For those of you who are not enthusiastic about the World Cup - shame on you. But bear with me while I make some predictions for the tournament and rate the main contenders. I'll look back afterwards and laugh at how wrong I was, no doubt.
David Villa (Spain - pictured right). The Spanish team should, at the very least, make a deep run into the tournament, and to top the scoring charts you need to play a lot of games. Not only is Villa a cracking striker, he has a team of brilliant passers who will serve up chances on a plate for him. If not Villa, I'll plump for Brazil's Luis Fabiano.
TOURNAMENT'S BEST PLAYER:
I'll go really out on a limb here and say Arjen Robben (Netherlands). If his team do well, the prematurely-balding winger will be at the heart of most of their good play, should he stay fit.
WHICH BIG TEAM WILL DISAPPOINT?
France. Their talented team is riven by internal tensions, they are lacking midfield engine Lassana Diarra, and they have one of the world's most incompetent coaches in Raymond Domenech. They have a relatively easy group but might not make it out.
THE "DARK HORSE" TEAM (WHICH WILL MAKE AN UNEXPECTED RUN DEEP INTO THE TOURNAMENT):
Uruguay could well finish first in their relatively weak group, and in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez they have two strikers with formidable scoring records in Europe. Serbia may also surprise a few.
HOW WILL AUSTRALIA DO:
Aussie expectations were high after their spirited run in 2006, but this year's team is a dour defensive unit who are severely lacking in attacking flair. They are in a tough group (against Germany, Ghana and Serbia) and while advancement is certainly achievable, I don't like their chances. But if perma-crock Harry Kewell actually stays fit and plays the tournament of his life, you never know.
World ranking: 2
The Spaniards usually look promising at World Cups, but have never delivered. But if they ever do make good on their potential, this is surely the year to do it. The team is built around the slick passing of Barcelona duo Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and the finishing of David Villa and Fernando Torres. They will look to pass their opponents to death, but have plenty of options from the bench to change things up; such as pacy winger Jesus Navas and powerful 6'5 striker Fernando Llorente. It's hard to go past them, really. Except it's Spain. They always screw up... and the favourites never win...
World ranking: 7
World ranking: 1
Coach Dunga has remade his team in his own image; functional, rather than flamboyant. He has controversially left out Ronaldinho, yet the team are still stacked with talent; Kaka, Robinho, Luis Fabiano and Douglas Maicon to name a few. But while the names are big, their form is an issue. Kaka, World Player of the Year only 3 years ago, is coming off an indifferent season, as is midfield enforcer Felipe Melo. Still, they qualified as the top team in South America, and their world number 1 ranking is no accident. No one seems to be getting overly excited about the Samba King's chances this time around, but they will be hard to score against, and have plenty of goals in them.
World ranking: 4th
The Oranje are always blessed with amazing talent yet seem destined never to quite turn that into a World Cup win. The key for them is whether their defence is strong enough; their attacking punch is not in doubt. Playmaker Wesley Sneijder, striker Robin Van Persie and winger Arjen Robben (pictured left) are all coming into the tournament in scintillating form. The other key will be whether Robben is fit or not; he may have single-handedly led Bayern Munich to the Champions League Final, but he is currently under an injury cloud and is liable to break at any time.
The Dutch always look amazing initially, and then inevitably disappoint. While I'm hoping they break the mould this time, I'm not expecting it to happen.
World ranking: 6th.
World ranking: 3rd.
Portugal struggled through the qualification stages, and still haven't found a top striker after all these years. What they do have is Cristiano Ronaldo, and with him anything is possible. They'll have to first get out of their tough group though, which includes Brazil and the Ivory Coast. Which they may well not do; if you are going to pick one of the big names to flop, the Portuguese might have that dubious honour.
World ranking: 5th
While no one should write off the defending champions, Italy are an ageing team built around players from underperforming Juventus and AC Milan. They will be hard to beat, as they are an experienced and savvy team who know how to get a result. But 4 years ago it was a team made of players in their prime. The stars who did it for them back then are either no longer in the squad, or are starting to creak a little. They do have the benefit of starting in the weakest group in the tournament (with New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia).
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