Please note: This is not a prediction of how teams will finish but an assessment of their chances of winning the Cup. That's because two strong teams may meet in an earlier round and some teams have to get out of much tougher groups than others. Moreover some teams such as South Africa, Argentina, France. Mexico, and Italy could completely flame out but if they don't and get out of their group, the potential to go far is there.
So with that caveat in mind, the envelope please:
THE TEAM TO BEAT
1. Brazil. This improved team has got the presence, the pedigree, and the personnel, plus a new tactical approach that will make it very difficult to break down on defense. Sure it's not invincible, but it's also the only team ever to win the Cup outside its own continent - save Argentina that won in a Mexico that wasn't much different culturally. Brazil is also in the easier half of the draw so if it wins its group, it likely avoids Argentina, Spain, or Germany until the final. Its first round group isn't easy but if this team can't get by Portugal and Ivory Coast, it likely will have trouble winning the Cup anyway.
THE OTHER REAL CONTENDERS
2. Argentina. Is Maradona a mad genius or just mad? We obviously incline towards the former. Skeptics will point to a weak qualification campaign, but every time Argentina has won the tournament it has struggled to qualify. This time around, a ridiculously easy first round group and a probable weak second round opponent means this team can take its time getting its act together before facing a serious quarterfinal opponent. If things have gone right up until then, it will be formidable. Of course, with Maradona at the helm, nothing is ever that simple so this team could also self-destruct long before that too. But we don't expect it.
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