james debate
james debate

Thursday 10 June 2010

Women of the world say goodbye to your husbands/boyfriends/sons for the next month, it's time for the biggest sporting event in the world, the World Cup. This year's tournament sees its contestants travel to South Africa, the first time the tournament has ever been hosted on the continent.

world cup 2010 tsevis

Picture credit goes to Tsevis.

South Africa has come a long way as a nation in the past decades, and now with the opportunity to shine on tv cameras broadcasting all around the world they are pulling out all the stops. The parties have begun, the vuvuzelas are being prepped, but through all the festivities this month is about 32 teams and 700 players including some of the world's biggest stars.

Each team has it's own unique story to tell, so here is our team by team guide to the World Cup 2010.


South Africa
Manager: Carlos Alberto Parreira
Key player: Steven Pienaar
World ranking: 86

Automatic qualification to the World Cup for the hosts might seem sweet at the time, but in reality it means a lack of competitive football where other teams have had a gruelling qualification campaign with which to prepare.

In addition, the team failed to even qualify for the African Cup of Nations this year, and have endured a multitude of off the pitch personal troubles with manager Parreira. Frankly there is a real probability of the hosts being embarrassed here, particularly in such a difficult group. The hosts are on a mission to show the best side of South Africa, and in doing so cause an upset as they did back in the 1995 Rugby World cup, and they'll need to in order to get any further than group stage.

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Javier Aguirre
Key player: Rafael Marquez
World ranking: 15

Mexico are a team that everyone seems to underestimate. They may never have won the competition, but more often than not they give a good account of themselves, including the last world cup where they took a very impressive Argentina side into extra time at the last 16.

At the back they have the quality and experience of Marquez, and the steady goalkeeping hands of Ochoa, whereas up front they have the skill of new West Ham favourite Guillermo Franco, Carlos Vela, and Giovani dos Santos. They certainly have the quality to proceed to the next round, but will face a strong challenge from a revitalised Uruguay team.

Verdict: Last 16

Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Key player: Diego Forlan
World ranking: 19

Once upon a time Uruguay were one of the major powers in world football, winning the World Cup on no less than two occasions. Now they are synonymous with inconsistency and known for a physical, some might say dirty, game.

In terms of players, focus will certainly be on star player and Europa League winner Diego Forlan, who will be looking to replicate his stellar club form for his country.

Can Uruguay return their football to the glory days not seen since the 50s?

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Raymond Domenech
Key player: Franck Ribery
World ranking: 7

You're never too sure what you're going to get from France, and I doubt I'm the only one who's surprised that Domenech is still in charge. Raymond Domenech has never been the most popular manager following a tradition of contentious decisions during his tenure, and indeed following their Euro 2000 win they had begun to develop something of a reputation for under performing until their somewhat surprising trip to the final in World Cup 2006 (courtesy of a contentious semi-final decision).

This year they came second in their qualification group below Serbia, and only qualified through the playoffs (courtesy of another contentious call), and few pundits are giving them much of a chance. However it is worth noting that they had been on a similarly terrible run of form in the build up to the 2006 World Cup as well, and look how that turned out. For a lot of these players the best may be behind them, but you still have to respect a squad with the likes of Ribery, Anelka, Malouda, Evra, Diarra and Gourcuff. Should still qualify for the next round though.

Domenech proved all his critics wrong in the last World Cup, can he rise above it all and do it once again?

Verdict: Quarter Finals


Manager: Diego Maradona
Key player: Lionel Messi
World ranking: 8

Probably the most interesting team to watch at the World Cup this year. On paper Argentina have some of the best players in the world and one of the best teams in the world. They would probably be my favourite for the tournament if not for their manager, and the awful qualification campaign he has led them through. In Maradona, Argentina have made the worst possible choice for a manager, someone with no experience or expertise, no humility or ability to admit mistakes, and worst of all so deified in his homeland that no matter how bad he fucks up he can never be fired.

Argentina just barely qualified for this world cup by the skin of their teeth, and judging by the questionable squad selection (no room for treble winning Zanetti or Cambiasso, a first team spot for Veron- yes THAT Veron) they probably shouldn't get their hopes up for much. Reports are coming from the team camp that the manager also has massive personal problems with several of his key players, notably Leo Messi. In short, there is so much drama and strife off the pitch that whatever happens this month it's going to be a spectacle.

Emotions are running high, as we saw with Maradona's tirade against all his critics when his team finally qualified for the World Cup, if he can pull this off it will certainly prove to be the biggest comeuppance the field of sports journalism has ever had, and will bestow upon Diego an even more God-like status among his compatriots.

