Football Sport Cover features

World Cup team profiles

Pai Yao
Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the May/Jun 2010 issue of World Gaming magazine.

France

Head Coach: Raymond Domenech

Team Captain: Patrick Viera (Manchester City)

FIFA Ranking: 7

France was one of the four European teams that participated in the inaugural World Cup in 1930, and is one of seven national teams to have won the World Cup: in 1998 they hosted the competition, defeating Brazil 3-0 in the final.

Since 2006, a new selection of senior figures have stepped forward. Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, William Gallas, Jeremy Toulalan and Lassana Diarra represent the leadership group that will make up the backbone of the French team. Meanwhile, the emergence of Yoann Gourcuff and the talent of Franck Ribery will give them an exciting new look in attack

Domenech has yet to lift any silverware, but he is now the country’s longest serving national coach, and can point to a FIFA World Cup Final appearance as the highlight so far of a career that has had a steady upwards trajectory.

France in many ways were lucky to make the World Cup, as it took an extra-time goal in their play-off with Ireland to give them a 2-1 aggregate win and finally send them through. Pessimists will focus on the team’s troubles in securing a ticket to the main event, while optimists will recall that they also flirted with disaster ahead of Germany 2006, before going on to reach the final.

Odds to win the World Cup: 14/1 ($15)

Mexico

Head Coach: Javier Aguirre

Team Captain: Rafael Márquez (Barcelona)

FIFA Ranking: 17

Mexico has qualified for thirteen World Cups. Their best ever campaigns saw them make the quarter-finals in 1970 and 1986 – both years when the competition was staged in Mexico. You would have to say that they are consistent under-achievers for a country that adores the world game.

A turbulent qualifying series saw them struggle early, but they came home strongly in arguably the easiest qualifying region to take their place in the final 32 teams. After a turbulent couple of years that have seen three coaches come and go, Mexico has now returned to calmer waters. Under the steadying influence of Javier Aguirre, the former Atletico Madrid coach has put together a team comprising bright young talents and established stars, restoring their wavering confidence in the process.

Veteran play-maker Cuauhtemoc Blanco was lured out of retirement by Aguirre and the uniquely talented 36-year-old became the symbol of a revitalised team. He helped younger team-mates such as Guillermo Ochoa, Efrain Juarez, Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos to find their best form. Along with skipper Rafael Márquez, they are sure to provide the nucleus of the squad that will travel to South Africa 2010. In a competitive but easy group they could easily progress through to the final 16.

Odds to win the World Cup: 80/1 ($81)

South Africa

Head Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira

Team Captain: Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth)

FIFA Ranking: 85

South Africa has come a long way from being banned by FIFA in 1962 to hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. South Africa’s performance at the FIFA Confederations Cup last June, when they lost narrowly to Brazil in the semi-finals and to Spain in the third place play-off, is a reminder to their detractors that this team, when stretched to its potential, cannot be underestimated.

South Africa’s Brazilian coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, has the pedigree to lead the team, having won football’s ultimate prize for his native country in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA. Talented midfield maestro Steven Pienaar is South Africa’s trump card. Pienaar brings muchneeded innovation and imagination to the side. Since his arrival at Everton, Pienaar has reinvented himself and has matured as an all-round player. Other players such as Siboniso Gaxa and the enterprising Tsepho Masilela will need to be at their best for the South Africans to make an impact in the tournament.

It will be an amazing thing to see the South Africans play in their own World Cup, but it would be a big surprise if they were to qualify through to the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 125/1 ($126)

Uruguay

Head Coach: Oscar Tabarez

Team Captain: Diego Lugano (Fenerbahçe S.K.)

FIFA Ranking: 20

Uruguay has a rich history that includes two FIFA World Cups. The first came in the firstever held in 1930, where they beat Argentina on home soil; and their second came in 1950, when they upset hosts Brazil 2-1 in the final. Uruguay has a very small population, with less than four million inhabitants – but the country eats, sleeps and breathes football. However, the level of the Uruguay national team has decreased lately as Uruguay has only qualified on two occasions in the last five World Cups, even though they are always competitive in South American competitions.

