Although I'm going "old school" with these simple 2010 FIFA World Cup group stage predictions, this year's finals are everything but.
With a newfangled-atmosphere in a location that's never even come close (geographically) to a World Cup, as well as a slightly eminent feel that this summer could see several usual world powers overtaken by a few dark horses, the 2010 World Cup is very 2010.
The tournament has also done a good job creating the four-team groups for the first stage of the Cup, which will eventually cut the current-32 countries down to 16 finalists.
Each of the eight groups have at least one team in the Top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings, with only Group G holding two in Brazil and Portugal (the last top-10 team, Croatia, did not qualify). On the other end of the scale, each group also have at least one team that is unaccustomed to this stage.
However, the groups extend beyond the pure rankings of the four teams in each. Interesting match-ups for the fans to enjoy have also been put together, such as USA-England in Group B, Netherlands-Denmark in Group E, Portugal-Brazil in Group G, and Spain-Chile in Group H.
With that, the FIFA committee has clearly done an excellent job creating the best possible tournament set-up for the teams, media, and the soccer-starved fans of South Africa.
However, they've also made predictions almost impossible to agree on. I'm here to weigh in with my ideas, but I know that no one soccer/futbol fan will agree with another until they see it happening.
Notes: Each group's teams are ranked in order of finish, with the top two teams moving on to the single-elimination stage. Point totals are also predicted based on my projections for the result of each match, with wins worth three points and draws worth one point per team.
Group A kicks off the World Cup Friday with hosts South Africa taking on Mexico. However, the interesting part will be in a week later, when the standings start to fill out.
Projected No. 1: Mexico (9 points)
The youngsters from Mexico may be underdogs for now, but after issuing a brutal 3-0 defeat onto the hosts on opening day followed by a surprise 2-1 upset of ninth-ranked France, they won't be. Expect the Hispanics to quickly become a sleeper pick after sweeping through their group.
Projected No. 2: France (4 points)
The French just snuck into the World Cup past Ireland (unfairly at that), and they will continue their lucky streak by sneaking past the group stage as well. After getting held to a scoreless draw in their first game against Uruguay and then falling to Mexico, it will take a late 1-0 win over South Africa on the last day for France to advance.
Projected No. 3: Uruguay (4 points)
Despite holding two World Cup titles, Uruguay will continue their dry run on the biggest stage with a tiebreaker loss for the second advancing spot to France. Despite entering their third and final game with four points, a tough 2-0 loss to Mexico will end the Uruguayans' hope of moving on.
Projected No. 4: South Africa (0 points)
Bafana Bafana may be hosting this tournament, but it looks like their guests might be left to chow down on dinner on their own soon after the start of the party. Expect the South Africans to have trouble getting a single shot into the net throughout their total of three games.
The second group in the order brings four countries together from practically all corners of the globe, but despite their geographical differences, it could be difficult to find two teams better than the others.
Projected No. 1: Argentina (9 points)
Argentina may have struggled in South American qualifying, but their star-studded roster and Cup-winning history put the blue-and-white as the team to beat in Group B. This superiority should also be displayed prominently throughout their matches, as
I expect no team to come closer than two goals in every match.
Projected No. 2: Korea Republic/South Korea (4 points)
The Koreans may be ranked by far the lowest in the group, but their young squad is going to be tougher than most originally thought. A weekend opener against Greece may set the tone for Korea with a one-to-nil victory, and then a finishing 1-1 draw with Nigeria will seal a surprising berth for the Republic.
Projected No. 3: Nigeria (2 points)
Nigeria enter the tournament with the confidence of Africa on their shoulders, yet seem prone to come away dismayed and disappointed. A tough first game with Argentina could see them come away defeated handily, and then two ties to finish out the stage will leave the Nigerians out of luck with just two points.
Projected No. 4: Greece (1 point)
Greece may put up a noteworthy fight, but in just their second World Cup appearance ever, it appears that their lackluster attack is going to be overrun by more experienced defenders. Although they will hold their opponents scoreless into the 60th minute in all three matches, 1-0 and 2-0 losses as well as a 0-0 draw will quickly send the Grecians back to the ruins.
England and USA may be drawing all the attention in Group C for their Saturday prime time rivalry match, but in the full picture, both teams appear poised to pull away from the competition.
Projected No. 1: England (7 points)
A dramatic opening-weekend 2-2 draw with their American counterparts will set the stage for an exciting World Cup by the English, and even without two key players, should send them on their way for two consecutive two-to-zero defeats of Algeria and Slovenia, respectively.
Projected No. 2: USA (7 points)
England's path to the next stage is going to be ironically similar to their English-speaking rivals in North America. After the 2-2 tie, expect America to handle Slovenia 3-1 then scrape out a last-minute 1-0 win over Algeria to finish up in a tiebreaker with Britain.
