World Cup 2010 Preview & Predictions

world cup south africaWith 32 nations set to take the pitch on the world’s biggest stage, all eyes will be on South Africa for the 2010 World Cup of Soccer, which begins June 11 when the host country takes on Mexico.  This year’s edition has several big names, numerous rising stars, and the usual powerhouse contenders all vying for the opportunity to raise that coveted trophy above their heads and send their nation into a frenzy.  It can be tough keeping track of all 32 teams involved in the tournament, so here is a pre-tournament analysis to help you decipher the contenders from the pretenders.

This preview is sorted out group-by-group, with an analysis of each team (and a player to watch from each), followed by a final outlook for each group and who we believe will advance to the round of 16.  At then end, we break down the knockout stage (predicting the winners of each game up until the finals), and provide our picks for some of the tournament’s individual awards.

A month of world class football like this only comes around once every four years, so enjoy it now because 2014 is a long way away.

World Cup Preview Group AGroup A: France, Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay

France: The French head into South Africa in terrible form, having barely qualified for the tournament (doing so thanks to Thierry Henry’s controversial handball during  a playoff against Ireland) and losing their final pre-tournament warm-up to a Chinese team that failed to qualify for the World Cup.  However, the French have been here before, and they do enter as the defending runner-ups this time around.  If they can get things together, they do have what it takes to get back there again, but if not, it could be a quick exit for Raymond Domenech and company.

Player to watch: Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)

Mexico: In Mexico, we have a team that always seems to get by the group stage, but can never make it much further.  They finished second to the USA in CONCACAF qualifying and looked good in their last international friendly against defending champions Italy.  If their young stars can shine bright, expect El Tri’s World Cup to last a little longer than usual.

Player to watch:   Carlos Vela (Arsenal)

South Africa: As the host country, the Bafana Bafana will have the support of their fans behind them, but that didn’t seem to help at the 2009 Confederations Cup as they finished in fourth place, managing only one victory (over New Zealand) in four games.  With that being said, they do come into the tournament on quite the roll, having yet to lose a game in 2010.  The competition hasn’t been the greatest, but their six wins and four draws do include a 1-0 victory over Denmark in their latest friendly.

Player to watch:  Katlego Mphela (Mamelodi Sundowns)

Uruguay:  If there is one thing that Uruguay should not be hard pressed for, it is goals.  The South Americans go into South Africa with two premier strikers up front in Diego Forlan and Luis Suárez.  If the Athletico Madrid and Ajax strikers can find the back of the net on a regular basis, their opponents will be hard pressed to keep pace with them.  However, doing so will not be impossible against Uruguay’s questionable back line.

Player to watch:  Maxi Pereira (Benfica)

Group Outlook: This Group may turn out to be closer than many would initially believe, especially if France continues to struggle.  However, expect Les Blues to do enough to make it through on top of this group, with Mexico accompanying them in the second round.  Advancing: Mexico, France

World Cup Preview Group BGroup B: Argentina, Greece, Nigeria, South Korea

Argentina: Many predict that Argentina will be the most interesting squad at the 2010 Wold Cup.  With a charismatic coach in Diego Maradona, the world’s best player in Lionel Messi, and a rapidly rising star in Ángel Di María, there is no shortage of story lines surrounding this squad.  The main question for this team will be whether they can overcome a rough qualifying, which nearly saw them miss the big tournament, in time to win their first World Cup since 1986.

Player to watch:  Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Greece: Defense has always been the Greeks’ strength and they turned that into a European Championship in 2004, becoming one of the biggest underdogs to ever win the tournament.  This time around teams will be prepared, so don’t expect any surprises in 2010.

Player to watch: Theofanis Gekas (Hertha Berlin)

Nigeria:  After missing out on the 2006 tournament in Germany, Nigeria went undefeated through two rounds of qualifying this time around.  However, three ties in six games during the final round of qualifying kept things interesting for the Super Eagles.  They were going into South Africa as favorites to finish second in Group B, but an injury to star midfielder John Obi Mikel (out for the tournament)  might change that.

