Brazil appears on target for 6th WC triumph

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> While football's romantics may wish for a long-awaited first for Spain or a historic African victory on South African turf, the 2010 World Cup looks like being

Updated: November 20, 2009 09:44 IST
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While football's romantics may wish for a long-awaited first for Spain or a historic African victory on South African turf, the 2010 World Cup looks like being a sixth triumph for Brazil.

Coach Dunga may have alienated some fans with pragmatic rather than typically Brazilian flamboyant play, but next year's championship should end with another success for the World Cup's most successful team.

The last six teams sneaked into the competition through the back door of the playoffs on Wednesday and the fact that France and Uruguay made it means that all seven winners will be in the field of 32 going into next month's draw in Cape Town.

The level of expectation will grow day by day until the teams arrive in South Africa next June for the biggest event of the world's most popular sport.

England under Fabio Capello has its strongest hopes yet of a first win since 1966, Argentina hopes the Diego Maradona magic will rub off on its talented but underachieving players and two-time European champion Netherlands is out to show it finally has the ability to win a world title.

While a mouthwatering final appears to be five-time winner Brazil against European champion Spain _ the joint 9-2 favorites with British-based bookmakers William Hill _ World Cups frequently throw up surprises.

Remember North Korea knocking out star-studded Italy in 1966, Cameroon beating defending champion Argentina in 1990, Senegal's victory over 1998 champion France?

In the past three decades only one host _ France in 1998 _ has won the title and that run doesn't look like changing.

South Africa, whose team has been in disarray after poor results over the past few years, is considered to be among the outsiders. But the talented Ivory Coast, which has the likes of Premier League stars Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure and in its lineup, is the leading contender to win on African soil.

For the likes of Brazil and Spain, anything less than the final will be considered a failure.

Under coach Dunga, often criticized for a lack of imagination and adventure, Brazil now has strength throughout the team and is far more than just a jumble of attacking superstars. Although Ronaldinho is struggling to get back into the team, Dunga has the likes of Kaka, Luis Fabiano and Robinho to unlock defenses and provide the goals in front of hard working midfielders and solid, reliable defenders.

Spain has its best squad ever with standout goalkeepers and experienced and hugely talented stars such as Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and David Villa all playing on the save wavelength.

Michael Ballack remains the solid core of Germany's lineup as it chases its fourth World Cup title but first since 1990. But the team lacks guile while the Dutch, twice runners up, will hope to shrug off its brittle form in major championships and rely on forwards Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben to bring home the title for the first time.

Under disciplinarian Capello, England won nine of its 10 qualifiers and has a solid look and probably its best chance for decades. Although he has the experience and talent of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and John Terry, however, Capello has a goalkeeper weakness while Rio Ferdinand's fitness is now suspect.

With Maradona unable to transfer his greatness as a player to the bench, Argentina looked in danger of failing to qualify and only just made it. Maradona, should he keep the coach's job going into the finals, now has to get the best out of undoubted talents such as Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero to make an impact in South Africa.

With its squad still filled with aging stars, Italy will struggle to hold on to the title and become the first back-to-back winner since Brazil in 1962. The flip side of that is that Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo all know how to win to World Cup and that means the Italians can't be discounted.

Declining under coach Raymond Domenech, France needed a blatant handball by Thierry Henry against Ireland to make it through the playoffs while Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz seems unable to get the best out of stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho.

The United States have revived under coach Bob Bradley and, after reaching the final of the Confederations Cup in South Africa in June, will target the quarterfinals as a measure of its improvement. The Americans reached that stage in 2002, have reliable goalkeepers, dependable defenders and talented forwards in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

Australia hopes to justify moving to the Asian Confederation and underline its status as an emerging force in world football while Japan needs to make the second round to show it is a breeding ground for talented players. The same applies to African nations Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana who will also measure success as reaching the knockout phase.

South Korea is back to try and emulate its semifinal appearance of 2002, when it was a co-host with Japan, and the North Koreans, among the 500-1 outsiders, might be dreaming of embarrassing the Italians the same way as in England in 1966.

Greece has made it for only the second time but, still with veteran coach Otto Rehhagel in charge, hopes to produce the same surprising success as when it won the 2004 European championship.

Mexico, Chile and Uruguay aren't likely to get past the first round while, for New Zealand, Honduras, Slovenia, Slovakia and Algeria, simply being at the World Cup is a measure of success and anything they can achieve at the finals will be a bonus.

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