With the biggest sporting event of the year less than two weeks away, 31 nations will have their hearts broken over the 31 day tournament, with 1 nation will win the 18th addition of the World Cup.
South Africa are the first African nation to host the World Cup as FIFA enhances Pele’s prediction of an African nation winning the World Cup before the year 2000 is only a decade out. The home continent advantage, where a country outside of the host continent has only won succeeded three times. Despite this, not many people are too optimistic an African team will lift the trophy this summer. Me being one of them. The bookmakers give the Ivory Coast as the best chance of an African nation winning the trophy and they’re 40/1.
Euro 2008 champions Spain come into the 2010 World Cup as 4/1 favourites. With a group they shouldn’t have any problems qualifying from as winners, with a likely matchup against either Portugal or the Ivory Coast in round two, Spain are likely to breeze through to the quarter finals in South Africa. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament, and a very experienced one in Iker Casillas. A defence that is captained by the clever and successful Carles Puyol, former Manchester United target, Sergio Ramos and former United defender Gerard Pique, they will be looking to recreate a similar performance as in Euro 2008, where they conceded 0 goals in the knockout stages. One thing that helped them on their way to three successive clean sheets is a midfield that doesn’t give the ball away easily. Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso can all be talismen, and have the likes of Silva to create chances from the wing. Up front, two of the best strikers in the world; Euro 2008 Golden Boot winner David Villa, and Liverpool striker Fernando Torres. Keeping these two off the scoresheet will be the toughest task for all of their opposition this summer. Winning the ball off the Spanish midfield is tough enough.
Brazil are second favourites, and coach Carlos Dunga caused a surprise when he named his preliminary 30 man squad by excluding AC Milan stars Ronaldinho and Pato. Their have been question marks as to whether Brazil will be able to win the World Cup in winter. For once though, Brazil enter the World Cup with a solid defence in place. The Inter Milan trio that triumphed over Chelsea, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Julio Cesar, Maicon and Lucio are three of the best players in their positions. They are the building blocks of a good defence from which Carlos Dunga will build the rest around. In front of them we are likely to see Gilberto Silva start in the World Cup, having played in 16 of Brazil’s 18 qualifying games. He adds a bit of steal and defensive mentality in their midfield. Going forward, look out for the likes of Robinho, Kaka and Luis Fabiano to shine in South Africa. A pacey and skillful attack, most teams are going to struggle to keep out Brazil this summer.
England are third favourites for the World Cup on the basis that so many punters in this country have backed them. They should be amongst the top eight favourites, but not this high. Questions remain over who Fabio Capello will pick in goal, who will be supporting Wayne Rooney up front, why Jamie Carragher has been included in the squad and what the shape of the midfield will be. Despite an impressive qualifying campaign, England seem to have fallen apart in the build up to the tournament. The captaincy has even changed recently, following John Terry’s off the field dilemmas. Now in charge on the field is Rio Ferdinand who has played less than half a season at Manchester United due to injuries and even then has been a liability at times. Prior to that, England won 9 of their 10 qualifying games and were the highest scoring nation in qualifying, with 34 goals. If Rio Ferdinand can find his form of old, along with John Terry, England have a solid base from which they can build from. They are likely to be relying on Wayne Rooney this tournament though, and ultimately it looks set to end in heartbreak once more.
With an attack that includes Lionel Messi, Diego Milito, Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez, Argentina have become many favourites for this summer’s World Cup. Unfortunately, one person who’s lead role nearly cost Argentina from qualifying for only their second time, Diego Maradone is at the helms this summer. The 1986 World Cup winning captain struggled to get the best out of his nation in qualifying and only narrowly qualified. Lionel Messi has under-utilised in Maradona’s team; backed up by only scoring 4 goals in 18 qualifying games. That was more than can be said of Diego Milito, who failed to score in 6 brief appearances in qualifying. His goals that won Inter Milan Serie A, the Coppa Italia and Champions League were finally enough to squeeze him into Diego Maradona’s squad. Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain are other attacking players coming off great domestic seasons who are looking for places in the starting line up. There’s no doubt this team has attacking ability, but questions remain over their defence. Firstly, Esteban Cambiasso hasn’t been selected. Instead, the ageing Juan Sebastian Veron has been selected. They look weak at full back too and have no experienced goalkeepers in the squad. That could backfire.
