javier Pastore (Palermo)
Forwards: Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid), Diego Milito (Inter Milan), Martin Palermo (Boca Juniors), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Messi may be the best player in the world when playing for Barcelona, but he is quite average, or hasn't shown the same quality, when playing for Argentina. What formation is Maradona going to deploy? 4-3-3? And will he play messi-aguero-tevez or messi-milito-tevez? I would opt for the latter, just because milito offers something different than aguero—that is heigh—and this squad is very thin.
My prediciton: Argentina will not pass the quarterfinals.
Next up: Germany
Nothing inspiring from the Germans, simply write them off.
Germany is the definition of a Cup team. They know how to perform when the time is right. Ballack may be out, but he was getting old anyway, and it might be a blessing in disguise as Ozil now gets his chance to step up. No pressure on the young lad, as no one ever expects the Germans to do anything. Joachim Loew has performed well with the team and the team seems to respect him.
Goalkeepers: Joerg Butt (Bayern Munich), Manuel Neuer (Schalke), Tim Wiese (Werder Bremen)
Defenders: Dennis Aogo (Hamburger SV), Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich), Arne Friedrich (Hertha Berlin), Jerome Boateng (Hamburger SV), Marcell Jansen (Hamburger SV), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Serdar Tasci (Stuttgart).
Midfielders: Sami Khedira (Stuttgart), Toni Kroos (Bayer Leverkusen), Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Mesut Oezil (Werder Bremen), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Piotr Trochowski (Hamburger SV).
Forwards: Cacau (Stuttgart), Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich), Stefan Kiessling (Bayer Leverkusen), Miroslav Klose (Bayern Munich), Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Lukas Podolski (Cologne)
There are no stand-out stars on the German squad, but they know how to play as a team. They attack as a team and defend as a team, a great recipe for success.
I see the Germans sitting pretty in the semis alongside England.
The defending champions: Italy
This has to be Italy's weakest team in a long time.
Marcello Lippi made all the right calls, the right substitutions, and employed the right tactics in 2006. They had some luck in overcoming Australia with a controversial penalty.
But there's no doubt, Italy was the most dominant team in 2006.
On it's face, this Italian team will be lucky to beat South Africa on an off day, much less a good one. The team is poor and maybe too reliant on Andrea Pirlo, who is a fraction of the player he was in 2006. Talking about fraction, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Gattuso and Camoranesi are all past their primes.
And there is no playmaker like Totti, Del Piero or Cassano.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli), Federico Marchetti (Cagliari)
Defenders: Salvatore Bocchetti (Genoa), Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Domenico Criscito (Genoa), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Gianluca Zambrotta (AC Milan)
Midfielders: Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina), Angelo Palombo (Sampdoria), Simone Pepe (Udinese), Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan)
Forwards: Antonio Di Natale (Udinese), Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina), Vincenzo Iaquinta (Juventus), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria), Fabio Quagliarella (Napoli)
Pazzini, in my eyes, has a bright future, and could be a world-class centre forward when the next World Cup comes around. The midfield is the strongest unit of this Italian team, and they will aim to defend and hit on the counter-attack. If this is to work, Pirlo, De Rossi, and Marchisio have to be on their game. But it will require too much to get past some quality opponents.
Sorry Italy, no cigar.
That leaves, Brazil and Spain, the two best nations in football at the moment.
Brazil is a nontraditional Brazil under Dunga, who I suspect will get fired at the end of the World Cup for he cannot produce a Brazil that is full of flair. He is relatively inexperienced, but you can't get much worse than Maradona, and he has done very well. He has left out Ronaldhino and Pato, but went through the qualifiers largely unscathed and has a good unit.
The Brazilians are ranked No. 1 in the world.
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Doni (AS Roma), Gomes (Tottenham Hotspur)
Defenders: Maicon (Inter Milan), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Michel Bastos (Olympique Lyon), Gilberto (Cruzeiro), Lucio (Inter Milan), Juan (AS Roma), Luisao (Benfica), Thiago Silva (AC Milan)
Midfielders: Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos), Felipe Melo (Juventus), Ramires (Benfica), Elano (Galatasaray), Kaka (Real Madrid), Julio Baptista (Roma), Kleberson (Flamengo), Josue (VfL Wolfsburg).
Forwards: Robinho (Santos), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Nilmar (Villarreal), Grafite (VfL Wolfsburg)
The Brazilian side consists of the two best right backs in the world, which is hard to find. They are in the Group of Death, but should they avoid Spain in the second round, it should be a relatively easy road to the finals.
Spain has the most talented midfield in the whole tournament. Silva, Xavi, Alonso, Fabregas and Iniesta. There was no room for Santi Cazorla. Even the reserve forwards are extremely good, Pedro, and Fernando Llorente, whom I believe is extremely underrated, can pop up and get the odd goal as shown in the warm up matches.
Spain hasn't shown the dominance that it did up to the Confed cup, but they are still a talented squad, have a good manager at the helm, and yes, they have underachieved in the past. They have had the best squad in previous versions, but maybe, just maybe they exorcised those demons at Euro 2008.
This squad is much like that squad with the exception of two or three players, namely Marcos Senna, who was brilliant in the Championship. Busquets may be an overrated player, but if Del Bosque gets it right like Aragones did, then there will be no stopping this team from lifting the trophy.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Jose Manuel 'Pepe' Reina (Liverpool), Victor Valdes (Barcelona).
Defenders: Raul Albiol (Real Madrid), Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Joan Capdevila (Villarreal), Carlos Marchena (Valencia), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid).
Midfielders: Xabier Alonso (Real Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Javier Martinez (Athletic Bilbao), David Silva (Valencia), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Jesus Navas (Sevilla).
Forwards: Juan Manuel Mata (Valencia), Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), David Villa (Valencia)
So, there you have it, my semifinal picks:
Spain, Brazil, England and Germany, with Spain and Brazil to meet in the finals, and for Spain to come out on top.
Friday starts the greatest show on earth, lets hope this one is better than the last.