The man in charge is Oscar Tabarez, who is now in his second stint as national coach, having taken the Uruguayans through to the last 16 in Italy 1990. The Uruguay side features a mix of youthful players and household names. They are led by Diego Lugano, their temperamental and strong-willed skipper. Up front they have a fearsome strike partnership formed by the Atletico Madrid striker, Diego Forlan, and Luis Suarez, the captain of Dutch team AFC Ajax. Together the duo scored 12 goals in the qualifiers. They again struggled to qualify, but they have the pedigree to figure. They have drawn the perfect group and could easily progress through to the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 100/1 ($101)

Argentina

Head Coach: Diego Maradona

Team Captain: Javier Mascherano (Liverpool FC)

FIFA Ranking: 8

Argentina has twice won the FIFA World Cup – in 1978 and 1986. They have won the Copa América 14 times – a record shared with Uruguay – the Confederations Cup in 1992, and the Olympic Football Tournament in 2004 and 2008.

Argentina and Uruguay hold the record for the most international matches played between two countries: the two teams have faced each other 161 times since 1901. The first match against Uruguay was the first official international match to be played outside the United Kingdom.

The Argentineans made extremely hard work of qualifying for the finals, just as they did in 1985. Despite this, Argentina is travelling to South Africa with serious designs on winning the title for the first time in 24 years. To achieve that goal, they have a star-studded squad with the likes of Lionel Messi and a host of other young stars. Providing the midfield ballast for the darting Messi will be their captain and driving force, Javier Mascherano. Juan Sebastian Veron will be out to prove a point after Argentina’s poor display in the 2002 World Cup.

The other thing they have in their camp is their coach, Diego Maradona, who was the greatest ever Argentinean Champion and arguably the greatest to ever play the game.

Odds to win the World Cup: 7/1 ($8)

Greece

Head Coach: Otto Rehhagel

Team Captain: Giorgos Karagounis (Panathinaikos)

FIFA Ranking: 13

UEFA Euro 2004 was to throw up one of the game’s greatest ever upsets. The Greeks at 100/1 were crowned European champions in only their second appearance in the tournament. Since then, Greece have proven more competitive than they used to be and the team enjoys huge support at home and on the road.

This will be coach Rehhagel’s first FIFA World Cup finals and no one could deny the German has earned his chance. The Greeks are not short on experience; among their veteran performers are defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who played more qualifying minutes than any other squad member, and former Inter Milan and Benfica midfielder Karagounis. In their forward line-up they can call on ten-goal Theofanis Gekas, the top scorer in European Zone qualifying, and the physical presence of four-goal Angelos Charisteas, scorer of the winner in the final at Euro 2004.

The Greeks didn’t find it easy in qualification, but they have found themselves in an interesting group. On paper you would think that their chance of qualifying will come down to their game with Nigeria.

Odds to win the World Cup: 150/1 ($151)

Korea Republic

Head Coach: Huh Jung-Moo

Team Captain: Park Ji-Sung (Manchester Utd)

FIFA Ranking: 52

The Korean Republic is considered by many as the most successful Asian football team. Being a two-time straight AFC Asian Cup champion, South Korea has participated in seven World Cup final tournaments and became the first and only Asian team to reach the semi-finals, doing so when it co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Japan.

The Koreans topped their Asian group in qualifying, but they were far from impressive. Park Ji-Sung has played a key role in the Korea Republic’s two previous FIFA World Cup campaigns, and established himself as the captain of his country in recent years. The multi-functional winger of Manchester United is now an indispensable member of the team, with his ability to create space and chances for his team-mates. He will need help from his team mate Park Chu-Young, who is widely tipped as the one man who could solve their problems in front of goal.

Many experts believe the Asians will really struggle in this World Cup, and it would be a big surprise to see the Koreans progress.

Odds to win the World Cup: 250/1 ($251)

Nigeria

Head Coach: Lars Lagerback

Team Captain: Joseph Yobo (Everton)

FIFA Ranking: 22

Nigeria hit the headlines in their first World Cup appearance in 1994 in the USA, when they dismantled eventual semi-finalists Bulgaria 3-0 in their first match, before going on to cruelly fall 2-1 against Italy in the second round. They suffered the same fate in 1998 when they stunned Spain and Bulgaria in qualifying for the second round, only to fall into a heap in a 4-1 thumping at the hands of Denmark.

Qualification was sweet vindication for Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu, who came under incredible scrutiny at different stages of the journey. At times they were brilliant, and at other times they were equally disappointing.

