An intriguing World Cup with three clear favourites
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Finally the wait is over. After seemingly endless qualifiers, warm-ups, speculation and expectations, the World Cup kicks-off tonight when hosts South Africa take on Mexico as the world’s attention switches to the biggest sporting event on the planet.
All our eyes will be on the Socceroos. The bandwagon is full back home and the first stop for the team is in Durban against the might of Germany in the early hours of Monday morning.
It’ll be a coin toss for the Socceroos in the race for second place in the group, with Craig Moore and Lucas Neill needing to lift their games and pace, Brett Emerton, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill needing to be fit and firing, and Josh Kennedy needing to have the game of his life if the Socceroos are to get anything out of Germany.
The country is behind them, they just need to rediscover that winning mentality, grit and determination that helped them in 2006 and qualify for 2010 with ease. Getting to the Round of 16 against England is the dream ticket.
As for the All Whites, it’s all about respectability for New Zealand football, Oceania and, let’s not forget, the A-League. A result against Slovakia and/or Paraguay is possible judging by their recent performances against the Socceroos and Serbia, which confirmed that the All Whites are a stubborn team that has the psychical presence to match more fancied opponents.
Beyond our antipodean boys, the tournament’s genuine contenders have gradually narrowed down to a select few.
The African continent’s best chance for success was undoubtedly the Ivory Coast before their linchpin Didier Drogba succumbed to the injury curse.
They were the only potential “outsiders” who could have challenged the World Cup’s usual contenders.
If the favourites (on form and World Cup pedigree) proceed at the top of their groups and avoid upsets in the Round of 16, the quarter-finals will be between: France V England and Holland V Brazil on one side of the draw, with Germany V Argentina and Italy V Spain on the other. In other words, expect the same South American and European domination.
But of those there are three genuine contenders and two possibles with a chance to claim the big prize.
Defending champions Italy will be struck down by the mighty Spain in the quarters (their conquerors at Euro 2008) due to their old legs in defence, their lack of world-class strikers, the possible absence of the much-needed creative spark in Andrea Pirlo and the class of the Spanish.
England will be stunted by the lack of a world-class striker to support Wayne Rooney, with he and coach Fabio Cappello already acting out in frustration at the lack of depth wearing the Three Lions – although they will defeat great rivals France in the quarters, who will be lucky to get past South Korea in the Round of 16 (I’d even put money on the Koreans sending them out).
Germany and Argentina should meet in the quarters (although the USA will push Germany in the Round of 16). Both are the “possibles” who could go all the way.
Germany may be weakened by the loss of Michael Ballack but they are World Cup stalwarts with a new generation of talent emerging, while Argentina are overflowing with attacking options but will be hamstrung by Diego Maradona’s inability to shape these options to maximise the team’s potential.
Either of the two will be gunned down by Spain in the semi however, who should have too much firepower and class and will be headed to the final in Johannesburg.
Their opponent will be the winner of a fascinating quarter-final clash.
If Holland and Brazil win their groups (much more likely in Brazil’s case following the key injuries to group opponents Ivory Coast and Portugal) and win in the Round of 16 (probable given the relative weakness of the runners-up from Group E and H – likely Paraguay and Chile), they will meet in the quarters.
Holland are full of in form attacking options, namely Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt, while Brazil’s counter-attacking style and overall quality make them one of the clear favourites.
But I tip Holland to upset the Brazilians – with too much attacking firepower – and breeze past England to meet Spain in the final.
Interestingly, if Spain tops their group (put the house on it) and Brazil and Holland finish second in theirs, Brazil will meet Spain in the Round of 16 with the winner likely to face Holland or Italy.
The possibilities are as intriguing as they are mouthwatering but a clash between Spain versus Brazil/Holland deserves to be the final.
It’ll be an incredible display of the finest proponents of attacking football on the planet should it eventuate, and the winner, to steal a Les Murray vernacular, will be football.
Spain should then be crowned world champions. Their talent, depth, skill and teamwork is beyond the rest, and they have the winning mentality needed to succeed following their European victory in 2008.
But ‘should’ and ‘if’ are the operative words in all these predictions.
It’s the unexpected, the surprises and upsets that make World Cups such great theatre, with moments of genius, insanity and exhilaration throughout the tournament.
Sit back and enjoy!
Full 2010 World Cup schedule HERE.
Our other experts predict:
- Who will win the World Cup and why?
Mike Tuckerman: Spain. In form, plenty of depth, much-vaunted firepower up front and they now have the experience of winning a big tournament after triumphing at Euro 2008.
Davidde Corran: Brazil. Their squad might rely too much on an out of form Kaka, but they are a team unit with a will to win like no other.
Tony Tannous: The two favourites, from a mental perspective, are Brazil and Germany. But with Vincente del Bosque pulling the strings and unrivalled depth, I’m tipping Spain – as long as they stay united, they have enough quality to cover any scenario.
Ben Somerford: Brazil. They are the giants of world football and haven’t won five World Cups through luck.
- How will the Socceroos do and why?
Mike: I don’t see reaching the second round being beyond them as we’re in a tough group, but snatching second place is a realistic goal and as we’ve heard Pim Verbeek say ad nauseum, anything can happen from there.
Davidde: Socceroos will raise their game in the big time as they do best or crash and burn spectacularly with dirty laundry getting aired.
Tony: Reckon we’ll be very lucky to escape Germany with a one-goal loss, but that’s ok, we’re not expected to get anything there. The key is Ghana, where we need three points and it’s possible to get the result there, even if the play isn’t great, which will set up a beauty against Serbia.
Ben: We’ll get knocked out in the group phase without winning a game because our defence is weak in the air and our attack lacks cutting edge.
How will the All Whites do and why?
Mike: I think they’ll do themselves credit. They’re experiencing the same euphoria that we did four years ago, and while they’ve been written off by all and sundry, I think at the very least they will sneak a point or two in their group.
Davidde: Their joy at drawing with a dismal Iraq last year and also at beating Serbia in a friendly has me worried, but they will fight hard and lose amicably.
Tony: It’ll be a tight group and I’m expecting NZ to be very competitive. If they were playing teams who struggle in the air, I’d say the All Whites had a chance of sneaking through, but they are playing Slovakia, Paraguay (the Europeans of South America) and Italy, all traditionally strong in the air, so they might grab a point, or even two, which would be a great achievement, but it won’t be enough.
Ben: They’ll struggle but won’t do themselves or their nation a disservice.
Please share your own predictions in the comments section below.
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.