The Netherlands’ odds have been shortening recently. Along with Spain, they boosted a 100% qualifying record for the 2010 World Cup and conceded a low 2 goals. One thing coach Bert van Marwijk hasn’t done very well is find a goalscorer. Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar top scored in qualifying with 3 goals and neither are coming off the back of a good season domestically. Robin van Persie is fresh after been injured for most of the season and if he can return to his sharpness, they have a goal threat in the Arsenal hit man. They have a very creative midfield with Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben being two of the biggest attacking threats in the squad. In a group with Denmark, Japan and Cameroon, they look set to make at least the knockout stages once again. Does this nation have enough to go all the way for the first time though? it’s questionable but not unthinkable.
Defending Champions Italy come into the World Cup as only sixth favourites in 2010. They have a strong defence as always, but question marks remain over the pace and age of them. Captain Fabio Cannavaro is 36 now and while his experience is second-to-none, pacey strikers can get in behind him if he doesn’t commit a foul. Italy have little creativity in midfield with Marcello Lippi leaving Francesco Totti out of the squad. Andrea Pirlo is there, but there’s little else to open up solid defences. Italy had 10 different goalscorers during their successful 2006 campaign, with Luca Toni and Marco Materazzi to score more than 1 (2 each). This year, Alberto Gilardino looks like the only player capable of scoring more than a pair in 2010. The Italians always do well, but this bunch is lacking a cutting edge up front to defend their trophy.
One nation that can never be written off at a major international tournament is Germany. I’m not one wanting to make that mistake this time either, but this German side looks very weak on paper. Hindered by the absence of injured captain Michael Ballack, some people are writing Germany off already. Miroslav Klose has grabbed 5 goals in each of his last two tournaments. Most of those goals came in the group stages, and this time he’s coming off a bad domestic season and doesn’t have the likes of Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica or Ecuador this time. Instead, Germany come up against a tough Serbian defence, Ghana and Australia. Lukas Podolski is coming off a poor domestic season also, but has scored 3 goals in each of the international competitions he has played in; the 2005 Confederations Cup, 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. He has proven himself at interntional level, while Mario Gomez is still yet to do so. The expensive Bayern Munich striker failed to deliver the goods in Euro 2008 and didn’t score in any of his 10 qualifying games.
France relied on the hand of Thierry Henry at the end of extra time in their playoff qualifying match with the Republic of Ireland to make it to the finals. The fans and the players have lost faith in coach Raymond Domenech based on his tactics and results. They have a highly rated goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris who could help them progress in this competition. While Franck Ribery is expected to be one of the stars. Will Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry be able to deliver the goals? Even ff France make it out of the group stage, I can’t see them going far.
Portugal remain one of the most overrated nations in world football, in my opinion at least. They come in at 3rd on FIFA’s world rankings have have arguably the greatest player in the world over the past 3 seasons in Cristiano Ronaldo. They lack a lot of what they need to go far in this tournament. Getting out of a group that includes Brazil, Ivory Coast and North Korea is a tough enough challenge for coach Carlos Queiroz. They struggled through their qualifying group and had to beat Bosnia & Herzegovina in a two-legged playoff match to make it this far. At one stage they drew three successive qualifying games 0-0, dropping points at home to Albania. They’re playing poorly under Carlos Queiroz, and with a tricky group and route to the final, they’re simply not going to get there.
Golden Shoe Candidates
The bookmakers have made David Villa the favourite to win the 2010 World Cup Golden Boot. It’s no surprise with the Barcelona hit man scoring freely at domestic level for nearly a decade. He was also the Golden Boot winner in Euro 2008, although all of his goals came in his first two matches; a hat trick against Russia and then a stoppage time winner against Sweden in Spain’s second game. He scored three goals at the past World Cup and was a prolific goalscorer in qualifying.
One player who didn’t fare too well in qualifying was Fernando Torres, who failed to score a single goal. He is coming off another injury-plagued season at Liverpool, but if he stays fit in this tournament he is bound to score. The Spaniard has pace, skills, positional sense and is a fine finisher with both his feet and head. All of this makes him one of the most feared strikers in the world and I cannot argue with that.
Lionel Messi’s odds cut hours after scoring four goals in a single Champions League match against Arsenal. Now the second favourite for the Golden Shoe, his skills and goalscoring ability are unquestionable. The biggest question remains whether Diego Maradona will play him in his preferred position for him to fire his way to the top of the Golden Shoe list. He did it successfully for Barcelona in both La Liga and the Champions League this season. Can he make it a hat trick by taking the World Cup Golden Shoe too?
Other Argentinians worth considering for the Golden Shoe are Diego Milito and Gonzalo Higuain. Milito showed this past season his ability to score goals, and score goals in big games. Real Madrid striker Higuain has had successful back-to-back seasons in La Liga, but only made appearances in two qualifying campaigns.
