France: Oh dear, what a waste! It’s really quite unbelievable how a group of such talented players manage to play so poorly as a group. Despite France’s shortcomings as a team, their strength in individuals will get them through from the group. However, they are far from repeating the miracle of 2006.
Key man: Franck Ribery
One to watch: Yoann Gourcuff
Uruguay: Perhaps the least fancied team from South America won’t be taking any prisoners with their brutal style of play. Cynical and highly aggressive team defending will be enough to squeeze them through from a group where anything can happen, but that’s as far as they’ll go. Uruguay have one of the best and most versatile array of forwards from any team in the tournament (Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Edison Cavani and why not even Sebastian Abreu) but they need someone to lubricate the attacking transitions in midfield.
Key man: Diego Forlan
One to watch: Luis Suarez
Argentina: Everyone keeps saying that Maradona will ruin the hopes of one of the best national team in Argentina’s history. I was included in this bunch of know-alls until I read this brilliant analysis. They might not win the trophy, but at least they’ll give other challengers a proper run for their money, and might even reach the semis.
Key man: Lionel Messi
One to watch: Javier Pastore
Nigeria: After years of turmoil, the Super-Eagles are back. Expect to see a balanced Nigerian team this time around with the former Sweden coach Lars Lagerbäck at the helm. No real top players, but plenty of decent players in every department.
Key man: Joseph Yobo
One to watch: Peter Odemwingie
England: Had Fabio Capello been the England coach four years ago, England might really have had a shot at the World Cup. Now the same players are four years older and many come to the tournament with a disappointing season behind them. The goalkeeping is always an issue with England and so is the quality of the forwards: would the likes of Emile Heskey, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch be included in any other team challenging for the World Cup? Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard will have to up their game to offer support to Wayne Rooney. England won’t win the tournament but they might just reach the semi-final. They will always have 1966.
Key man: Wayne Rooney
One to watch: Glen Johnson
USA: USA showed in the Confederations Cup that with hard work and pragmatic team playing they can beat anybody on their day. However, this is the World Cup, so don’t expect any Hollywood endings. The last thirty-two is as good as it’ll get and that would be more than progress for the Americans. Baby steps, baby steps.
Key man: Clint Dempsey
One to watch: Michael Bradley
Serbia: Everyone’s favourite “dark horses” have become true challengers. Or have they? The defence should be solid enough with a defence line of Aleksandar Kolarov-Nemanja Vidic-Neven Subotic-Branislav Ivanovic but they lack firepower upfront. A last eight finish possible, which would be a great improvement from the humiliating 2006 campaign.
Key man: Nemanja Vidic
One to watch: Neven Subotic
Germany: How are the times a-changing! Germany have a young, fun, exciting team! Of course, Germany have demolished the myth of being a boring “machine” years ago, but the class of 2010 should really be something else. With Michael Ballack and co. either injured or out of the team, fresh new blood has been brought in. Watch out for the classy playmaker Mesut Özil and the dynamic midfield dynamo Sami Khedira in particular. 2010 is still a bit early for this bunch but expect great things from them in the future.
Key man: Philipp Lahm
One to watch: Sami Khedira
Holland: The Dutch will thrill and spill in goals in their easy group, and then bow out in the quarter-final against Brazil. So nothing new under the sun. The playing of the duo, Arjen Robben-Dirk Ku…err, sorry…Wesley Sneijder will be an enjoyment to watch. Holland’s feeble defence, however, will be their downfall.
Key man: Wesley Sneijder
One to watch: Eljero Elia
Cameroon: Like Nigeria, Cameroon have also got their act together after a few year absence. The team captain, Samuel Eto’o needs to be at his best to provide not only the goals but also team cohesion if they are to beat Denmark for the second spot in the group.
Key man: Samuel Eto’o
One to watch: Idriss Kameni
Italy: Italy will need to be at their defensive best to succeed. Should stroll through an easy group but an expected quarter-final match-up against Spain will be too much for the reigning champions. See a more in-depth analysis here.
Key man: Gianluigi Buffon
One to watch: Claudio Marchisio
Paraguay: Group F might become a bit of a bore since none of the teams are exactly thrilling attacking sides. Paraguay will rely on a stubborn defence and quick counter-attacking. Since star man Roque Santa Cruz is out of form, the big Benfica forward Oscar Cardozo may lead the attacking line.
Key man: Oscar Cardozo
One to watch: Edgar Barreto
Brazil: For those who still think the spirit of samba lives in the heart of the Brazilian national team, wake up and smell the coffee. Brazil relies on a stubborn defence, highly organized team shape and clinical counter-attacking. This is not to say that Brazil are boring though. Dunga’s Brazil are be one of the most exciting teams to watch in a tournament where pragmatism is all the rage. With no flamboyant entertainers in the side (except Robinho perhaps), Brazil will give a masterclass of defensive virtues.
Key man: Julio Cesar
One to watch: Felipe Melo
Ivory Coast: Again Ivory Coast got the short straw as they were drawn into “the group of death” for the second World Cup running. But so what? Brazil might be too much to handle, but Portugal should be no unmovable obstacle for Didier Drogba and co. If Ivory Coast are to live up to the billing of being the strongest team from Africa, now’s the time to prove it.
Key man: Didier Drogba
One to watch: Gervinho
Spain: For the first time ever, Spain is truly one of the biggest favourites to win the World Cup. Spain are the exception to the rule of how to succeed in 2010. They will play a mesmerizing, and at times highly frustrating, passing game. Spain might seem invincible at the moment but the defeat at the Confederations Cup to USA showed that they have to keep their focus in the moment and not get distracted by their own splendour. Spain have a balanced squad with different tactical options if plan-a fails, but their full-back department might be a liability.
Key man: Xavi
One to watch: David Silva
Chile: The team to watch from South America. Marcelo Bielsa’s side are expected to play with a fun 3-3-1-3 system that might surprise a few people. No real starts but plenty of exciting prospects. Alexis Sanchez had an excellent season at Udinese, Humberto Suazo took Zaragoza by storm and Matias Fernandez finally found his talented feet in Europe at Benfica after a disappointing period at Villareal.
Key man: Matias Fernandez
One to watch: Alexis Sanchez