Verdict: Quarter Finals

Manager: Shaibu Amodu
Key player: John Obi Mikel
World ranking: 22

The headlines recently have been more focused on age scandals (Kanu is HOW OLD??) than their dramatic qualification story, but with a squad boasting the likes of Obafemi Martins, Yakubu, Yobo and Mikel, regardless of how old any of them are, Nigeria are one of the strongest teams in African football.

They should have enough about them to get through this group, provided Greece don't pull a "Euro 2004".

Verdict: Last 16

South Korea
Manager: Huh Jung-Moo
Key player: Park Ji-Sung
World ranking: 52

They coasted through qualification with a superb defensive record and are a threat going forward thanks to the pace of Park Ji Sung.

However, they have predictably floundered on the world stage since the genius of Guus Hiddink took them to the semi finals on home soil back in 2002, and would do well to get beyond this group.

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Otto Rehhagel
Key player: Sotirios Kyrgiakos
World ranking: 12

Somewhere parties are probably still ongoing in Greece following their miraculous Euro 2004 victory, but make no mistake, aside from that competition their record is appalling. Victory in 2004 was built around a solid organised defence to make up for a lack of attacking talent, and this is precisely the problem, it's hard to see where the goals are going to come from.

Don't expect another miracle, expect lots of low score lines.

Verdict: Group stage


Manager: Fabio Capello
Key player: Wayne Rooney
World ranking: 9

Spirits were high following one of the smoothest qualification campaigns in English football history, under the stewardship of one of the finest managers in the world. But recently the wheels have started to come loose, with off the pitch scandals (poorly handled by the man in charge) starting to affect their performances on the pitch.

But despite this, England still have a great squad. The injury to Rio Ferdinand is a blow, but with his recent form and a switch of captaincy to the more capable Gerrard, England may actually find themselves better off. Without a doubt any success England have will come through Wayne Rooney, currently one of the best players in the world, but with a core of Lampard, Gerrard, A. Cole and Terry, this is a team that can compete with anyone on their day.

Can this team of perennial underachievers unite and rise above the ruckus of the gutter press and partisan club rivalries to prove the doubters wrong? Believe.

Verdict: Semi Finals

United States
Manager: Bob Bradley
Key player: Landon Donovan
World ranking: 14

The United States is a country going up in the world of football, following strong showings at the last world cup, and particularly last year's Confederations cup where they beat favourites Spain and nearly beat Brazil. They have also had a strong qualification campaign and will be looking to qualify from this group.

US have typically based their teams around organisation and hard work, lacking flair and creativity. However, with Landon Donovan hitting the form of his life, and the likes of Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore providing attacking threats and the underrated Tim Howard in goal.

It seems inevitable that a country with the demographic and socioeconomic advantages America has will rise to the top of world football one day, as they have in pretty much every other sport. But will it be this year?

Verdict: Last 16

Manager: Rabah Saadane
Key player: Karim Ziani
World ranking: 26

It has been a long time since Algeria have appeared on this stage, and understandably few people are tipping them to do much of anything. However anyone who has actually seen them play (as I have) will tell you not to underestimate the drive and technical ability this team possesses, and they could easily surprise a few people in the group stage if not approached with respect.

I don't expect them to progress from this group, but they should do enough to go home with their heads held high.

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Matjaz Kek
Key player: Milivoje Novakovic
World ranking: 33

Slovenia are a side with a bit of buzz about them heading into this tournament, which is surprising to the casual observer. However, this is a side that brushed past Guus Hiddink's Russia side in the qualification playoffs, and that is enough to earn the interest of the football cognoscenti.

But it's worth remembering the off the pitch distractions that were facing Hiddink at the time, particularly with regards to his future employment after this summer. Indeed while Slovenia have a habit of causing upsets in the past, they don't have the quality to really worry anyone this year.

Verdict: Group stage


Manager: Joachim Loew
Key player: Miroslav Klose
World ranking: 6

Ever an important fixture at these World Cups, Germany will nonetheless be without captain Michael Ballack, a massive blow. Despite this they still have plenty of strength throughout their squad, including the likes of Klose, Podolski and Schweinsteiger. They also have a few youthful prospects in their ranks to keep an eye on, particularly Mesut Ozil, star player at the U21s tournament a few year back, and by most people's reckonings a true star of tomorrow.

They should win the group, but it will be tougher than most people expect, particularly with the injuries the squad has.

Verdict: Semi Finals

Manager: Pim Verbeek
Key player: Tim Cahill
World ranking: 21

Another team recently in the headlines based on the merits of one Guus Hiddink, with their unlucky defeat to eventual winners Italy at the last world cup. The man may be gone, but this is not a team to underestimate. With the likes of Schwarzer in goal, Lucas Neill in defence and a midfield duo of Brett Emerton and Tim Cahill, there are a number of familiar, and talented, faces to be found.

Group D is an exciting one as potentially any of the four teams could qualify, and I think of the "other three" the Aussies could be the team to clinch 2nd.

