World Cup season is upon us. As far as I am concerned, this is the most elite competition in existence. The difference between the teams is so small, and in soccer anything can happen.
Here are my picks to advance to the knockout round:
Group A: In - France, Mexico; Out - South Africa, Uruguay
==> France just lucked into getting in, with a debatable win over Ireland. Uruguay got in with a playoff win over Costa Rica. South Africa is in as a host country. I don't see South Africa getting into the knockout stages, I do think they will play the roll of the spoiler.
Game to Watch: Mexico vs. Uruguay - Just a hunch.
Players to watch: RSA (Pienaar), MEX (Vela, Dos Santos, Marquez), URU (Forlan), FRA (Ribery, Anelka)
Group B: In - Argentina, Nigeria; Out - South Korea, Greece
==> Here is another group that I think is going to be very entertaining. Nigeria and South Korea are both very athletic. Nigeria gets the "home continent" and "we didn't get in four years ago" edge.
Game to Watch: Nigeria vs. South Korea - Athleticism abounds in this one.
Players to Watch: ARG (Messi, Mascherano), NGA (Martins, Obi), KOR (Park Ji-Sung), GRE (Samaras)
Group C: In - England, United States; Out - Slovenia, Algeria
==> The US has its easiest qualification ever. That being said, they have to respect every opponent. The US can beat anyone or lose to anyone. While the game against England is the most anticipated, it is not the most important. That being said, in 2002 the US got a win against a flat heavily-favored Portugal team, that made their advancement MUCH easier. Given the brutality (38 game season, FA Cup, Champions League/EUFA cup) of the typical English Premier League schedule, a flat England team would not surprise me.
Game to Watch: England vs. United States - Do I really have to explain why?
Players to Watch: ENG (Rooney, Gerrard, Ferdinand), USA (Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley),
ALG (Bougherra), SVN (Koren)
Group D: In - Germany, Ghana; Out - Australia, Serbia
==> Germany, from Cup to Cup, has been very consistent over the last 30 years. I really like Ghana's midfield (Essien, Appiah, Muntari) to give them the edge.
Game to Watch: Germany vs. Ghana - Ballack vs. Essein will be a battle in midfield
GER (Ballack, Lahm, Podolski), GHA (Essien, Muntari,), AUS (Cahill, Schwarzer), SRB (Vidic, Stankovic)
Group E: In - Netherlands, Cameroon; Out: Denmark, Japan
==> This group gets my nomination for the "Group of Death". All four are good teams, and all four have world superstars. Give the edge to Cameroon because it is in Africa.
Game to Watch: Netherlands vs. Denmark - Both teams play an entertaining short passing games. Watching the Netherlands in 1994 made me a fan of "Clockwork Orange" style of soccer.
Players to Watch: NED (Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, van Bronkhorst), DEN (Bendtner, Poulson), CMR (Eto'o, Kameni), JPN (Endo)
Group F: In - Italy, Paraguay; Out New Zealand, Slovakia
==> This one is pretty black and white to me.
Game to Watch: Italy vs. Paraguay
Players to Watch: ITA (Pirlo, Cannavaro, Gattuso), PAR (Santa Cruz, Villar, Cardozo), NZL (Nelson), SVK (Sestak)
Group G: In - Brazil, Ivory Coast; Out - Portugal, North Korea
==> This group has star power and flair. Probably the most exciting and star studded collection of players. You could argue that Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Didier Drogba are the three best players in the world. All in one group, WOW!
Game to Watch: Brazil vs. Portugal (same reason as US vs. England)
Players to Watch: BRA (Kaka, Ronaldinho, Lucio, Maicon), POR (Ronaldo), IVY (Drogba, K. Toure), PRK(Ri Myong-Guk)
Group H: In - Spain, Honduras; Out - Switzerland, Chile
==> Spain is playing the best in the world. They are very deep at all levels, so they are not susceptible to injuries is missed games to yellow cards. The battle is for second place, and all three teams are about even. I will take the CONCACAF team.
Game to Watch: Honduras vs. Switzerland
Players to Watch: ESP (Casillas, Hernandez, Fabregas, Villa, Torres), HON (Pavon, Palacios), SUI (Frei), CHI (Suazo)
My pick to win it all......drumroll please.......Brazil
Sleeper Pick.......someone from Africa.......Ivory Coast