6/11/10 – Since its inception 1930 only 7 teams have managed to win the world cup.  They are Brazil (5), Italy (4), Germany (3), Argentina (2), Uruguay (2) – and England and France having won once each.

However this year promises to be different, with a range of quality football nations able to go the distance including Euro 2008 champions Spain, 3-time world cup finalists Holland, and 2006 world cup semi-finalists Portugal.

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Winners: Spain

Having won Euro 2008, Spain will go into this world cup as the strongest team – and perhaps even the best world cup team ever.  They had the best qualifying campaign out of everyone winning of all 10 of their group games scoring 28 and conceding just 5, and their squad is far superior to anything else.  Starting from the back they have a top class goalkeeper in Casillas (along with Champions League regular Pepe on the bench) and their defence is filled with quality including La Liga stars Sergio Ramos, Albiol, Pique, Marchena, Puyol and Capdevila. 

Upfront and in midfield is where Spain will make their mark though, with leading football pundits having already predicted Spain’s group H will finish with the most goals.  With Torres and Villa upfront, and with the world’s best midfield partnership in Xavi and Iniesta feeding them exquisite balls (and with Alonso and Fabregas to be called upon if needed) Spain will be an unstoppable force heading to Johannesburg.  In the run-up to the world cup Spain also managed to beat both Italy and France 2-0 away.

Runners-Up: Brazil

While Dunga has displaced Brazil’s traditional creative style in exchange for a more physical and wiry approach, his team will still go to the world cup with some great attacking talents.  Kaka, Robinho, Fabiano and Maicon will all be there– and with a phenomenal defensive unit in Champions League stars Lucio and Julio Caesar it’s very unlikely they’ll make a premature exit.  With just one defeat in their last 24 games Brazil have every chance of stretching their record to 6 world cup trophies. 

I’d also place a bet on Fabiano winning the golden boot given his insatiable goal-scoring form for Brazil in qualifying, combined with the likelihood of him playing every game for the first XI.

The most likely scenario is that Brazil will meet England in the Semi’s and will not face Spain until the Final.  However given England’s previous record against Brazil (when they were played off-the-park and knocked out by them in 2002), I’d very much believe Brazil will progress to the final at minimum – even without Ronaldinho.

Semi-Finalists: Holland, Portugal or England

All these teams have plenty of talent, experience and ability to make it to the semi-finals. 

The dark horses for the tournament Holland have never actually won a world cup, however they have so much creative ability and quality in their team this year that they are destined to do well.  They also had a 100% qualifying campaign and were the first to qualify for the 2010 world cup.  Players that will stand out for them include 2010 Champions League finalists Robben and Sneijder, as well as experienced striker Van Persie and Real Madrid impact-sub Van der Vaart in midfield.

England (as covered in a previous article) have a few problems in depth, but nonetheless progressing to the semi-finals should definitely be a realistic target for them.  Their inspirational striker Rooney is in the form of his life (scoring over 30 goals for Utd this season), and combined with the experience of Lampard and Gerrard in midfield with Joe Cole and Lennon on the wings, we should see England’s best run in the tournament since 1990 – as long as they avoid penalties that is!

Portugal have been perennial hopefuls in the last few years.  Although being knocked out early in the Euro 2008 Quarter Finals against Germany 3-2, they managed to reach the semi-finals of the last world cup and the final of Euro 2004 before that.  Their key player is Ronaldo ofcourse, however their first XI has a solid spine including Carvalho, Fereira, Pepe, Tiago, Deco and Simao upfront.  The exclusion of Nani to unjury was a massive blow to them as many predicted the young left-winger to have take the competition by storm.  Either way however Portugal have a lot of quality and should more than match Germany, France and Italy’s teams this time round.

World Cup Doubtfuls: France, Germany, Argentina and Italy

A lot of people have their hope pinned on Argentina.  Will they or Won’t they?  Will Maradona finally get his team playing together as a unit and revive Mess’s club form?  All answers point to the contrary.  Messi only managed to score 6 goals in qualifying – an outcry from his incredible 37 goals at club level this season.  Tevez is likely to start on the bench having allegedly had a bust-up with coach Maradona, and their 0-6 reverse to Bolivia in qualification campaign doesn’t reel confidence for prospects in defence.

Germany and Italy similarly will not live up to expectations this summer.  Germany’s leader on the pitch Ballack was ruled out which has in arguably given replacements Lahm and Schweinsteiger too much to live up to.  They still have a good team with Podolski and Klose upfront, but generally speaking they don’t have the quality to get past the other teams listed above.

Italy and France are in similarly capricious positions.  The French team under Domenech has looked extremely shady at times (having only qualified in a controversial play-off game versus Ireland), they are disparaged (again) in the media and with a 4-3-3 formation dependant on Anelka and Henry scoring upfront (both of which have had very disappointing seasons on the goal sheet), I doubt they’ll even get past the second-round.

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