As the domestic season draws to a close, football fans can enjoy the remaining few matches of the season safe in the knowledge that they will not be entering that annual three month period of depression between seasons were the weekly pilgrimage to watch your team is replaced by shopping trips with the missus and DIY around the house! The twelve weeks between May and August is naturally the longest period in the calendar but this year, just three weeks after the Champions League final in Madrid, the World Cup Kicks off in South Africa.
A total of 32 teams and 736 players will play in 64 games over the period of month with no fewer than three games per day during the opening group stages of the competition, the perfect tonic for any fan fearing they may suffer withdrawal symptoms from the beautiful game. With the only question remaining, who will win the World Cup?
Only an elite group of seven teams has won the World Cup in its 80 year history and with five of those seven winning on multiple occasions, it remains to be seen whether any other nation is capable of breaking this strangle hold at the 2010 World Cup.
Brazil (five times), Italy (four times), Germany (three times), Argentina (twice), together with France and England who have each won the tournament once, all feature prominently in the World Cup betting, occupying six of the top eight places in bookmakers lists. Spain and Holland are the other two teams who make up the leading contenders and provide the only realistic hope of an eighth team winning the competition. Uruguay is the only other nation to have won the World Cup, winning it twice, first in 1930 as host nation of the inaugural World Cup and again in 1950. However, it is difficult to see them making an impact in South Africa.
Spain are the favourites to win the tournament and many pundits World Cup tips and as such , the many believe that Vicente del Bosque’s are capable of becoming only the second team since France in 1998 to win the World Cup for the first time since Argentina won it for their first time in 1978. However, the current European Champions must overcome what is an abysmal record in the tournament despite a squad Cleary regarded as the best in the World.
The Spanish team has never progressed past the Quarter Finals of a World Cup since 1950 when they reached the semi finals. Despite qualifying for the knockout stages in five of the last six World Cups, they have always failed to move beyond the last eight, leaving huge doubts about the mental strength of the team and whether they can perform under the pressure and expectations of being favourites remains to be seen.
Throughout the team, the Spanish side oozes quality, from keeper Iker Casillas to defenders such as Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos and a midfield including Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso, not forgetting the World Class strike partnership of David Villa and Fernando Torres. All these players play at the highest level domestically and between them, have won just about every major honour European football has to offer but it is also the same set of players who failed to get past the round of 16 in Germany four years ago.
Since that failure in 2006, the Spain squad has the experience of winning Euro 2008 which they did so in impressive style and that confidence could well be the difference between Spain being ‘perennial bottlers’ once again and winning the World Cup for the first time as it will be the same group of players expected to deliver a challenge in South Africa.
Similar to Spain, Holland is another football mad nation that has never won the World Cup. Back to back beaten finalists in 1974 and 1978 was the closest the Dutch have come to glory but have since struggled, with a Semi Final defeat at France 98 the closest they have come since. Whilst they aren’t as well equipped as Spain in terms of personnel, Holland should be capable of overcoming Group E opponents, Cameroon, Denmark and Japan to book their place in the knock out stages and it is once there that they will have to prove they are capable of at least getting to the final for the first time in 32 years to give themselves a chance of victory and much will depend on the performances of the band of World Class players in the team, namely, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Of the other teams, both of whom have to considered ‘outsiders’ judging by the betting, Portugal and the Ivory Coast are the two other teams with remote possibilities of becoming first time World Cup winners. However, despite some very good players coming to prominence in recent years, an African team has yet to make it to the semi final of a World Cup, let alone win it, leaving the judgement of Ivory Coast’s chances as remote, whilst Portugal have an uphill battle from the start, finding themselves in Group G alongside the Ivory Coast and Brazil.
With Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina sharing 14 of the 18 World Cups ever won between them, it is difficult to look beyond one of this dominant group or ‘big four’ from winning the nineteenth tournament this summer. Nobody likes domination and predictability in any sport but sadly, this has certainly been the case at World football’s premier event down the years and if the stranglehold is to be broken in 2010, then it could well be down to Spain to upset the heavyweights of the World Cup.
Written By Richard Smith