They have the ability to score a lot of goals in South Africa. They have a dynamic attack that features the likes of Martins, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Peter Odemwingie – as well as youngsters Victor Obinna and Ikechukwu Uche, and evergreen Nwankwo Kanu in what is surely his last roll of the dice. Captain Joseph Yobo will guide the team from his role as a central defender.

The Nigerians will most likely make their presence felt at some stage in this tournament. On their day, they have the ability to beat anyone – but it would be hard to see them show enough discipline to keep winning sudden death matches later in the tournament.

Odds to win the World Cup: 100/1 ($101)

Algeria

Head Coach: Rabah Saadane

Team Captain: Yazid Mansouri (Lorient)

FIFA Ranking: 26

Algeria made two consecutive World Cup appearances, in 1982 and 1986, and lifted the African Nations Cup in 1990 when they were the host country. The team has slowly worked its way back into the football elite after ten years of very hard work.

Their qualification was far from perfect and Algeria nearly bowed out in the first round of the competition. In the second round they failed to finish off many opportunities again, and in November 2009, they beat fierce rivals Egypt 1-0 in a play-off in Khartoum, to secure their 2010 World Cup place.

Midfield is Algeria’s main strength, with their Captain Yazid Mansouri feeding naturally gifted players like Karim Ziani and Mourad Meghni – who are the most likely players to create trouble for opposition teams. Antar Yahia is one of the pillars at the back for his team, a status he shares with Madjid Bougherra, Nadir Belhadj and goalkeeper Lounes Gaouaoui.

Self-belief is high, and a weak group gives them a faint chance of making it through to the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 600/1 ($601)

England

Head Coach: Fabio Capello

Team Captain: Rio Ferdinand

FIFA Ranking: 9

England is one of seven national teams to have won the FIFA World Cup. They achieved this feat in 1966, when they hosted the finals and defeated West Germany 4–2 in extra time. Since then England’s best performance at a World Cup was reaching the semi-finals in 1990, losing to West Germany on penalties.

The appointment of Fabio Capello appears to have brought fresh vigour to the England squad, many of whom have a point to prove after lack-lustre displays when it mattered most under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren. The team’s performance speaks volumes for Capello’s impact in his relatively short time in charge. They powered through qualification and the team is certainly not short on belief.

Wayne Rooney has to be the man up front, and he should be fed plenty of opportunities by the likes of midfield duo Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. The John Terry saga has certainly appeared to create some cracks in the English camp, but it could just as easily galvanise them. This is one of their best chances to taste the ultimate prize in world football again, but pressure and egos can be hard to keep under control.

Odds to win the World Cup: 6/1 ($7)

Slovenia

Head Coach: Matjaž Kek

Team Captain: Robert Koren (West Bromwich Albion)

FIFA Ranking: 31

The new country of Slovenia has a proud football heritage, with its players once playing under the banner of Yugoslavia. The Slovenians’ qualifying success has been based on a miserly defence that conceded just four goals in ten group matches.

Coach Matjaž Kek, who as a player was renowned more for his leadership skills rather than any great natural talent, was given his first managerial post in 2000. Since then he has gone on to exceed all expectations by getting a team to the game’s greatest stage. In November 2009, Slovenia defeated Russia in a play-off to clinch their berth to South Africa: a result that is considered as one of the great World Cup qualifying upsets of recent years. This is not a team of champions, but players like Milivoje Novakovic, Samir Handanovic and captain Robert Koren are all world class players.

The Slovenians play fairly boring football and one would only hope that this style of play doesn’t cut it against the world’s best. It works for the Italians, however, and they have drawn the weakest group in the Cup, and could conceivably sneak through to the second round if they can score goals themselves.

Odds to win the World Cup: 300/1 ($301)

USA

Head Coach: Bob Bradley

Team Captain: Carlos Bocanegra (Stade Rennes)

FIFA Ranking: 14

The USA has qualified for the last five FIFA World Cup competitions. Football is certainly not the biggest sport in this part of the world, but its popularity and participation levels have consistently grown since the 1970s.

The USA cruised through qualification in impressive fashion, even if it was the easiest passage through to the Cup. The USA coach, Bob Bradley, was originally appointed on a caretaker basis, though a run of ten games unbeaten quickly convinced the powers that be that he deserved the role on a permanent basis.

