With 64 games crammed in to a month of football festivities, the whole world is waiting with baited breath to find out how it will all unfold. With a ball yet to be kicked, the talking points are still plentiful, from who will win and who will be top scorer, to who will go crashing out and what will happen off the field. Here, A
10 – Korea DPR to get a point
Potential whipping boys in a so-called Group of Death, the mysterious North Koreans could surprise just about the whole football world by taking at least a point from their more illustrious rivals. First opponents Brazil run the risk of underestimating Kim Jong-hun’s side – the one competing nation still largely under the radar in the days of high-speed internet and global media. Portugal struggled in qualifying against the likes of lowly Albania and an off-day could see them risk embarrassment. By the time North Korea play Ivory Coast, the Elephants may already know their fate and could be tempted to ease off the gas at the expense of an odds-on victory.
9 – Algeria to be whipping boys
The aforementioned Korea DPR and New Zealand are other teams viewed as potential whipping boys, but it is Algeria who this writer fancies to concede the most goals in the group stage. The Desert Foxes did well to qualify at the expense of Egypt but they showed their true colours in their Africa Cup of Nations capitulation to the same opponents. Easily beaten in a World Cup warm up game by a distinctly average Republic of Ireland side, they run the risk of experiencing a similar fate against Slovenia and United States. Their clash with England will be the one Fabio Capello will relish most as his strikers look for a confidence boosting boot-filling session.
8 – African teams to struggle
Not what the population of Africa or the romantic amongst us wants to hear, but it will not just be Algeria struggling in South Africa this summer. The hosts face the distinct prospect of being the first hosting nation to exit in the first round of a World Cup unless the crowds can act as a 12th man. None of the four west African qualifiers have enjoyed the best of years in 2010, with the pick of the bunch Ghana hampered by the loss of Michael Essien. The Ivorians have been dealt an unfairly tough draw for the second successive World Cup and could face Spain in the round of 16 if they manage to progress. Nigeria and Cameroon have moderately difficult draws but lack the cohesion to go far. Much has been made of playing on African soil but in reality the conditions in South Africa will be somewhat different to those north of the equator where they are all situated.
7 – Look out for Uruguay
South American sides are the only ones to have won a World Cup outside of their home continent and a strong showing is likely from the Latin American contingent. Paraguay have been dealt a kind draw and Chile have a genuine chance of qualifying along with Spain from Group H but look out too for Uruguay. In one of the most open groups, the Uruguayans boast one of the best strike forces in the whole competition with Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez in rich form for their clubs and Suarez’s Ajax club-mate Nicolas Lodeiro supplying the ammunition. A typically rugged defence and a solid goalkeeper in Lazio’s Fernando Muslera add to the overall package and could see Oscar Tabarez’s team progress if they can add consistency to the mix.
6 – Argentina to exit early
If their fellow South Americans are set to surpass expectations, Argentina are one side at risk of falling short. After scraping qualification under the erratic leadership of former national hero Diego Maradona, a lot still needs to be done to form a cohesive side from a very talented set of individuals. Last time Argentina faced Nigeria and Greece in the same group, la Albiceleste finished third in the table, a result not good enough to progress this time around. Maradona exited in shame and could face the same fate this time round, although hopefully not for drug-related reasons.
5 – Goal-line technology debate to rear its head
FIFA President Sepp Blatter might have declared the issue of goal-line technology in football closed but that will not stop the calls for video usage the moment a controversial incident arises. With so much at stake at the World Cup for all the entrants, one costly, dodgy call from a referee or his assistants will see commentators and spectators clamouring for Mr Blatter to reconsider. Of course, 44 years on from the most iconic of World Cup goal-line dramas, video technology has still to determine whether Geoff Hurst’s 1966 winning goal crossed the line or not. That will swiftly be forgotten as soon as one of the favourites goes crashing out thanks to a goal that should have been chalked off, and the calls will be as vociferous as ever and louder than a vuvuzela.
4 – Midfielder to win the Golden Shoe
With the role of the striker in decline and the goalscoring midfielder becoming increasingly crucial, it will not be a surprise to see a midfield player come away as top scorer at the World Cup. Will it be England’s own Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard or Brazil’s celebrated Kaka? Could Germany’s sharpshooting Bastian Schweinsteiger rack up enough goals or how about an outside tip like Australia’s Tim Cahill? The short odds will still be on the handful of top class forwards taking part but the best value for money will be found on the players in the middle of the park.
3 – Spain not to win their group
Spain flattering to deceive has been the norm at World Cups for decades but for once they will be arriving as worthy favourites. It is hard to see them slipping up after a staggering run of international results but the tag of favourites will bring with it an unwanted side effect. For the remaining sides in Group H, Spain will be the big scalp for them to aim at, and one slip up could see the Spanish relegated to second in the table. Chile are a dark horse to go a long way in the tournament with goal threats to be found throughout the team. Switzerland are a tough team to beat and did not concede a single goal at the 2006 World Cup. Honduras will not be there to make up the numbers as some have suggested and Spain might not have it all their own way in a distinctly Latino-flavoured group.
2 – England to win a penalty shootout
If there is one safe bet at a major tournament, it is usually for England to exit in a penalty shootout defeat. The year 2010 is when this changes. Too often the English have had to send forward the likes of David Batty and Gareth Southgate to take crucial spot-kicks, players who have never taken a penalty in their lives let alone at a huge international tournament. This year, England can call on several players who take penalties regularly for their club sides – the likes of Lampard, Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, James Milner and Jermain Defoe. None of these players have truly perfected the art yet but they must surely have a better chance than Batty did. Of c