Player to watch:  Ayegbeni Yakubu (Everton)

South Korea:  Although many would consider them to be the powerhouses of Asia, not much is expected out of South Korea in this tournament.  In 2002 when they hosted the tournament, the Red Devils were able to use the hometown fans, and some biased officiating, to reach the semi-finals.  Don’t expect that magic to follow them into South Africa.

Player to watch:  Park Ji-Sung (Manchester United)

Group Outlook: It seems to be a forgone conclusion that Argentina will breeze through Group B and finish in first, but with Obi Mikel out for the tournament, second spot is anyone’s to win, or lose.  With that being said, I still expect to see the Super Eagles use the home-continent advantage and make it through to the round of 16.  Advancing: Argentina, Nigeria

World Cup Preview Group CGroup C: Algeria, England, Slovenia, United States

Algeria:  Algeria surprised many by making it to South Africa, needing a 1-0 playoff victory over Egypt to do so.  That may be just about all the glory this team receives as it makes its first World Cup appearance since 1986.  The Desert Foxes have a lack of weapons, but overlooking this gritty squad can potentially cost any team some valuable points in the group stage.

Player to watch: Nadir Belhadj (Portsmouth)

England:  After suffering the embarrassment of failing to qualify for the 2008 European Championships, England turned to coach Fabio Capello in an attempt to turn things around, and that is exactly what the Italian mastermind did.  England won nine of their ten qualifying matches and eased into the 2010 World Cup.  Now they will look to overcome the next hurdle and win their first world title since 1966.

Player to watch: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)

Slovenia:  Things looked bleak for Slovenia as they were matched up with Russia in a qualification playoff after finishing second in their group.  They lost the first game in Russia by a score of 2-1, but that single away goal, which was scored by Nejc Pecnik late in the game, would prove to be a crucial one.  They would beat the Russians 1-0 in their second match at home, and advance to the World Cup on away goals.  Just don’t expect the fairy tale to continue in South Africa.

Player to watch:   Robert Koren (West Bromwich)

United States:  The U.S.A. were dominant in qualifying and with the MLS continuing to grow, they will hope that their game can do the same at the international level.  They continue to develop young stars like Jozy Altidore and Maurice Edu, and a relatively easy draw has many believing that it is time for the USA to take the next step on the world stage.

Player to watch: Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)

Group Outlook:  There should be nothing preventing the Americans and England from advancing out of Group C, which means that their opening game on June 12 may very well decide who will earn the top spot in this group.  Advancing: England, United States

World Cup Preview Group DGroup D: Australia, Germany, Ghana, Serbia

Australia:  The Australians had an impressive showing at the 2006 World Cup, making it out of the opening round only to lose to eventual champions Italy on a late penalty shot.  This time around the Socceroos may not be as successful, having drawn what many are calling “the real group of death.”

Player to watch:  Tim Cahill (Everton)

Germany:  Take a look at their track record and it is not hard to see that the Germans are just about as consistent a team as you will find on the world stage.  Having suffered tragic defeats to Italy at home during a 2006 World Cup semi-final match and Spain in the 2008 Euro Championship final, you can always count on the DFB-Eleven to make some noise.  They will have to do so this time around without the services of Michael Ballack, but with several young stars expected to break-out in South Africa, it may be yet another long run for Germany.

Player to watch:  Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)

Ghana:  It appears to be the same story over and over for Africa’s top teams; great expectations dashed by a key injury.  For Ghana, they will have to do without the services of Chelsea star Michael Essien.  They do have 2006’s successful campaign to look back on, when they made it through to the second round of the tournament after defeating the USA by a score of 2-1, but with Essien out it may be tough to repeat that success.

Player to watch:  Sulley Muntari (Inter)

Serbia:  Many have Serbia penciled in as their dark horse of the tournament, and after securing a 4-3 victory over Cameroon in their final tune-up before heading to South Africa, it appears as though they are ready to live up to such expectations.  The Serbs rely on a strong defense, and if 19-year-old Valencia striker Nikola Zigic can find the back of the net up front, they may quickly turn in their “dark horse” label for one that says “contender.”

