So who will win the World Cup? That is, after all, the question everyone is asking themselves these days. If past results can be used to predict future results, you would be smart to guess the winner would be Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, Argentina, England or Uruguay; these seven teams, after all, are the only seven nations to lift the World Cup trophy. Soccer might be the World's Game, but the World Cup has consistently been the province of the game's elite. Every four years the hope is that this World Cup will be different, that some new power will emerge to threaten the established soccer powers that be. Yet every year those hopes are dashed and Germany or Italy or Brazil wins...again.
So now, even with the World Cup headed to Africa for the first time, you'd have to be a little crazy to predict Ghana to make a run to the semi-finals or that North Korea can survive the treacherous Group of Death. We are not that insane. However, we are crazy enough to predict a few twists and turns as the 2010 World Cup winds through South Africa. Without further ado, here are some fearless, and perhaps foolish, predictions.
Before we get started, let's just get this first bit of business out of the way: Brazil will not win the World Cup in South Africa, in fact, the prediction here is that they get ousted by Chile in the Round of 16. Early demises also await perennial title contenders Germany and Italy, with the Germans appearing bereft or midfield quality and the grey-haired Italians looking too long in the tooth.
The United States will lose the much-hyped battle against England, but Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and company should do enough to progress from Group C. Unfortunately, they won't last much longer, as they'll lose to a strong Serbian team in the next round. England, meanwhile, will be carried all the way to the semi-finals by coach Fabio Capello and striker Wayne Rooney, only to have their hearts cruelly broken by an in-form Dutch squad.
African teams will perform well in Africa's first World Cup, with three teams - Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Cameroon - advancing out of the group stage. With or without Didier Drogba, The Elephants will find a way to sneak out of the Group of Death. Cameroon looks the most likely of the African teams to make a deep run into the tournament, and they will make it to the quarterfinals (tying the best mark for an African team at the World Cup) before bowing out to the overpowering Spaniards.
Spain's reward will be a match-up with Argentina in the other semifinal, where Vincente del Bosque's organized, cohesive and brilliant team will comprehensively thrash the talented but disorganized Argentina, led chaotically by the manic Diego Maradona.
That will set up a final between the Netherlands and Spain, two technically gifted teams with somewhat tortured World Cup histories. The hunch here is that Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and Nigel De Jong will help the Dutch will prevail, thus putting to bed the memories of their failures in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups.
Or Brazil could win. Who Knows?
Here are the predictions, in full.
Group A (top two advance to the knockout rounds)
Round of 16
Mexico over South Korea
Argentina over Uruguay
England over Ghana
Serbia over United States
Netherlands over Paraguay
Cameroon over Slovakia
Chile over Brazil
Spain over Ivory Coast
England over Mexico
Netherlands over Chile
Argentina over Serbia
Spain over Cameroon
Netherlands over England
Spain over Argentina
Netherlands over Spain
England over Argentina
Golden Boot: David Villa
Golden Ball: Wesley Sneijder
Yashin Award: Iker Casillas
Best Young Player: Angel Di Maria