In recent years, the name Landon Donovan has been synonymous with the US national team. The former Los Angeles Galaxy attacker saves his best performances for his national team, and Donovan will once again be one of his team’s leading men in South Africa. Providing an impressive supporting cast are the likes of Oguchi Onyewu, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey – who are all plying their trades in Europe.

The USA have shown in the past that they are a good football team. This is a great opportunity to progress through a weak group and take their place in the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 75/1 ($76)

Australia

Head Coach: Pim Verbeek

Team Captain: Lucas Neill (Galatasaray)

FIFA Ranking: 21

Australia was one of the first teams to make it through to the World Cup finals in South Africa by easily winning their Asian qualifying group. Football is not Australia’s national sport, but the game continues to grow in the country as their national team continues to improve.

Australia made a strong statement in the 2006 World Cup by reaching the knock-out stage, where they were finally eliminated by a last-minute goal from eventual champions Italy. After a lengthy apprenticeship under Guus Hiddink, Pim Verbeek stepped out of the shadows assuming the reins of Australia in December 2007. Much of the team remains the same and they are well-drilled and ready to go.

Attacking Everton midfielder Tim Cahill has a remarkable goal return for the team, and must make his presence felt. Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton will play on the flanks, while Vince Grella and Jason Culina will control the centre. Lucas Neill, and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer at the back, round out a well balanced team.

Make no mistake – this is the group of death. There are no easy games, and any of these four teams could make it through to the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 80/1 ($81)

Germany

Head Coach: Joachim Löw Team

Captain: Michael Ballack (Chelsea)

FIFA Ranking: 6

Germany are always a consistent football team. They consistently do well in the World Cup as they are well-drilled and always bring their best to this competition.

Joachim Löw took over as head coach in 2006, and continued with the philosophy of his predecessor, Jurgen Klinsmann. Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack is not only the captain of his country, but the heart and soul of the team. He will make his 100th appearance for the Germans at this World Cup. Bayern Munich striker Klose has scored 48 goals in 93 internationals, and should be the man that leads from the front.

Clinical efficiency was the hallmark of Germany’s march towards qualification in an easy group featuring Wales, Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein – who were all put to the sword with the minimum of fuss.

Germany are the clear favourites to progress through this group, though it isn’t going to be easy and they are certainly far from certainties.

Odds to win the World Cup: 14/1 ($15)

Ghana

Head Coach: Milovan Rajevac

Team Captain: Stephen Appiah (Bologna)

FIFA Ranking: 34

This will be Ghana’s third appearance at the World Cup. The team has won the African Cup of Nations four times, making Ghana the second most successful team in the contest’s history, behind Egypt. With added experience since their 2006 World Cup adventure, where they lost to Italy and Brazil but beat the Czech Republic and the USA, Ghana are set to be a major threat at Africa’s first FIFA World Cup.

Their coach Milovan Rajevac is a former defender, who played his career in Yugoslavia. His team cruised through qualification and never looked like missing a spot in the finals. Although Ghana lacks the attacking firepower of many African sides, they rely most prominently on a world-class midfield led by Michael Essien. Sulley Muntari and captain Stephen Appiah join Essien to form a formidable engine-room capable of scintillating attack and stout rebound defence. They also have plenty of European-based talent up front and at the back, which makes them and the Ivory Coast a cut above the other African sides.

Like the other three, they have every possible chance to make it through to the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 100/1 ($101)

Serbia

Head Coach: Radomir Antić

Team Captain: Dejan Stanković (Internazionale Milan)

FIFA Ranking: 19

Serbia has a long football history that is linked to Yugoslavia, so it is a little hard to comment on their history like other teams. Serbia’s coach, Radomir Antić’s playing career included stints with Partizan Belgrade and clubs in Turkey, Spain and England. It was his coaching roles where he truly began to excel, where he made quite a name for himself with some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Antić was appointed as Serbia’s coach in 2008; his tactical expertise and ability has brought out the best in his players.

The Serbians didn’t even raise a sweat in qualifying for the World Cup, and charged through the qualifying stages to win their group by four points. The Serbian back-line is dominated by Nemanja Vidic – the Manchester United centre-back who is widely regarded as one of the best in the world, and was named the 2008/09 English Premier League’s player of the season. Multi-functional midfielder Dejan Stanković has been an international since 1998 and now captains his country, while Marko Pantelic and Milan Jovanovic carry a threat in attack.