Player to watch: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)

Group Outlook:  Many have pegged Group G as the “Group of Death”, but I would beg to differ.  Group D has all the makings of a classic battle, with every team seemingly having what it takes to move on to the round of 16.  However, in the end you can expect Germany to finish on top and continue their streak, which has seen them qualify for the knockout round at every World Cup since 1938.  As for second place in the group, expect Serbia to shine and provide the Group C winner with a rather difficult match in the round of 16.  Advancing: Germany, Serbia

World Cup Preview Group EGroup E:  Cameroon, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands

Cameroon:  With Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria each getting hit hard by the injury bug, Cameroon has become many people’s choice as Africa’s best chance to make some noise in this tournament.  Led by the likes of Inter’s Samuel Eto’o, and Arsenal’s Alex Song, Les Lions have the difference makers needed to make a strong run in South Africa.

Player to watch: Pierre Webo (Mallorca)

Denmark:  The Danes have the skill level and style of play that can create problems for any opponent.  They come in having lost back-to-back friendlies to Australia and South Africa, but if goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and defender Daniel Agger can get fit and stay healthy, the round of 16 and beyond may become a very real possibility

Player to watch: Nicklas Bendtner (Arsenal)

Japan:  It is very likely that the biggest impact Japan will have on this World Cup is their part in the Didier Drogba injury.  The Ivory Coast star was injured in a pre-tournament warm-up game against the Samurai Blue, after being on the wrong end of a Tulio Tanaka challenge.  They do have the potential to turn a few heads, but in a group that boasts three strong teams, it seems like Japan will be the odd squad out in 2010.

Player to watch:  Shunsuke Nakamura (Espanyol)

Netherlands:  The Flying Dutchmen come into this tournament as a top contender as usual, but all too often they seem to start quick and flame out early.  They will hope that South Africa 2010 is a different story and a healthy Arjen Robben will be a necessity in order for that to be the case.  Their group will not be a pushover, but they should be able to get through to the round of 16.  It is what they do from there which will determine whether this tournament is a success, or not.

Player to watch: Wesley Sneijder (Internazionale)

Group Outlook:  Thanks to yet another hot start, Holland should finish on top of Group E, but the second seed will be up for grabs.  The crucial game will be played on June 19 between Denmark and Cameroon.  Expect Cameroon to come out on top of that one and move on.  Advancing:  Netherlands, Cameroon

World Cup Preview Group FGroup F:  Italy, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia

Italy:  Coming in with the label of “defending champions,” the Azzurri will hope that history can repeat itself.  Unfortunately, their recent difficulties in friendlies against Mexico and Switzerland have many doubting whether they can regain the form they showed in 2006.  The omission of Francesco Totti and an injury to Andrea Pirlo may leave them with a lack of play-makers up front, but the Italians always seems to find a way to win behind a strong back line and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.  If those two ingredients can hold strong, they can challenge for another title.  If not, it will be a World Cup hangover for the Italians in South Africa.

Player to watch: Daniele De Rossi (Roma)

New Zealand:  When it comes to teams that should just be happy to be in South Africa, New Zealand is definitely one of them.  They qualified out of Oceania where the competition is less than mediocre, but now it is on to the big boys.  They did draw into a division that could seem them possibly steal a point, but even that may be too much to ask of the All Whites.

Player to watch:  Shane Smeltz

Paraguay:  The Guaraníes have not had all that much success in their previous trips to the World Cup, but this time around their prospects appear to be brighter than usual.  Being drawn into a rather weak group, they appear to be front-runners for a coveted second place finish, and can even surprise Italy for the top spot.  However, they will need their star-studded attack to be in top form in order to do so.

Player to watch:  Roque Santa Cruz (Manchester City)

Slovakia:  With Martin Skrtel’s health up in the air, so too are Slovakia’s chances at getting past the first round at the 2010 World Cup.  The Liverpool defender was injured in a pre-tournament warm-up against Costa Rica and was taken to the hospital for scans.  However, reports indicate that he should be ready for their opener against New Zealand

Player to watch: Marek Hamsik (Napoli)

Group Outlook:  The Italians may not be in top form going into their opener against Paraguay, but their experience and skill-level should be enough to see them come out on top of this division.  As for second place, look for Paraguay to edge out the Slovaks in a tight battle.  Advancing: Italy, Paraguay

World Cup Preview Group GGroup G:  Brazil, Ivory Coast, North Korea, Portugal

Brazil:  When it comes to World Cup victories, no country is as highly regarded as Brazil with their five.  Many believe that this team will be unlike the Samba Kings that we have become accustomed to over the years, with the likes of Ronaldinho and Ronaldo absent.  The strength of Dunga’s 2010 squad is expected to be in their defense, anchored by Internazionale’s Maicon and Lúcio.  Just don’t be surprised to see the likes of Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano filling the net, much like the great Brazilian teams of the past.