Verdict: Last 16

Manager: Radomir Antic
Key player: Nemanja Vidic
World ranking: 20

Punching bags at the last world cup, particularly against Argentina, who scored one of the finest goals ever seen at the cup finals and ran out 6-0 winners. They have fortunately come a long way since then following a strong qualification campaign.

The squad contains the likes of Vidic, one of the world's top defenders, and Branislav Ivanovic, one of the top performers in the Premier League this season and voted into the official team of the season at right back. Meanwhile they have their own Peter Crouch up front in Nikola Zigic who can be a potent goal threat on his day.

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Milovan Rajevac
Key player: Sulley Muntari
World ranking: 37

Ghana are one of the major forces of African football and have a strong qualification campaign to prove it. However they have suffered a killer blow by losing Michael Essien, one of the world's best midfielders and without a doubt their best player. Should still give a decent showing, but without him are unlikely to see much success.

It's a shame that for the first big tournament being hosted in Africa, one of the best African players will not be present, but they can still take heart from a strong squad featuring the likes of Sulley Muntari. They are unlikely to progress through a tough group.

Verdict: Group stage


Manager: Bert van Marwijk
Key player: Wesley Sneijder
World ranking: 3

The Netherlands were one of the best teams at Euro 2008 until they were knocked out by Guus Hiddink's plucky underdogs, and they have had a stunning qualification success this season, becoming the first European team to qualify for the tournament (aside from Italy).

But we've all seen this story before, Netherlands rock up and play some brilliant football, free scoring with the likes of Robben and Van Persie and the sublime Wesley Sneijder and Van der Vaart, only to suffer for inconsistency and weak defending come the knockout rounds. Mind you, the odds of 11/1 are pretty tempting if you're looking for a smart bet, considering the problems other teams are facing, and the overall attacking strength of this Dutch team.

There is no question that this team is gifted, but can they finally find the consistency that has been lacking and win the biggest prize of all?

Verdict: Quarter Finals

Manager: Morten Olsen
Key player: Nicklas Bendtner
World ranking: 26

Their subjugation of Portugal during qualification has got a lot of people talking. But those people don't seem to have noticed how mediocre Portugal are these days.

Not much should be expected from this team though, and if you want to know why just look at the "key player". The likes of Jon Dahl Tomasson is still around but nowhere near the player he used to be. In with a good shout of beating off the likes of Cameroon and Japan in order to qualify to the next round, but unlikely.

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Takeshi Okada
Key player: Shunsuke Nakamura
World ranking: 43

Gave the illustrious likes of England a scare just the other week, but make no mistake that was more about England under performing. That being said, they have been improving in recent years, and Celtic's Nakamura, though getting a bit old, is still a top player.

Not an easy group for them though, and despite a good effort will probably not finish in the top 2, likely finish bottom of this group.

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Paul Le Guen
Key player: Samuel Eto'o
World ranking: 11

Always one of the big African teams, Cameroon's hopes as usual rest on the shoulders of one man, Samuel Eto'o. After a few years where it appeared that his star was fading, Eto'o is back to his best at Inter Milan and a real force to be reckoned with in these games.

They face a real fight to qualify for the next stage, but if their recent form is anything to go by I would expect them to come 2nd in the group.

Verdict: Last 16


Manager: Marcelo Lippi
Key player: Mauro Camoranesi
World ranking: 4

The World Champions look in poor shape. For starters, their best player Andrea Pirlo is injured and unlikely to appear during the group stages. More importantly though their team is ageing and Lippi has done little to try and bring through the next generation of Italian footballers.

A defence of their title looks unlikely, and it wouldn't even surprise me to see them go out early. That being said their group is one of the easier ones in the tournament and they should do fine there.

Returning manager Marcelo Lippi resigned shortly after winning the World Cup in 2006, only to return at a time of desperation for his nation's football. Can he give this ageing group of stars one final hurrah, or is it a tournament too many?

Verdict: Quarter Finals

Manager: Gerardo Martino
Key player: Roque Santa Cruz
World ranking: 30

Paraguay impressed everyone during qualification by finishing just a point behind Brazil and sealing their progress with a win over Argentina. However a number of key players from recent years have retired and this squad is still something of an unknown force.

Oscar Cardozo and Roque Santa Cruz will be key for them, and should still be able to qualify from this group.

Verdict: Last 16

New Zealand
Manager: Ricki Herbert
Key player: Ryan Nelsen
World ranking: 77

A bit of a newcomer at this level, New Zealand have nonetheless proven that they have the stomach for a fight. It seems unlikely that they have the quality to go with it that will be necessary for any kind of success.

Blackburn defender Nelsen is undoubtedly the highlight of a squad that contains a large number of lower league players. Whipping boys, sorry Kiwis, but hey thanks for Flight of the Conchords.

