No time to really sort this out. There are less than 8 hours to go to kickoff. And the crystal ball is looking murky. So, lets do the whys and why nots for the favorites IMO. I will update this after the first round, but let me not shy away from it right now.
Brazil: They win because they are solid in the defensive half of the field and have depth. Julio Cesar, 2 great right backs (they should play Dani Alves at left back just to get him on the field as he will be behind Maicon at right back), Lucio, Juan and Luisao to play the middle, Melo at holding and Kaka, Robinho and Fabiano up front. Also, they are the only ones who have won outside of their continent (apart from Argentina in Mexico which sort of doesn’t count as a really different continent) – in fact, they have won in North America (1994), Europe (1958) and Asia (2002). Seems to make sense that they should win in Africa. They won’t win because there is magic missing up front. Efficiency is great, but you need some magic. Kaka has not been fit all season. Hard to get there at the World Cup. Plus, its a hard road through Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea to start the tournament. They should win the group but that’s a work out unlike for Spain and England.
Spain: They win because they have the most talented passers and total football team. Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Xabi – what a foursome of passers in midfield. Then you have Silva, Pedro and Jesus Navas (the biggest key for Spain after Torres IMO because the Achilles heel for Spain is a lack of real speed) on the wings (though Iniesta could play down the left as well). Finally, Iker in goal and Torres and Villa up front. That’s a squad. Why they don’t win – I don’t think their defense is good enough. I know I identified it as an issue in the Euros and they made me eat my words (though I did pick them to win pre tournament), but I just don’t get comfort in Capdevilla at left back and Ramos goes AWOL every so often at right back. Also, Cesc, Iniesta and Torres are coming off injuries that caused them to miss the end of the season and Xavi is carrying a calf injury according to Pep Guardiola. Also, the USA showed how you beat Spain. Send them to the wings and overpower the strikers when they are forced to cross the ball – press Xavi at the same time. Navas’ speed on the wing helps and Torres seems to be coming along. They also have a relatively easy group to work Cesc, Torres and Iniesta back into playing shape before the knockout round. However, I am still uneasy. A big miss is going to be Marcos Senna at holding mid. So, I want to say Spain but I just hesitate.
Argentina: They win because they probably have one of the best forward pools in the history of the World Cup. Messi and Higuain led La Liga in scoring, Tevez was near the top in the EPL as was Milito. And then there is Aguero and Di Maria. Did I mention Messi?! Decent first round group to warm up with. Mascherano at holding is solid. And I’ve always liked Veron’s touch though he is a bit slow. Wish Diego had brought Zanetti and Cambiasso. That’s a big mistake. They don’t win because their defense is too slow and old. Heinze, DiMichelis and Samuel are just not up to snuff. And Brazil and Inter showed you how to stop Messi. And then you have the craziness of Maradona.
Holland: The win because Robben and Sneijder are two of the five most in form players in the world (I’d put Messi, Ronaldo and Milito in that bracket as well) at the end of the club season. Then there’s Robin van Persie who is fresh after missing most of the season. Rafael vdv is in decent form as well. Kuyt provides work rate and balance up front. They don’t win because their defense and keeping is not up to snuff. And they tend to run out of steam as tournaments progress.
England: They win because they are the second best team from top to bottom in terms of depth (after Brazil). They have Rooney and great veterans in the spine of the team – James, Terry (too bad Rio’s out, but King and Upson are good), Gerrard, Lampard. They have speed on the wings (Fabio should have included Walcott instead of SWP). Great coach. They haven’t lost a World Cup game in a while if you exclude penalty kick knockouts. They don’t win because too much depends on Rooney, Glen Johnson is a terrible defensive right back and the holding midfielder position isn’t settled. Also, the weight of expectations will become very heavy the further we get in the tournament.
These are the only real favorites in my opinion. A dark horse is Portugal, but with Nani out, their chances dropped significantly. Never count out Germany (but Ballack is a big miss and they seem a big young) or Italy (this is one of the worst teams they have fielded though) or one of the African countries. I would have put Ivory Coast as the top African team, but even if Drogba plays (as it seems to indicate in the latest news), its hard to have a brand new coach and expect to win the World Cup.
Two big factors and then I’ll make my pre Cup prediction.
The ball: with the movement in the ball, free kicks and corners are going to be very important. That makes Ronaldo, Dani Alves, Sneijder, Lampard and Xavi very dangerous. It could be the difference between winning and losing the Cup.
History: No European team has won the World Cup outside of Europe. Argentina and Brazil have won outside of their continent. Yes, it is winter in South Africa so the heat is not going to be as big a factor as it has been for tournaments outside of Europe in the past.
My pick: Brazil if they win their group. Holland if Brazil doesn’t win their group.