Confused by the 32 teams squaring off in South Africa? My guide may not help, but hey – it has jokes. For more on the FIFA World Cup, check out World Cup Safari – my podcast for triple j with Vijay Khurana.
Their experience makes them very good at handling pressure. Also, the ball. Last time around, Les Bleus had a slow start but made the final despite wacky coach Raymond Domenech, who’s inexplicably still there. Many of the same players have returned, so they can’t be ruled out – even though they would be, were there any justice, after the way they beat Ireland.
Middle-of-the-pack Mexico are good on their day, but their day seems not to come around very often – and beating the USA twice in qualifying probably used up their luck. A good chance to make the second round and then go no further.
If South Korea could get to the semi-finals when they hosted the Cup, then South Africa… still probably won’t. Might win a game if the fans blow their vuvuzuelas particularly deafeningly, but unlikely to make it out of the group. Their chances won’t have been helped by losing experienced striker Benni McCarthy for being fat/entertaining ladies in the team hotel, depending on which report you believe.
Yes, they’ve won two World Cups, but as Barnesy once sang, baby that was years ago. There’s a reason they kept having to play Australia to qualify – they’re not a great team. Diego Forlan’s striking prowess could get them to the second round, though.
They have Messi, who’s a genius, but are coached by Maradona, who’s a maniac. So they’ll fare somewhere between failing to get out of the group, having only narrowly qualified in the first place, and winning the whole thing thanks to the sublime skills of the best player in the world.
This very defensive unit will probably make the second round, but probably won’t get much further – after all, this is only their second appearance at a World Cup. Still, if they win a game it’ll boost the whole nation, and goodness knows they need it.
Let’s just say they won’t make the semi-finals like they did in 2002, but they have a few decent players, chief among them Man United’s Park Ji-Sung. Let’s just hope they get through the tournament without being targeted by the North Korean military.
Yet another team to lose their most prominent player – Mikel John-Obi – to an unfortunate pre-tournament injury, and having only appointed their coach in February, they’re unlikely to make a huge impression. Apparently Osaze Odemwingie’s pretty good – at least his name certainly is.
Oh look, Algeria made the World Cup! Aren’t they the team that once had Albert Camus in goal? As a tribute to him, they’ll be rank Outsiders at this tournament.
Likely winners – if you believe the English press. If not, a one-man team, but what a man – Wayne Rooney’s been in hot form, and could excite until he’s inevitably red-carded for swearing.
Annoyingly, as the Socceroos found out in their final pre-tournament friendly, the Americans are better than they’ve any right to be. Not that anyone at home will care.
The Socceroos are dead certs. Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi! No? Um, look – we’ve still got most of the team from 2006, and they were unlucky to lose to eventual winners Italy in the second round. Tough group, but if our best players stay fit, we have a good chance of making the round of 16.
Solid and dependable as a Mercedes-branded racial stereotype, Germany’s always a chance of taking out a World Cup, despite having a younger and more inconsistent team than usual. Their strikers have been a bit rubbish in the domestic season, although Klose is the second-highest World Cup goalscorer of all time. They’ll be lucky to improve on coming third in 2006.
Unlucky to have lost Michael Essien, but the Black Stars won’t give anyone an easy game. Australia’s best chance of a victory, though – they’re ranked 32nd, and we’re ranked 20th. Yes, 20th. Pretty good, huh?
Serbia – or as they’re of course known in their homeland Фудбалска репрезентација Србије, won’t give anyone an easy game either. In fact, you’d have to say that they’re a little stronger than Australia on paper, actually. And they’re ranked 15th. Whatever – we’ve got Harry Kewell.
Striker Samuel Eto’o – or as he’s known in Ireland, Samuel O’Eto’o – is a superstar, but the Indomitable Lions are likely to prove fairly domitable in the end. All the teams in this group have the potential to make the second round, but even if Cameroon did, they’re unlikely to become the breakthrough African team everyone’s hoping for.
Probably won’t make it out of the so-called Group of Death, but Japan may slay another team or two – although only for research purposes. The Blue Samurai have not only the coolest nickname in world football, but enough quality to give a few teams a scare.
A typical Scandinavian team – lots of decent players, few genuine stars. Quarter-finals feels about right – if they make it out of the so-called ‘Group Of Death’
The “Oranje” are known for their lurid orange jerseys, luscious passing game and tendency to let their fans down once they get to the knockout stages.
Cheats. Cheats, cheats, cheats, cheats, cheats, cheats, cheats. And no, I’m still not over that dodgy penalty in the dying seconds against us in Kaiserslautern. The Italians are always a force, though, and might win this time as well. By cheating.
They say they’re happy just to be there, but I disagree. I reckon they’re hippy just to be there.
A troublesome team who tend to qualify for the second round and then go missing. Highly likely to do at least the former this time around too. Also what Uruguay are known as when they’ve had too much to drink.
Forget all the samba-soccer, beautiful-game Nike marketing bollocks. They’ve won 5 World Cups because of solid teamwork and robust defence as well as individual genius. I’m willing to bet this’ll be #6, especially if Kaka isn’t lying about having found form recently. And that’s why they play with a smile on their face – because they’re bloody good at it.
With the core of their team in the top European leagues, they’re probably Africa’s best hope. Having watched Didier Drogba regularly destroy my team, Arsenal, makes me not want to rule out his team, at least if he recovers in time.
They’re hungry in front of goal… and everywhere else. Virtually no chance of qualifying from such a tough group, but at least the players have been given the chance to leave North Korea. Likely to lose all three games, and at least three players due to defection.
Cristiano Ronaldo – that’s all you need to know. At least according to Cristiano Ronaldo, anyway. Losing Nani won’t have helped their slight lack of depth, and while they’re likely to finish runners-up in the group, they’re unlikely to make it beyond the quarters unless one of the world’s finest players does something special.
The young line-up do not act like a country that has been missing from the finals for 12 years. Okay, look, I just nicked that bit out of The Guardian’s preview. They’ve been hailed by some experts (including, um those of The Guardian) as a surprise package, but my relatively uninformed view is that they’ll be lucky to get out of the group ahead of Switzerland.
Nup. I’m sorry, I know that’s disrespectful, but there are 32 teams and I can’t be expected to research them all, can I? So – nup. Oh, all right. Beat Mexico 3-1 in qualifiers so are actually half-decent. But only half.
Favorites – but the Spaniards generally underperform at World Cups. But they’re European champions. But, I dunno, they’re still Spain. Incredible quality – Torres, Villa, Xavi, Iniesta, and a bunch of other exotic-sounding names – means they’ll be great to watch, and they’ve definitely got the quality to go all the way. And yet…
Very accurately timed passes. Sorry, that was a terrible clock-based gag. These guys punch above their weight for such a small country, but they don’t have the quality to make the quarters.