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Who you backing for World Cup glory? The runners and riders in South Africa

This is the first World Cup to be held on the African continent and for the first time in a long time there in no clear out and out favourite. Sure some will fancy the likes of Argentina, Brazil, and Spain but none are overwhelming favourites. As with every fan, pundit, and even player I have my views on how I think the tournament will pan out. This piece will cover 4 groups:

The favourites
The underachievers
Fallen giants
Surprise Nations

The so called “Favourites”

Brazil– It’s rare to enter a WC without Brazil being amongst the group of favourites, and this is no different. After their poor showing in Germany 06 this Brazil team under guidance of coach Dunga will see anything but lifting the Jules Rimet trophy as a failure. Starting from the top down you can justify their place in this group. They have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Julio Ceaser. A defense spearheaded by the no nonsense Lúcio, with their usual gut busting full backs in the form of Douglas Maicon and Michel Bastos. A midfield where Kaka is given freedom to roam and Gilberto Silva he task of protecting the back 4. An attack where the likes of Robhino or Luis Fabiano can cut through a defense without hesitation. The only doubt cast over this squad was the decision by Dunga to leave Pato, Ronaldinho, and Adriano behind.

Strengths: Goals from every area of the field bar the goalkeeper.

Weaknesses: Weaknesses at the back with attack minded defenders.

Spain– Labelled a perennial under achiever, Spain head to South Africa playing the best football in the nation’s history. They won Euro 2008 in an almost effortless fashion and although the WC will pose a tougher test, you wouldn’t put it past them to go all the way. They went on a 35 game unbeaten streak. They eased through qualifying. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Iker Casillas. They have possibly the best front 2 heading into this tournament in Fernando Torres and David Villa. And are spoilt for choice in midfield with names, like Xavi, Inniesta, Fabregas, Senna, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets just to name a few. So what’s stopping them from going all the way? Nobody but themselves.

Strengths: Clinical forwards, and an army of talented midfielders.

Weaknesses: Consistency. They have never maintained consistency throughout a WC.

Argentina– So far Diego Maradona’s spell as Argentina’s coach can only be described as eventful. Saying that they scraped qualifying by the skin of their teeth would be exaggerating, but they did cut it fine. Despite not beating Brazil in their 2 games and getting hammered 6-1 by Bolivia, they still head to South Africa with one of the best squads. Maradona has mixed and matched youth and experience. With players like Juan Seba Veron with bags of experience, and the likes of 22 year old current world player of the year Lionel Messi. By looking at this squad you can already see where they’re strongest. They have an abundance of fire power. With the likes of Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Aguero, and Diego Milito, once can’t help expect a bagful of goals from this team. Their only weakness here is Maradona’s indecisiveness. He’s so far used 78 players during his spell as coach and is not any closer to knowing his best XI.

Strengths: An embarrassment of riches up front

Weaknesses: Left out 2 big names in Cambiaso and Zanetti. Still doesn’t know best XI

Click here to see the underachievers

A history of “Underachievement”

Holland– When it comes to the Dutch, there seems to be a correlating pattern. They ease through qualifying without breaking a sweat and head into a major tournament optimistic of going all the way. This occasion is no different. On a current 19 match unbeaten run Holland cruised through qualifying with a 100% record conceding only 2 goals. So why can’t they be classed as favourites? You only have to look at their record in tournaments to find your answer. Forever blessed with talented players they always seem to fall short. Saying that, I wouldn’t put it past them tasting WC glory for the first time in SA. They have a midfield consisting of Nigel De Jong, Rafael Van De Vart, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder. And up top they have the likes of Drik Kuyt and a fit again Robin Van Persie. I wouldn’t put it past this team to go far at this WC.

Strengths: Balanced midfield and proven match winners in Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie.

Weaknesses: Aging back four. No more Van Der Sar

England– No WC is complete without a very talented England team succumbing to a mix of shootout heartache and some sort of red card controversy. Surely history won’t find a way of repeating itself? This time it seems that every piece is place for England to lift their second WC trophy. They have a coach in Fabio Capello who’s got the team firing on all cylinders. A back 4, even minus captain Ferdinand that seems assured and resolute. A midfield with talent down the middle with the likes of Barry, Lampard, and Gerrard. And up front a young chap called Wayne Rooney who seems to be in the form of his life. So what’s stopping England from going all the way? Probably another shootout.

Strengths: Their stating XI includes some of the best players on the planet. From the back four right the way to the front man.

Weaknesses: Over reliance on Wayne Rooney up top. An ageing squad.

Click here to see the fallen giants

Fallen Giants

Germany – Germany may have made it to the last four when they hosted the WC 4 years ago, but the circumstances are different this time around. They eased through qualifying with an undefeated record and we’re heading to South Africa optimistic of at least reaching the last four again. However when Kevin Price-Boateng injured captain and talisman Michael Ballack the whole nation gasped. Add that to an injury picked up by Christian Traesch means that they are very light of natural central midfielders. The Germans can however take comfort in the versatility which their players have. They have defenders who can play across the back four and midfielders who can play across the middle and up top. Is that enough to compensate for losing two key payers?  Can they rely on their knack for being efficient in major tournaments? We will have to wait and see.

Strengths: Young and versatile squad.

