World Cup: Winner takes all

With the greatest football event rapidly approaching, Adam Bergin looks at the potential thrills and spills.

Scotland narrowly missed out on qualification, but this year’s World Cup has great potential to be an exciting spectacle for neutral viewers.

On Friday June 11, history will be made as the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Cape Town, South Africa. After a controversial African Cup of Nations earlier this year, the spotlight on the continent has intensified. The pressure is on the hosts to deliver a World Cup that will be remembered for the action on the pitch rather than off it.

This year’s African Cup of Nations winners, Egypt, failed to qualify for the World Cup so the continent’s hopes lie with other teams. Cote D’Ivoire (more commonly known as The Ivory Coast) appear the most likely to do well, although they will have to outplay Brazil and Portugal to make it past the group stages. Arguably the only other African threat is Ghana. The Africa Cup of Nations runners-up boast a well-travelled side. Familiar faces include Chelsea’s Michael Essien and Heart of Midlothian Midfielder Laryea Kingston.

Brazil are true veterans of the competition with five World Cups to their name. Second only to Spain in the FIFA rankings, they are the only country to have qualified for every tournament since the first in 1930. Argentina will be hoping to put a nervy qualifying campaign behind them and call upon star forward Sergio Aguero (Athletico Madrid) to bring them their first World Cup since 1986. Mexico also endured a tough time to book their place in South Africa. They have featured in the last four tournaments, falling short at the second round each time. Captain Rafael Marquez faces a tough challenge leading the youngest team in the cup to the quarter finals.

Europe dominates the competition with 13 countries representing the continent, although they may struggle to flourish in the hot African climate. Italy will be looking to win back-to-back World Cups and Spain will be hoping to build on their success at the 2008 European championship. Three time champions Germany hold an impressive record, having reached the final in four of their last seven tournaments, and stand a great chance of success with Bayern Munich stars Phillip Lahm and Miroslav Klose.

Former champions France should not be ruled out as they look to improve upon last year’s second place finish, but will be facing their first World Cup without former star player Zinedine Zidane.

England is the last of the favourites but will be without injured talisman David Beckham. Coach Fabio Capello is hoping the team can move on from the negative press that has surrounded John Terry and Ashley Cole in the run up to the tournament.

New Zealand, qualifying for the competition for the second time, are this year’s rank outsiders with some bookmakers offering odds as wide as 3000/1. Their captain, Blackburn’s Ryan Nelsen, will be the only familiar name for most spectators, with the vast majority of the squad hailing from New Zealand’s O-League. The one to watch, however, will be Rory Fallon of Plymouth who struck the winner against Bahrain to take the all whites to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. The New Zealander’s oceanic neighbours, Australia, qualified via the Asian qualifying section and booked their place alongside Korea DPR, Korea Republic and Japan.

Hosts, South Africa, are not expected to make much impact on the field with some bookmakers offering 150/1 on them taking the top prize. They will come up against seasoned world cup stalwarts France and Mexico in the group stages. The true success for the nation lies not in their performances on the pitch, but their ability to stage a sporting spectacle that will be remembered by football fans worldwide for decades to come.

Words by Adam Bergin

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