Again, this is another very good football team that will press the other three sides for a place in the finals.

Odds to win the World Cup: 66/1 ($67)

Cameroon

Head Coach: Paul Le Guen

Team Captain: Samuel Eto’o (Internazionale Milan)

FIFA Ranking: 11

Cameroon is Africa’s most successful side; their appearance in South Africa will be the team’s sixth FIFA World Cup appearance. They were the first African team to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup, in 1990, losing to England in extra time. They have also won four African Nations Cups.

Head coach Le Guen, who previously managed clubs like Lyon, Rangers and Paris St. Germain, has brought a change in attitude and professionalism to the side. His controversial decision to hand the captaincy to three-time African player of the year Samuel Eto’o in place of long-time captain Rigobert Song turned out to be just what the two players needed.

Cameroon got off to a slow start in qualifying but soon hit their straps and cruised through without too much trouble. Eto’o scored a total of nine goals in 11 qualifiers, and the world-class striker will be the first player opposing sides will try to stop. The promising Pierre Webó is the other main threat up front.

Cameroon is not a side to underestimate at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. They have drawn a very favourable group, but might not have the depth of class like fellow African side, the Ivory Coast.

Odds to win the World Cup: 100/1 ($101)

Denmark

Head Coach: Morten Olsen

Team Captain: Jon Dahl Tomasson (Feyenoord)

FIFA Ranking: 36

Denmark has been a competitive side in international football since the mid-1980s, with its upset triumph in the 1992 European Championships being its highlight.

The Danes were ultra-impressive in qualifying and topped their group. Their crucial 3-2 victory over Portugal in Lisbon and a 1-0 win over Scandinavian rivals Sweden ensured Denmark a trip to South Africa.

Olsen will complete a decade as Denmark head coach at the finals in South Africa – something that in itself is unusual in football these days. He took the helm in 2000, guiding Denmark to the 2002 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2004. Denmark’s key players are largely drawn from big-name European clubs including the likes of Juventus, Arsenal, Liverpool and Werder Bremen. National captain Tomasson currently leads the Feyenoord forward line after a career featuring spells with AC Milan and Villarreal.

Denmark are solid but you would have to question their ability to damage quality opposition on a stage like this. A weak group will probably see them clash against Cameroon for a place in the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 125/1 ($126)

Japan

Head Coach: Takeshi Okada

Team Captain: Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama)

FIFA Ranking: 43

Japan, like Korea, has a rich football history. They have qualified for the previous three consecutive World Cup finals, but only advanced beyond the group stage in 2002 when they co-hosted the tournament with South Korea.

National team coach Okada is widely considered to be one of the finest Japanese strategists around. He was at the helm during Japan’s first FIFA World Cup appearance at France 1998. He subsequently stepped away from the national team to lead J-League club Marinos to successive league titles in 2003 and 2004, but in 2007 Okada picked up the reins of the national team for a second time. The Japanese qualified easily, finishing second to Australia in their group.

Japan’s biggest star is former Celtic play-maker Shunsuke Nakamura, who in the summer of 2009 made the switch from Glasgow to Spanish La Liga club Espanyol. Another European-based performer is young midfielder Keisuke Honda, at Dutch Premier League club VVV Venlo, and like Nakamura a gifted left-footer.

This Japanese team is far from menacing, and represent a fairly weak Asian contingency this World Cup. They have been blessed by an easy draw, but it would still be a surprise to see them make the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 250/1 ($251)

Netherlands

Head Coach: Bert van Marwijk

Team Captain: Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord)

FIFA Ranking: 3

The Netherlands – more commonly referred to as Holland – have an incredible history in world football. Along with Spain, they are remembered for losing big matches, not winning them. They reached two consecutive World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978, but lost both finals to their respective host nations, West Germany and Argentina. At the peak of its success in the 1970s, the team was famous for its mastery of ‘total football’ and was nicknamed “Clockwork Oranje”, for its precision passing.

Bert van Marwijk has appeared to be a great influence on the team. His calm, affable and discreet demeanour has seen Marwijk grow close to his players. Picking up eight wins from eight games, they made faultless progress in their World Cup qualifying group, conceding only twice – while they found the back of the net 17 times.