Projected No. 3: Algeria (1 point)
Unlike the two powerhouses above them, Algeria enters their second-ever World Cup appearance without many expectations, and deservedly so. After starting the tournament with a draw with Slovenia, each squad netting one goal apiece, two back-to-back losses will send the Algerians home empty-handed.
Projected No. 4: Slovenia (1 point)
Not too differently than Algeria, Slovenia will be going back to the drawing board in a couple weeks after an unsuccessful first national Cup berth, scoring just two goals versus their opponents' six.
Sunday the 13th will get things kicked off for Group D, but the results from the two matches that day might also end up making the difference for a group with four teams that truly expect to advance.
Projected No. 1: Germany (9 points)
The clearly-favored Germans will enter the Cup with three previous championships, the only country in the group to have any at all, and should be the first to show off their dominance from the start.
After a 2-0 victory over Australia at the start, a 4-0 pummeling of Serbia and then a closing 3-1 win over Ghana will complete the perfect set for Germany, knocking them right into the middle of the list of favorites to win it all.
Projected No. 2: Australia (6 points)
The Australians enter the World Cup expecting to be dark horses in their own eyes, and may end up bringing that hope true. Their June 19th match with Ghana, their second of the tournament, is going to be the major game-changer of the fates of those two countries.
Even with a 2-0 loss behind them, both sides should have equal chances to pull it, and I believe Australia can score early and hold on for a 1-0 victory. Then, with a simple 3-1 defeat of Serbia, the Australians can, at last, pull themselves into the single-elimination bracket.
Projected No. 3: Ghana (3 points)
It appears that, despite high hopes, the start of the tournament may be a significantly more joyous time for Ghana than the end of it. Getting out of the starting gate quickly with a 2-1 victory over Serbia will help their chances, but then two consecutive losses to Australia and Germany (by a combined score of 4-1, no less) will end their appearance at the group stage.
Projected No. 4: Serbia (0 points)
The Serbians manage to qualify for the Cup often, yet it's always hard to tell which government they will be representing. This year, Serbia is left on their own, and it may just well show in their play.
The closest they'll ever come to earning a point will be an opening two-to-one defeat, but then two more 4-0 and 3-1 blows will knock them back to...Montenegro, perhaps?
They may be an interesting combination, but Group E is one of the toughest to determine who will advance, although none of the four teams has ever won a World Cup title.
Projected No. 1: Netherlands (7 points)
Despite being a perfect (an unbelievable) 9-0 in European qualifying, the Dutch's group stage won't be as ideal, but it will still land them first in their group.
Their first match against neighbor Denmark will see both sides stay back and get their feel for much of the game, but a late goal by the Netherlands will keep supporters happy. A 3-0 win over Japan in their second contest will raise enthusiasm even more, and that should carry over into the next stage even after a back-and-forth 2-2 draw with Cameroon.
Projected No. 2: Cameroon (5 points)
Samuel Eto'o finally has a team around him that can provide decent support, and it will pay of this summer. A 4-0 victory over Japan on the first weekend should start to put Cameroon on the radar, but then a 1-1 tie with Denmark may cool things down a bit, especially after another draw with Netherlands in their final game.
Still, Cameroon will be advancing, and that should be enough.
Projected No. 3: Denmark (2 points)
Blowing the game in the final minutes against Netherlands will start the tournament off poorly for Denmark, and it seems like it could prove almost impossible to overcome.
Two 1-1 draws in their second and third matches will send them home without accomplishing much at all this year.
Projected No. 4: Japan (1 point)
The Japanese could have a trick up their sleeves...but, from what we've seen, that looks pretty unlikely. Two absolute disasters against Netherlands (3-0) and Cameroon (4-0) will quickly turn the 2010 World Cup sour for Japan, and then a draw to finish it off won't be exactly a sweet cherry on top, either.
It's going to be hard not to follow Group F about as closely as anything this summer, as even the anchor team Italy was anything but dominant in their time leading up to the Cup.
Projected No. 1: Paraguay (6 points)
Italy's unusual insecurity is going to provide an opportunity to the other typically non-contenders in the group, and it's South America's surprise team, Paraguay, that's going to send a signal to the world of the potential "Changing of the Guard".
All of these hopes ride on their first match, however; a direct showdown with Italy. Expect the Italians to come in a bit too cocky, and feel the burn of a shocking 2-1 defeat at the hands of Paraguay.
However, it's not sealed yet. I predict their joyous celebration may just be cut short by Slovakia in Game Two, yet another team hoping their 1-0 win will be enough to contend equally with Italy. Fortunately for Paraguay, though, an effortless three-nil victory over the Kiwis will surprisingly set Paraguay up for the top seed.
Projected No. 2: Italy (4 points)
If Paraguay can pull off the upset, it'll set the worlds of Rome aflame with anger. Yet, Italy still will find away to stay alive.
Taking advantage of a slip by Paraguay in their second match, a 4-1 win over New Zealand will then set up a chance to, with some help, re-take the top slot. However, despite a late surge, a scoreless draw with Slovakia will force them to rely on their goals-scored ratio to even advance from group stage.
