The 2010 edition of the FIFA World Cup is finally here. Thirty-two teams made it to the big dance to see just who is the best in the world. Realistically though, only a handful of teams have a shot of winning the cup. It's all going to come down to matchups, which will make every game that important in this cup.
The best way to guess (at this point the only thing anyone can do) who the champion will be come July 11 is to predict who will advance out of the group stage, and predict which team will be favored in certain matchups come the knockout stage. Very similar to filling out your NCAA Tournament brackets.
This group features the host nation, South Africa, as well as France, Mexico, and Uruguay. This group promises to be a tight one, with no clear favorites to advance. No host nation has ever bowed out of the group stage, and South Africa is currently riding a 13-match unbeaten streak. Mexico has looked good in recent friendlies; they were competitive in recent road losses against England and the Netherlands, and beat the defending champions Italy 2-1. France and Uruguay needed a playoff just to qualify for the finals. Uruguay has at least shown some promise in their friendlies, while the French got thumped by Spain and lost to China, CHINA!
Teams that will advance: Mexico and South Africa.
Another tight group, although much stronger than the previous group; this one features Argentina, Greece, Nigeria, and South Korea. The Argentines have looked unimpressive under head coach Diego Maradona, but still possess Lionel Messi -- arguably the best footballer in the world. Nigeria lost a key midfielder in John Obi Mikel, but still possess the fastest forwards in this group. Greece's defense is notoriously slow, but they have an outstanding core of midfielders and forwards at their disposal. Then there's South Korea, who have shown in the previous two World Cups that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Teams that will advance: Argentina and Nigeria
This group is a little more predicable, but nonetheless intriguing. England is the clear favorite in this group; Algeria, Slovenia, and the United States will battle for the second spot. Home to the best domestic league in the world (the English Premier League), England is in its "golden era." They have players like Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Wayne Rooney, and Frank Lampard to do plenty of scoring for the Three Lions. Slovenia is no pushover; they beat Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia just to make the trip to South Africa. In the qualifying campaign, Algeria looked impressive at home but the exact opposite on the road. The Yanks looked impressive when they played most of their starters against Australia last Saturday.
Teams that will advance: England and United States
Every World Cup has one of these groups, the Group of Death. The 2010 version of Hades is Group D -- "D" for death. This group features Australia, Germany, Ghana, and Serbia. All four teams qualified for South Africa with relative ease, so who's got what it takes to move on? Germany is tied with Brazil for the most appearances in World Cup final game. Ghana repeated their surprise in the Germany 2006 World Cup by blowing through the African qualification phase. Serbia (who has appeared in nine World Cups as Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro) has stars all over their lineup. Australia, who left Oceania for the Asian group, qualified with more ease than most people anticipated.
Teams that will advance: Germany and Ghana
If Group D isn't the Group of Death, then it has got to be Group E. With teams like Cameroon, Denmark, Japan, and the Netherlands, this group will be in a fight to the next round. The Netherlands have looked impressive in friendlies against the United States and Mexico, but could be without Bayern Munich striker Arjen Robben. Japan has been an Asian power whose stock has been rising since they co-hosted the tournament in 2002. Cameroon qualified early and boosts one of the best strikers in Samuel Eto'o. Denmark has been absent from a major FIFA competition for six years, but hope their key players who play in strong leagues will help them get into the knockout stage.
Teams that will advance: the Netherlands and Japan.
This group consists of Italy, Paraguay, Slovakia, and New Zealand. Excuse me if I didn't just chuckle; this is probably the easiest group to pick the winners out of. Italy are the defending champions and should cruise out of group play. Paraguay holds a ton of experience in their top half of their lineup. Slovakia did finish first in their qualifying group that consisted of France, the Czech Republic, and Northern Ireland. New Zealand qualified through the Australia-less Oceania group.
Teams that will advance: Italy and Paraguay.
This group has three teams worthy of the World Cup title, while the last team is sure to lose all three matches. Brazil, who has more titles than any country on the planet, will be looking to repeat their success of the 2009 Confederations Cup title. Portugal has a talented side that's led by Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo. The Ivory Coast has EPL talent all over their side, including Chelsea striker Didier Drogba. They are a major favorite to be the first African team to reach the final game. Then there's poor later North Korea -- thank you for playing, please come again.
Teams that will advance: Brazil and Ivory Coast.
The final group is Group H, which has talented players all over bar. Spain is the clear favorite when it comes to this group. They were perfect in their qualifying campaign and have a strong mix of Real Madrid and Barcelona players. Chile also has a strong resume; and they finished second in the ultra-competitive South American qualifying campaign. Switzerland and Honduras round out the group.
Teams that will advance: Spain and Chile.
Now that the group stage has been predicted, check back before the knockout stage begins. Only 16 teams left something, half of what started the dance. Only one trophy, so embrace yourself for a very exciting World Cup.