Wayne Rooney is coming off of a storming season in the Premier League. His goals dried up at the end of the season, as did Manchester United’s title and Champions League challenges as he suffered injuries. Having participated in England’s friendlies in the build up to the World Cup, he looks fit to go. He scored 9 goals in qualifying, although he failed to score at the last World Cup. Expected to carry his nation on his shoulders this summer, he is likely to be amongst the top scorers.
Luis Fabiano has vowed to score a goal for Brazil as he aims to help them lift the trophy for a sixth time, before they host the next tournament. The Sevilla hit man has scored 25 goals in 36 international appearances, including 5 in the 2004 Copa America, 5 at the 2009 Confederations Cup and 10 in qualifying. Being the main target in the Brazil helped Ronaldo score 8 times en route to success in 2002. Can Luis Fabiano recreate his success in 2010?
One other player fancied as an outsider for the Golden Shoe is Robin van Persie. The Netherlands striker is fresh having missed most of the domestic season with Arsenal through injury, but is set to be the Netherlands’ best goal threat. If they leave him in charge of their set pieces too, the left-footed Gunner could surprise a few this summer. He will come up against stern defences in Denmark and Japan in the group stage though.
Top Ten Value World Cup Bets
1. England to be eliminated on penalties 9/2
2. Cristiano Ronaldo not to score at the World Cup 5/2
3. Spain to be the highest-scoring nation 7/2
4. Spain to win the World Cup 4/1
5. England to finish on 7 points in the Group Stage 2/1
6. David Villa to be Top Goalscorer 9/1
7. New Zealand to be lowest scoring team 9/2
8. The Netherlands to keep most clean sheets 12/1
9. Uruguay to win Group A 7/2
10. Tim Cahill to be Australia’s Top Goalscorer 3/1
World Cup Trivia
Algeria: Zinedine Zidane’s parents were Algerian
Argentina: The first nation to fail to score in a World Cup final (losing 1-0 to West Germany in 1990).
Australia: Archie Thompson scored a record 13 goals in one game as Australia beat American Samoa a record 31-0 in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup
Brazil: Have scored the most goals in the history of the World Cup (201)
Cameroon: Rigobert Song was the first player to be sent off in two different World Cups (1994 & 1998)
Chile: Goalkeeper Roberto Rojas was banned for life (later reduced to 12 years) after he famously self-inflicted a cut on his head to get their match with Brazil postponed at 1-0 down in 1989, claiming to be struck by a firework
Denmark: Having initially failed to qualify for Euro 1992, the Danes were handed an entry after Yugoslavia’s expulsion. The rest is history
England: Have kept clean sheets in 2 out of 3 group stage games in every tournament they have qualified for since 1996.
France: Just Fontaine holds the record for most goals in a single tournament: 13 in 1958
Germany: The only nation to have won the World Cup as European Champions
Ghana: Abedi Pele was one of the first great African players to make an impact in European football. He believes an African team will win this year’s World Cup.
Greece: Have never scored at a World Cup
Honduras: Riots following a loss in qualifying for the 1970 World Cup sparked a six day war against El Salvador.
Italy: Paolo Maldini holds the record for the most minutes played in World Cup finals (2,217 between 1990 and 2002).
Ivory Coast: The only nation to have scored in every one of their World Cup matches
Japan: The first nation to qualify for the 2010 World Cup
Mexico: Have qualified for the World Cup the most times without winning the trophy (14)
Netherlands: One of three nations to have made 2 World Cup finals but never win (Czechoslovakia and Hungary are the other two)
New Zealand: Lost all 3 matches at their only previous World Cup (1982)
Nigeria: Shaibu Amodu has been the manager of Nigeria on four separate occasions. He has been sacked twice prior to the World Cup, the latest in February 2010. He has never coached at a World Cup
North Korea: Made the quarter finals at the only other previous World Cup they qualified for (1966)
Paraguay: No goalkeeper has scored more goals at international level than Jose Luis Chilavert (8)
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score in qualifying
Serbia: Dejan Stankovic will be playing in his third World Cup, each time with a different nation. In 1998 he represented Yugoslavia and in 2006 he played for Serbia & Montenegro
Slovakia: Making their World Cup debut in 2010
Slovenia: Have never won a single game at a major international tournament
South Africa: Won the African Cup of Nations for the only time, as hosts (1996)
South Korea: Conceded a record 16 goals in one competition, in 1954, playing just 2 games
Spain: The only nation to have qualified with a 100% win record having played at least 10 games
Switzerland: Johan Vonlanthen is the youngest-ever goalscorer at a European Championships
Uruguay: Alcides Ghiggia became the first player to score in every match at a World Cup in 1950
USA: Finished 3rd place in the inaugural World Cup