Projected No. 3: Slovakia (4 points)
The Slovakians may no longer be connected with the Czech, but 2010 is all about proving they can contend on their own. And, while they may do just that, it appears that Slovakia may fall just short to their European counterparts.
A disappointing 1-1 tie with New Zealand will make things difficult, and eventually it will be too big of a hole to overcome, even with a eye-opening 1-0 victory over Paraguay mid-week.
Projected No. 4: New Zealand (1 point)
Frankly, I'm not sure why the Kiwis deserve to be here over the likes of Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland, or Ecuador, and that's going to be an argument pretty well proven with New Zealand's inevitable struggles this Group Stage.
Only a simple 1-1 draw with Slovakia will give any hope as the Kiwis go back to the drawing board, trying to find a plan to return them to this stage that may not work for a long, long time.
The second-to-last group is certainly not second-to-last in the eyes of many. The place of perhaps the most intriguing matchup between A Selecao (Brazil) and A Selecao das Quinas (Portugal ), Group G is certainly going to be one of the most interesting to follow.
Projected No. 1: Brazil (7 points)
South America's top qualifier may kick things off nicely with a 3-0 win over punching-bag Korea DPR (North Korea), even if that win may be ill-advised politically, but then Brazil will have to get down to business.
Second up will be Africa's Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), who, despite their unrecognizable name, actually have quite a chance to be contenders. A zero-zero draw will bring things down to Earth again for Brazil, but a fun 1-0 win over rival Portugal will send expectations skyrocketing once more for the five-time World Cup Champion.
Projected No. 2: Portugal (6 points)
The Portuguese's first match is a crucial one to watch for just about any fan following the Cup this summer, but expect Portugal to pull away with a tense (and crucial) 2-1 triumph over Cote D'Ivoire. Then, following a relatively non-stressful two-goal victory over DPR, they'll be all set for a match with Brazil that could finish off a perfect stage.
However, those things may just not be meant to be. An early goal by Brazil will prove to be insurmountable despite a wild second half, and Portugal will have to settle for second.
Projected No. 3: Cote D'Ivoire (4 points)
Once again, like many other African countries this summer, it appears Cote D'Ivoire may be just a little out of luck, especially with their injury problems. An opening loss to Portugal followed by a 0-0 tie with Brazil will eliminate them early, despite closing it out with a 3-1 win over Korea DPR.
Projected No. 4: Korea DPR/North Korea (0 points)
The only thing that can save Korea DPR from a winless and pointless World Cup appearance this time around may be nuclear weapons...yet, perhaps we shouldn't bring that up...
The final World Cup group brings together an interesting group of four nations. However, the race for the second advancing spot may be closer here than ever before.
Projected No. 1: Spain (9 points)
The Spaniards are once again on a search of perfection after the 2008 EURO Cup title, and this group is set up perfectly for them. Expect three consecutive wins over Switzerland (1-0), Honduras (3-0), and rival Chile (2-0), respectively, to put Spain over the top in their chase of excellence.
Projected No. 2: Switzerland (2 points)
It's almost impossible to ever see a team advance with just two points...yet, it may well happen here. In fact, after earning six points in the 2006 Cup, they may equal the performance with a far lesser amount of success.
In truth, the Swiss may be advancing due to a loss of theirs. With Spain defeating all three other teams in the group, their tight 1-0 defeat will eventually give them the goals-against tiebreaker, despite two scoreless draws with Chile, first, and then Honduras.
Projected No. 3: Chile (2 points)
After picking up two points in their first two games, a 1-1 tie with Honduras followed by a 0-0 draw with Switzerland, a final-chance two-goals-to-none defeat at the hands of Spain will once again send Chile home without moving on past Stage One.\
Projected No. 4: Honduras (2 points)
Honduras just snuck in to the Cup itself, so it's no surprise that most expect them to finish last in this group. On the contrary, though, it's not every day you see in a squad in fourth that was also tied for second.
As explained above, they may manage to sandwich a tough matchup against Spain with two point-producing games, but it just won't be enough.
Projected Knockout Stage Round-of-16 Matchups
Winner of Group A plays runner up in Group B. Winner of Group B plays runner up in Group A. Winner of Group C plays runner up of Group D...and so on.
(A1) Mexico vs. (B2) Korea Republic/South Korea
(B1) Argentina vs. (A2) France
(C1) England vs. (D2) Australia
(D1) Germany vs. (C2) USA
(E1) Netherlands vs. (F2) Italy
(F1) Paraguay vs. (E2) Cameroon
(G1) Brazil vs. (H2) Switzerland
(H1) Spain vs. (G2) Portugal
Check back later for the Knockout Round preditions once the Group Stage is concluded.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes as well as an avid follower of many other sports. In his 21 months so far with the site, he has written over 200 articles and received over 140,000 total reads.
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