Verdicts: Group stage

Manager: Vladimir Weiss
Key player: Marek Hamsik
World ranking: 34

Well done Slovakia on qualifying for your first ever World Cup finals, but don't get too comfy. An outside chance to qualify from this group, but in all likelihood are going home early.

That being said they're no bad squad, with the likes of Hamsik, a future world star by all accounts, and Chelsea youngster Miroslav Stoch who was a major part of FC Twente's league win this season.

Verdict: Group stage



Manager: Dunga
Key player: Kaka
World ranking: 2

What really needs to be said about Brazil? They have won the competition more times than any other nation and go into each and every tournament as favourites. Renowned for playing the beautiful game in its purest form, manager Dunga has now added graft and responsibility to help them compete in the modern game.

With the likes of Kaka and Luis Fabiano up front, and one of the best defenders in the world right now in Lucio, they have a squad that can beat any in the world. Favourites to collect a 6th World Cup.

The great entertainers are here, and now they've got strength at the back so that they have the freedom to entertain.

Verdict: Winners

North Korea
Manager: Kim-Jong Hun
Key player: Hong Yong-Jo
World ranking: 84

Something of an unknown quantity in world football, and likely to make more waves for political reasons than sporting. Unlikely to have much effect on anything else. Let's just hope they don't somehow come up against South Korea. It's notable that the two teams were drawn so that them playing each other is the least likely possible fixture in this tournament, not that it was manipulated or anything.

They also happen to be in the toughest group of the tournament.

Verdict: Group stage

Ivory Coast
Manager: Sven Goran Eriksson
Key player: Didier Drogba
World ranking: 16

Seen by many to be the strongest African football team, with the likes of Eboue, Kalou, Tourés both Yaya and Kolo and of course the captain Didier Drogba. Last World Cup they played very well and were unlucky to be drawn in the toughest group against Netherlands and Argentina, narrowly losing out. Once again they have been handed a tough draw, but this time they might just have the edge over Portugal if Drogba is fit.

Though seen by many as a bit of a mercenary, Drogba's goal while playing for the Ivory Coast is no less than uniting the people of his country in the name of football, and bringing an end to his war torn homeland. He was recently named in Time magazine's most influential people in the world list for his humanitarian work and it's easy to see why.

Didier Drogba recently received a worrying injury, though it now looks like he could make a speedy recovery for the tournament. One would certainly hope so, as the first tournament to be hosted in Africa will certainly be at a detriment for losing one of its biggest stars and an absolute icon for the continent.

Verdict: Last 16

Manager: Carlos Queiroz
Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo
World ranking: 5

Portugal are a team that should really be better than they are, especially with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo within their ranks. However they made hard work of qualifying and are just not in a good vein of form right now. Something will need to be done to turn it around, but I feel they might not get out of this difficult group stage.

Verdict: Group stage


Manager: Vicente del Bosque
Key player: Fernando Torres
World ranking: 1

The champions of Europe and one of the big favourites at this year's World Cup. It's easy to see why, with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Fabregas in the midfield, Fernando Torres and David Villa up front, and the best goalkeeper in the world Iker Casillas in goal. It's an embarrassment of riches that makes them, on paper, the strongest team in the tournament.

But this is not new for Spain, who have always looked good on paper, only to choke when it matters. For this reason it was something of a surprise when they actually lived up to their billing and delivered victory in 2008, but can they do it two in a row?

Verdict: Runners up

Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Key player: Alexander Frei
World ranking: 18

Switzerland are never going to be a favoured team, but rest assured they are no push overs. In Hitzfeld they have a very capable manager and a decent squad featuring the likes of Frei, Barnetta and Inler.

They stand a good chance in this group, but will be wary of the threat posed by dark horses Chile.

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Reinaldo Rueda
Key player: Wilson Palacios
World ranking: 38

Honduras have Wilson Palacios. Other than that, it's hard to see where the danger is going to come from, particularly against the likes of Spain.

Off the pitch political troubles back at the homeland will undoubtedly pray on the minds of these players as well, meaning an early return home is likely to be on the cards.

Verdict: Group stage

Manager: Marcelo Biesla
Key player: Alexis Sanchez
World ranking: 17

Chile are not a team I imagine many people will know anything about at this year's tournament. So I can imagine it comes as some surprise when I say that they play some of the best attacking football of any team at this tournament. With the likes of the superb Alexis Sanchez and Humberto Suazo, who finished top scorer in the South American qualifying stage, they have wowed pundits and fans over the last 2 years.

It is unfortunate then that they don't really have a defence to go along with it, and also shipped more goals than most teams in qualifying. Could just edge Switzerland to get out of this group, but unlikely to get any further. The prospect of Brazil vs Chile in the second round will be one for the neutrals.

Verdict: Last 16

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