Ronaldinho will stamp himself as the greatest player in this World Cup. Lionel Messi will be declared the next Maradona in the making. Ronaldo will surpass Pele's record of appearing in 3 World Cup winning squads and overtake Gerd Muller's record of most goals in the World Cup. Brazil will win for a record 6th time and in a way that will make the 2002 World Cup final look pedestrian.
England will enjoy its best finish since World Cup 1966. The opposition will wish that they had never seen Wayne Rooney and a resurgent Michael Owen. David Beckham will fade; John Terry will rise. The Barmy Army will be in Europe screaming their guts out. The Dutch coached teams of Trinidad and Tobago and Australia will show mettle and unselfish teamwork that will make them hard to be beaten but they will be at the nth minute. But the Soca Warriors and the Socceroos will make sure that nary an eyebrow is raised when Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting crush Pakistan and India by a thousand runs and three innings and two thousand and sixty three runs and three and a half innings, respectively. At least for a couple of weeks before Cricket returns as God.
Portugal will find its teeth and score some fabulous goals through Cristiano Ronaldo and Figo. And on the way, Africa through Cote D'Ivoire, Togo, Angola, Ghana, and Tunisia will announce a paradigm shift in the way that soccer is played, serving notice that the most serious opposition to Brazilian samba and favela in the years to come will be the makossa, griot , and rai of Western Africa and the Maghreb. Look for the names Adebayor, Essien, Akwa and Drogba to roll of the tongues of people who will tongue of their drool when they see them play. Spain will have its moments of Rock n' Raul but will wear the badge of perennial underachievers again.
Italy will win ugly as they usually do but will come a cropper with their star players showing hissy fits of petulance and theatrical abilities in diving and playing victim just like poor loser, Silvio Berlusconi that that will endear them to no one except to the Tosca loving crowd at the Lincoln Center.
And the Germans will rally behind Jurgen Klinsmann and raise their Teutonic spirit to another level but the lack of talent will show in the matches that really count. Angela Merkel will declare a state of emergency on the advice of the Bayern Munich cabal. And Franz Beckenbauer will be appointed Interior minister and will promptly subpoena Jurgen Klinsmann for California dreamin'. The Czech Republic through MIlan Baros, Pavel Nedved, and Jan Koller will overtake the French duo of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet in their sharpshooting abilities. Zizou will grit his teeth playing through pain, showing flashes of his brilliant playmaking. But the French will fade. Poland will bring its hooligans. And the US-Poland match will show why El Jogo Bonito is muy dificile for some teams.
Japan, South Korea and Turkey shot their load in the last World Cup and a repeat will not be in sight. Look for bruised ankles when the South Koreans play. They will run you right to the ground. Those Gatorade and IV infusions will be adminstered aplenty in those games to their opposition.
Iran wil be the most scrutinized team as every player will be suspected of being radio-active. But they will surprise and when they do, there will be a diplomatic row with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad planning to watch the matches and the US and Israel reminding Germany of past consequences in allowing anti-Semitism to go unchecked.
Saudi Arabia but not the team, will make news with oil prices crashing through the roof. Ukraine will impress through Andrei Shevchenko, the one man demolition squad and they should make it to the second round but the Orange revolution will stall. And Gavrilo Princeps will still be the star of the historiography of Serbia and Montenegro whose team should create no hysteria in that region.
Davor Suker did Croatia proud in the 1998 World Cup but who will provide their succour in this edition? Switzerland and Phillipe Senderos will perform as efficiently as a Philip Patek watch but Roger Federer will still be the one to make headlines. Look for him in the stands. Ingmar Bergmann's reputation as the most famous Swede will remain unvarnished and the Karolinska Institute will still award the Nobel in Medicine and Physiology to the doctors in Baghdad's Yarmouk hospital for finding the association between excavating the maximum amount of shrapnel in a lunar calender year and Laxmi Mittal's interest in acquiring the Iraqi iron and steel industry, and not to Henrik Larsson for research into his synaptic connection with a football.
And what of Ecuador and Paraguay? Do they come with the pessimism that they just filled two of the four spots in the South American zone on a rotational basis, Brazil having qualified in all 18 World Cups and Argentina in 14, or the optimism that they are amongst the best teams in the world. Ecuador having beaten both Argentina and Brazil in the prelimns and Paraguay rendering Colombia's quest futile two World Cups in succession. We will miss Jose Luis Chilavert and his schizophrenic talent in playing striker as well as goalkeeper for Paraguay. But they have plenty of talent with their new players
Bunny hop man is missing from the Mexican squad but his team mate Jared Borgetti is there along with Rafael Marquez. With the immigrant issue hottening up here in the USA, does it make matters worse if the immigrants legal or otherwise throw in their lot south of the border rather than trying to find a resonance with a fairly monochromatic US team? The US is fourth in the FIFA rankings. This after losing to Germany and drawing with Jamaica. But as they say FIFA-FO-FUM, I smell the blood of a flatterer waiting to deceive. If past matches are any indication then the US will vault over the Czech Republic after being beaten or drawn in their next friendly with Morocco. And by the time the US plays its opener in the World Cup with the Czech Republic, we will have elbowed our way past Brazil. Even Karl Rove could not have spun this better. But maybe after their early World Cup exit, the US team will disappear into the leafy suburbs of Connecticut to play XBox soccer and hakke sack. Paulo Wanchope and Costa Rica will return to a heroes welcome when they draw with Germany.
And what of the Netherlands? How rude of me to put them at the last minute. The creators of total football. But that way they get attention. And here is hoping that they get there to the top. A Brazil- Netherlands final would be sublime. The Dutch Masters against the Samba Kings.
These are the best 32 teams in soccer in the World, barring a few exceptions and getting there is no mean feat! And of these are eight new entrants in this World Cup, which should make it all the more exciting.