With the retirement of Edwin van der Saar and Ruud van Nistelrooy from international duties, Marwijk has looked towards younger talent. Arjen Robben, Joris Mathijsen, Andre Ooijer, Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Giovanni van Bronckhorst are just some of the talents the Dutch posses.

The squad, which is one of undisputed talent, have made no efforts to conceal their ambitions in South Africa. They should cruise through undefeated in this group, and their biggest concern is that they may lack hard match fitness against quality opposition when it arrives deeper in the tournament.

Odds to win the World Cup: 11/1 ($12)

Italy

Head Coach: Marcello Lippi

Team Captain: Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus)

FIFA Ranking: 4

Italy are the current World Champions, having won the 2006 FIFA World Cup against France. It is hard to deny the Italians’ pedigree at the top of world football and they are the second most successful national team in the history of the World Cup, having won four titles (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006) – just one less than Brazil.

In the field of coaching, 61-year-old Marcello Lippi is an expert at making changes that yield results, with no fewer than five of the 12 goals Italy registered at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany coming from substitutes. On their way to qualifying for the 2010 finals, Lippi used a total of 36 players. The leader at the back is evergreen captain Fabio Cannavaro, the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year, who continues to dominate even after his 130 caps.

The Italians play a boring but accountable style of football. They are never exciting, but they certainly are successful. The reigning champions have the easiest of draws to start with, but may lack the quality needed to progress deep into the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 14/1 ($15)

New Zealand

Head Coach: Ricki Herbert

Team Captain: Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers)

FIFA Ranking: 82

New Zealand will take its place in the World Cup finals for only the second time. Their first appearance was way back in 1982. Rugby is the national sport of New Zealand, but the round ball game is certainly growing in popularity due to the success of this team.

Ricki Herbert is one of New Zealand football’s most famous figures, having been a regular member of the Spain ’82 squad and then becoming one of the first Kiwis to play in England, which he did with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Herbert has formed New Zealand into a solid working unit that produces consistent performances.

Captain and centre-back Ryan Nelsen is undoubtedly the highest profile member of the squad with the best credentials. The resolute defender has been a regular at Blackburn Rovers for a number of years, and is the only New Zealander to achieve such longevity in the English Premier League. In attack, the team will rely on Gold Coast striker Shane Smeltz.

New Zealand has defied the odds just to make it to South Africa. They are certainly lucky they didn’t end up in a group like the poor North Koreans. They would be happy with three competitive performances, and they have drawn the weakest of all the eight groups.

Odds to win the World Cup: 1,500/1 ($1,501)

Paraguay

Head Coach: Gerardo Martino

Team Captain: Denis Caniza (Nacional)

FIFA Ranking: 29

Paraguay has reached the second round of the World Cup on three occasions – in 1986, 1998 and 2002 – but has never advanced beyond that stage. Paraguay is another of the South American teams that can beat anyone on their day.

In 2007, Argentine Gerardo Martino was given the coaching job at Paraguay. While maintaining sound defensive standards, the team has added an exciting attacking dimension to their game, thanks to the emergence of a clutch of powerful and talented forwards with the ability to unsettle any opposing rearguard. The squad has several internationally renowned players, most of whom play their club football in Mexico and Europe. They weren’t explosive in qualifying, but they never looked as if they were going to miss out, and were very hard to stop at home.

This group comes down to one game: Paraguay versus Slovakia – where one of these two teams will be gifted a spot in the second round, regardless of merit.

Odds to win the World Cup: 66/1 ($67)

Slovakia

Head Coach: Vladimir Weiss

Team Captain: Marek Hamšík (Napoli)

FIFA Ranking: 33

Slovakia is another Eastern European soccer nation with a history that is hard to track. They used to be part of the Czech Republic of Czechoslovakia, and as such are credited with the same records as those of the previous national team of Czechoslovakia (as are the Czech Republic).

This is the first time they will compete in the World Cup under their own flag, and they certainly deserve to be here after finishing on top of their group in qualification. Former Slovakian international Vladimir Weiss was appointed coach in June 2008. He is a strong personality and comes from a rich Slovakian football heritage.

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel will be a central figure for his country, and is certainly a quality player to build a team around. Big things are also expected from midfielder Marek Hamsik, who has been impressive for both his country and his club team Napoli.