Weaknesses: Missing 2 playmakers through injury

France – The French are heading into SA in catastrophic fashion. They scraped through their qualifying group finishing second behind Serbia. They just about won their playoff with the Republic of Ireland thanks largely to an inefficient Irish attack and Thiery Henry’s infamous handball. They have proved very inefficient in front of goal during their warm up games, and even lost to China 1-0 in one of those games. Add to that serious criticism which was previously aimed at coach Raymond Domenech but now seems to be targeted at the whole squad, and you have a team close to disarray. So what can they expect from this WC?  Well despite having a slightly tricky group they should ease through. Like 4 years ago they may get stronger with every game and they eventually made the final that time. A mouth watering quarter final with England awaits them should they progress without hiccups.

Strengths: An array of talented players and a world class keeper in Hugo Lloris

Weaknesses: Omissions of key players like Viera, Nasri and Benzema. New 4-3-3 formation yet to be proven

Italy – The reigning world champions ended their warm up for the WC with a loss to Mexico and it’s fair to say things are not plain sailing for the Azzuri. They’ve stripped a lot of the veteran players from their squad but still have the oldest squad in the tournament. This is made evident by their starting XI which consists of lot of players on the wrong side of 30. The likes of Buffon, Pirlo, Camoranesi, Gattuso (should he start) and Di Natale are all over 30. That can be both adverse and favourable depending on how you look at it. One glaring problem at the moment is the question marks placed over playmaker Pirlo’s fitness. Their progress could be determined by whether or not he shakes off his calf injury. One thing which the Azzuri have riding in their favour is the reappointment of Marcello Lippi. If any coach can guide them to success to SA it’s him. He seems to have a relationship with the players and a tactical mind set which could see Italy surprise many and go far in SA. The 2006 WC is proof of this. They sneaked under the radar and only became noticeable to the rest of us in the semis.

Strengths: They know how to grind out results. They have a proven coach in Lippi.

Weaknesses: They have the oldest squad heading to SA. Injury to playmaker Andrea Pirlo

Portugal – Portugal may have one of the best players in the world in Christiano Ronaldo and you can’t be faulted for holding high hopes for them in SA.  However they haven’t exactly had a smooth journey in qualifying for this tournament. A late, yet impressive rally towards the end of qualification enabled them to make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. They eventually beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 over two legs, but this did nothing to dispel doubts over this very talented squad. This is a nation blessed with gifted players such as C.Ronaldo, Siamao, and Deco so you would think that they have what it takes to mirror the success they achieved in 2006. However with the likes of Brazil and Ivory Coast in their group they will need to be at their absolute best just to get passed the group stage.

Strengths: Avery talented squad which possesses technique and flair.

Weaknesses: A misfiring frontline during qualification may impede them in SA

Click here to see the surprise nations

Surprise Nations

Ivory Coast –The Ivorians can’t catch a break with their WC groups as they have been drawn in the group of death again. To progress this time they will have to get pass Brazil, Portugal, and North Korea. This is a squad more than capable of causing an upset and progressing through this group. They have an abundance of talent and experience throughout the squad and have appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson as coach to lead them in SA. They have been tipped as a many people’s surprise team for this tournament and for good reasons. Just by looking through the squad you can see an array of household names. However in their final warm up game, captain and star man Didier Drogba suffered a broken arm. He’s since been given the all clear to play after surgery but just how fit will he be? Will he be 100%? Will the Ivorian defence be able to handle the likes the Brazilian and Portuguese attacks? Well that’s the test that awaits them.

Strengths: Talent throughout the squad and a fearless attitude. Experienced coach in Sven-Goran Eriksson

Weaknesses: Injury to captain and star man Didier Drogba. Weaknesses at the back.

USA – The Americans shocked many people when they beat Spain in the Confederations Cup semi-final, and nearly pulled off a huge upset when they narrowly loss to Brazil in the final. So with that in mind they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Any England fan who looks at their Group C opener with the Americans as an easy win should think twice. This team may not have any superstars but they do have a lot of good players who know how to play together. The likes of Tim Howard in goal, Oguchi Onyewu in defense, DaMarcus Beasly and Michael Bradley in midfield, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey up front all have bags of European experience. And it’s this combination which may lead to “Team USA” creating a few upsets in SA. Don’t be surprised if this team make it as far as the quarters.

Strengths: A team in unison that knows how to play together. Squad full of experienced players.

Weaknesses: No real strength in depth

Serbia – It’s fair to say Serbia were one of the biggest disappointments to come out of Germany 2006. They crashed out with three defeats, albeit from the group the group of death but still disappointing. With the squad they have, the Serbians have more than it takes to cause many upsets. With the likes of Ivanovic and Vidic at the back, Nenad Milijas, Dejan Stankovic and Milos Krasic in midfield, and the giant Nicola Zogic up front I can see them knocking out a few big names. They’re a stubborn team to break down, which the French found out in qualifying. However they are pretty light up front which could test their resolve when trying to chase down a lead. England fans beware. The Serbians could be your second round opponents.

Strengths: A squad full of talented European stars.

Weaknesses: A thin list of quality strikers

There are many nations not included in these groups. That doesn’t mean they won’t spring any surprises of their own. Who’s to say the teams listed in these groups won’t crash and burn? It is the World Cup after all, so anything can happen. The proof is in the pudding. Look at South Korea in 2002. Or even France in 1998. Who’s to say USA won’t beat England? Who’s to say Nigeria won’t beat Brazil? Who’s to say South Africa won’t go all the way? Okay I’m getting a little carried away with myself, but expect surprises, shocks and upsets.

Written By Yannick Tiamou at –

Article title: Who you backing for World Cup glory? The runners and riders in South Africa

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