Player to watch: Dani Alves (Barcelona)

Ivory Coast:  Many have written Les Éléphants off after Didier Drogba suffered a broken arm in a pre-tournament warm-up with Japan, but there is more to this squad than just the Chelsea striker.  With the likes of Emmanuel Eboué, Didier Zokora and Salomon Kalou spread throughout the pitch, they still have the skill necessary to come out of a tough Group G.

Player to watch:  Yaya Touré (Barcelona)

North Korea:  Perhaps no team had a worse draw than North Korea.  Being faced with the task of taking on Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal is as unforgiving as it gets.  Even a miracle couldn’t save them here.  A single point would be considered a great success.

Player to watch:  Ri Myong-Guk (he’s the goalie and he is going to be busy)

Portugal:  They have one of the top players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, but he, much like his country, has never been able to excel on the world stage.  Portugal did come close in 2006, but that tune is becoming all too familiar.  With another Golden Generation seemingly taking over where the last one left off, the nation’s fans are looking for a title sooner rather than later.

Player to watch:  Liédson (Sporting Lisbon)

Group Outcome:  The so called “Group of Death” may find its most important game to be its first, when the Ivory Coast and Portugal square off on June 15.  Even Brazil will not be assured a spot in the next round if they are not at their best, but expect them to be in top form, and on top of this division, with the Ivory Coast finishing behind them.  Advancing: Brazil, Ivory Coast

World Cup Preview Group HGroup H:  Chile, Honduras, Spain, Switzerland

Chile:  They are surely not the best team in the tournament, but with a knack for bulging the twine, Chile may be one of the more entertaining squads in South Africa.  With the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Humberto Suazo up front, this team should be able to fill the net .  They will need to if they wish to keep up with Spain.

Player to watch:  Mark González (CSKA Moscow)

Honduras:  Winless in their last five matches going into the World Cup, it is unlikely that Honduras will break out of that slump in South Africa.  They were barely able to beat out Costa Rica for the final CONCACAF qualifying spot, and will be heavily outmatched by all three of their opponents in the opening round of the tournament.  Expect it to be a quick one for Honduras.

Player to watch:  David Suazo (Genoa)

Spain:  The Spaniards enter South Africa as the World Cup favorites, but owning up to that title will not be easy.  However, they clearly have what it takes to succeed, with players like Xavi, Fernando Torres, Andrés Iniesta and Carles Puyol having already led their country to a European Championship two years earlier.  With a line-up that is deep at every position, even injuries may not be able to slow down this lethal Spanish side.

Player to watch:  David Villa (Barcelona, recently from Valencia)

Switzerland:  The Swiss proved that they could defend, allowing only eight goals against in ten qualification matches, but they will need to score if they expect to challenge the likes of Spain and Chile.  With that being said, the question becomes whether Alexander Frei and company can bury enough goals for Switzerland to go on?

Player to watch: Tranquillo Barnetta (Bayern Leverkusen)

Group Outcome:  Spain should be able to walk away from group action unscathed.  As for the team accompanying them in the round of 16, those honors will likely go to the high-scoring Chileans.  Advancing:  Spain, Chile

Knockout Round:

world cup final bracket

Final – Spain Vs. Brazil: It will be a battle between the top two teams coming into the tournament, as each side will use their talent to reach the final in Johannesburg on July 11.  However, in the end it will be the solid defense of Brazil, led by goalkeeper Júlio César, that will give the Samba Kings their sixth World Cup title.  Final score: Brazil 2, Spain 1

Individual Awards:

Golden Ball (Tournament MVP) – Xavi, Spain
Golden Boot (Most Goals) – Luis Fabiano, Brazil
Best Young Player – Carlos Vela, Mexico
Yashin Award (Best Goalkeeper) – Júlio César, Brazil

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