Like Paraguay, Slovakia is one lucky win away from the second round. The make-up of the groups is something FIFA has to address, as Slovakia would be the worst team in some of the harder groups.

Odds to win the World Cup: 225/1 ($226)

Brazil

Head Coach: Dunga

Team Captain: Lúcio (Internazionale Milan)

FIFA Ranking: 2

Brazil is the most successful football team in the history of world football. With its five World Cups (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002) no one could really deny that. A common football phrase is that: “The English invented it, the Brazilians perfected it.” Brazil is also the only team to have played in every World Cup.

Unlike previous coaches, Dunga has cast his eyes wide in a search for the perfect squad. He has found individual talents such as Vágner Love and Dudu Cearense, who were playing for Russian club CSKA Moscow, and Elano, who was playing for Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Ronaldinho and Kaká are the only players who have had a regular place in the Brazil squad in the past.

Despite ending the South American World Cup qualification on top of the standings, the team had been subjected to a torrent of abuse from the Brazilian media. Successive goalless home draws against Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia was not the sort of football the Brazilian public had come to expect. But in April 2009 they hit their stride, racking up five wins in a row including two landmark away results: a 4-0 humbling of Uruguay in Montevideo, and a 3-1 defeat of arch-rivals Argentina in Rosario.

Brazil will make it through to the second round of this tournament, and anyone who puts them out of this competition has a very good chance of lifting the Cup.

Odds to win the World Cup: 5/1 ($6)

Ivory Coast

Head Coach: Vahid Halilhodžić

Team Captain: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)

FIFA Ranking: 16

This is the second appearance in the World Cup for the Ivory Coast. Four years ago in their first appearance on the World Cup stage, they were unable to progress to the second round after losing to Argentina and the Netherlands in the so-called “Group of Death”.

Halilhodžić took charge of his first national side when he assumed control of the Ivory Coast after the 2008 CAF African Cup of Nations, and the Bosnian learnt his coaching trade in the French League. The Ivory Coast feature top-drawer talent throughout their side, with the Chelsea pair of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou a formidable duo up front. Sevilla’s Didier Zokora and Barcelona’s Yaya Toure provide bite in midfield alongside Marseille’s diminutive Bakary Kone. England-based pair Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure combine with Stuttgart’s Arthur Boka to form one of the best defences in Africa

. The Ivory Coast strode through qualifying without losing a match, running away with their final qualifying group. This is the best African team and at their best are world class. They are, however, unlucky when it comes to draws and they have once again found themselves in a very tough group. The game against Portugal will be one not to be missed.

Odds to win the World Cup: 33/1 ($34)

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Head Coach: Hong Fong-Ju

Team Captain: Hong Yong-Jo

FIFA Ranking: 86

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (recognized as Korea DPR by FIFA) is the national team of North Korea, and this will be their second appearance in the FIFA World Cup; their first in 1966 will be remembered for their 1-0 victory over Italy to gain a spot in the quarter-finals. There, they lost 5-3 to Portugal despite taking a 3-0 lead. North Korea was the first Asian country to progress beyond the first round of the World Cup finals.

The coach Kim Jong-Hun is responsible for guiding the team to the 2010 World Cup finals. His squad largely consists of domestic-based players lacking in international experience, and the team has an ethos based around discipline and teamwork. Their small overseas-based contingent are vital, and FC Rostov’s Hong Yong-Jo has been in lethal form up front – the 27- year-old goal-getter scoring four times in as many games. Playing alongside him is Japan-based Jong Tae-Se, who has breath-taking power and pace.

North Korea has already surprised many by making the finals. Make no mistake, however, they won’t be making the second round of this competition as they face three incredibly tough games against worldclass opposition.

Odds to win the World Cup: 2,000/1 ($2,001)

Portugal

Head Coach: Carlos Queiroz

Team Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

FIFA Ranking: 5

Portugal have appeared in two FIFA World Cup semi-finals. The first in 1966 saw them lose 2–1 at Wembley to the eventual world champions England. In 2006, they reached the semi-final once again, only to be denied a place in the final losing 1-0 to France.

Mozambique-born coach Carlos Queiroz is no stranger to South Africa, and his previous experience as the host nation’s coach could prove invaluable. Recording only one win from their first five group matches, Portugal quickly went from being group favourites to standing on the cusp of elimination. The second half of qualification brought a spectacular transformation, however, and they scored eight goals without reply in their last four group qualifiers to earn a play-off spot.

Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the best footballer on the planet, and he will have to be at his devastating best. Portugal are not just a one-man-band and have a strong team all over the park. The aggression and aerial ability of Pepe and Bruno will be hard for anyone to stop, while defenders Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho are hard-working and reliable. Veteran midfield pair Simao and Deco will be looking to add stability to a well-balanced side.

With the talents of players such as these available to call upon, Queiroz will know that expectations are sure to be high. The only problem is that there are three world-class teams in this group and only two will go through to the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 25/1 ($26)

Chile

Head Coach: Marcelo Bielsa

Team Captain: Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad)

FIFA Ranking: 15

Chile’s recent renaissance has been capped by a return to the FIFA World Cup finals following a 12-year absence. Chile have appeared in seven World Cup tournaments, and were hosts of the 1962 FIFA World Cup, finishing in third place.

Coached by the experienced Argentinean Marcelo Bielsa, the Chileans qualified for the finals fairly easily by playing strong consistent football that gives them every chance to do well in South Africa. Bielsa’s side is young and eager, but still has the starch to worry any of the top teams. They play an attacking brand of football and look to get forward at every opportunity. Leading the line with distinction are Matias Fernandez, Alexis Sanchez and Humberto Suazo.

The team believes it has the resources to emulate their illustrious predecessors and advance beyond the group phase. It may come down to their game against Switzerland, but they have an easy group and would be disappointed not to progress.

Odds to win the World Cup: 66/1 ($67)

Honduras

Head Coach: Reinaldo Rueda

Team Captain: Amado Guevara (Motagua)

FIFA Ranking: 37

Honduras is a rising team in the North American conference. Even though this was one of the easiest passages into the World Cup, the Hondurans have shown huge improvement in recent years.

For Honduras, qualifying phases for the FIFA World Cup had become something of a recurring nightmare, invariably falling short at key moments – that is, until the arrival of Colombian strategist Rueda, who appeared to be the lucky charm. Their qualification was dramatic, as had it not been for the USA who grabbed a last-gasp equaliser against Coast Rica, it would have been Costa Rica and not Honduras picking up the third direct qualification spot.

It would be hard to see Honduras making the second round of this competition, but stranger things have happened and there are certainly worse teams in the competition.

Odds to win the World Cup: 1,000/1 ($1,001)

Spain

Head Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Team Captain: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

FIFA Ranking: 1

Spain are the current European champions, having won the UEFA European Championship in 2008. This saw the Spanish finally throw the tag as the greatest under-achieving football team in world football. In July of the same year, Spain rose to the top of the FIFA World Ranking for the first time in their history.

Vicente del Bosque took over where Luis Aragones left off after the Euro 2008 triumph, and he has kept the players and style pretty much unchanged. Del Bosque has continued with the one-touch style that has traditionally characterised Spain’s play by dominating the midfield. As a result, the Spaniards have won every game but one since he took charge, the exception being a semi-final reverse against USA at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.

Spain cruised through their qualification for this World Cup and everything appears to be on track. Maturity, resilience and the ability to overcome adversity were all in evidence during their campaign, and few national teams in world football are blessed with squads of such depth and sheer talent. There is no point listing their superstars, just look at their entire squad.

The Spanish deserve to be the favourites for this World Cup, and only their fear of winning it will get in the way of a top four finish.

Odds to win the World Cup: 4/1 ($5)

Switzerland

Head Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Team Captain: Alexander Frei

FIFA Ranking: 18

Switzerland hosted the World Cup back in 1954, and have reached the quarter-finals on three separate occasions. These appearances, however, were all over 50 years ago and the Swiss have always struggled with being solid but never brilliant.

Ottmar Hitzfeld is one of Europe’s most highly regarded and successful senior coaches. The Swiss squad has a healthy blend of youth and experience, combining talented younger players such as Eren Derdiyok, Tranquillo Barnetta and keeper Diego Benaglio with seasoned campaigners like team captain Alexander Frei. They made it through qualification reasonably comfortably, even after a shock loss to Luxemburg early on in their campaign.

This is a strange group this one, with Spain looking certainties to progress and the other three all having very different qualities. The Swiss may have to hold out an attacking Chilean outfit if they are to progress through to the second round.

Odds to win the World Cup: 200/1 ($201)