The 2010 World Cup is nearly upon us — it starts Friday June 11 and the 64 matches of the tournament are played over the following month. The tournament culminates with the World Cup final match that will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 11, 2010. This World Cup marks the first time that the most prestigious sporting event on earth will be held on the continent of Africa. South Africa won the right to host the tournament, and they have prepared for years by spending enormous sums of money to upgrade their national infrastructure and the stadiums where the actual matches will be held.
The first round of the tournament is known as the “Group Stage” as each of the 32 nations was drawn into eight groups of four teams. Within those groups, each team plays the other teams in their group once and the two teams with the most points (a win counts for three points and a tie counts for one point) advance to the Round of 16. For reference purposes, a team generally needs at least one win and one tie out of the three games to advance, and often it takes two wins out of the three games to advance.
Analysis by group:
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay and France.
France would have to be the clear favorite to advance out of Group A. Mexico and two-time World Cup winner Uruguay will both feel they have a significant chance to advance as well. World Cup host nations have a history of far exceeding expectations (England won their only World Cup when they hosted in 1966 and France won when they hosted in 1998 for instance), so don’t count out the South Africans.
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea and Greece
Argentina is the overwhelming favorite to advance out of this group – though they did have significant trouble even qualifying for the tournament, so that must concern even the most passionate Argentinean soccer fan. However, it’s hard to imagine a team led by World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and attackers such as Carlos Tevez being denied. Do not be surprised if any of the remaining three teams qualify for the Round of 16, as they all have had success in recent major touraments.
Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia
This particular group is one of the most interesting of the eight. On paper, England and the United States would seem to be the favorites to advance. However, the schedule is setup such that they play each other first, so the loser of that game will face an enormous amount of pressure to either win their last two games or at least get a win and a tie and hope for the best. Because of this, it seems hard to believe that both nations would qualify for the Round of 16. England seems to be the favorite to advance, though the entire nation is holding its collective breath hoping that Wayne Rooney can stay healthy. He’s easily one of the top five players in the world and they need him to shake off his leg injuries. Algeria and Slovenia are relative unknowns, but they’ve both shown in qualifying that they can pull off significant surprises – expect one in this group.
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia and Ghana
This group appears to be one of the weakest on paper. Germany must be favored to advance, though a recent World Cup ending injury to Michael Ballack must be concerning. Ghana would have been a popular pick to advance, but their best player Michael Essien was ruled out of the tournament through injury. That is devastating to their chances. Serbia and Australia must now feel they have a real chance to advance and anything is possible in this group.
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
The Netherlands is always a team loaded with individual talent, though they’ve never been able to translate that into a World Cup championship. Expect their talent level to at least carry them through to the Round of 16. Denmark is usually an unfashionable team, but they topped UEFA Group 1 in qualifying, beating out Portugal and Sweden, so they are clearly in top form. Japan and Cameroon both should have a shot to advance, though the Netherlands and Denmark would likely be favored.
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Defending (and four-time) World Cup champions Italy will advance out of this rather weak group. New Zealand has never won or tied a game in the World Cup and Slovakia is making its first appearance. Paraguay should be the second team to qualify from this group, as they endured a difficult South American qualifying campaign to qualify and their opposition in the World Cup shouldn’t be as challenging.
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast and Portugal
This is known as the 2010 “Group of Death” as Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal would all be favored to advance if they were placed in nearly any of the other seven groups. It is therefore impossible to say who will advance out of this group, but we know we’ll see some of the best players in the world such as Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Kaka.
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile
Spain will almost certainly qualify for the Round of 16 as they are the defending European Champion and they are just absolutely loaded with talent. Honduras seems to be the weakest team in this group, though they have always shown themselves to be a formidable opponent when playing the US and Mexico in CONCACAF qualifying. One would suspect that either Chile or Switzerland would be the second team to qualify out of this group, but anything can happen.
The favorites to win the World Cup are Spain and Argentina, though any of about ten nations can realistically expect to win the tournament. It should be extremely exciting, and for the first time ever all 64 matches will be shown live on US television in high definition. All 64 games will be broadcast on either ABC, ESPN or ESPN2