A while back it was noted that no one can so bold as to predict the outcome of the World Cup. I agree. The World Cup is like the NCAA Tournament. You have an idea of who the best teams in the world are, but every now and then a George Mason (Senegal) knocks off a UConn (France). With that in mind, readers should know that just getting to the 32-team finals is an accomplishment in itself. The World Cup is the only competition in the world that includes essentially every country's national team. FIFA has more member countries than the UN, and this tournament has 32 quality teams, but if the team with the most talent won every time, then Brazil would have 17 titles instead of the 5 they currently hold.
This time around, I'm gonna take a look at Groups A & B.
Group A: Germany, Ecuador, Poland, Costa Rica
With the finals being held in Germany, and the German team seeded so they will play in the largest and loudest stadiums, one can't underestimate the value of homefield advantage that the krauts will enjoy over teams who are half a world away like Ecuador. Anyone who watched Germany's 4-1 humbling of the United States B-team in Dortmund earlier this year can tell you that. Ecuador is the third-best team to come out of South America, but their stats are very telling. Their defense is slightly over par with their group (19 GA in 18 matches), but their offense is woeful (23 GF in 18 matches). For contrast, Poland scored 27 goals in 10 matches in their qualifying group, while only surrendering 9. Costa Rica is a sitting duck. As good a team in North and Central America as they are (3rd-best behind the USA and Mexico) Costa Rica is way out of their league against the likes of Germany and Poland. I'm picking Poland to finish first, followed by Germany. Largely because Germany has yet to announce a team, and their starting GK has the matter of the Champions League Final to attend to. I can't see this group gelling as a team in time. Even if these factors were not present, Germany is a schizophrenic team. Their 4-1 drubbing of the Stars and Stripes came on the heels of a 4-1 drubbing on the other end to Italy that had everyone's lederhosen up in a bunch. I like the Krauts and the Pollocks.
Group B: England, Paraguay, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago
England has arguably the best team they've ever brought to a World Cup, that is, untill striker Wayne Rooney broke his foot a week and a half ago at Stamford Bridge. England are riddled with injuries and over-the-hill washups like David Beckham and Michael Owen. Fortunately for England, they're in a very weak group. Paraguay is nothing impressive, as there are no huge wins on their qualifying resume, but there is a 5:2 pasting by Ecuador. Trinidad & Tobago is only in the finals because they won a playoff against Bahrain, and I can easily see England or more likely Sweden taking the Soca Warriors behind the woodshed and dropping 6 or 7 goals on them. Sweden-England should be one of the better first round matchups. Sweden had a goal differential of +26, scoring 30 goals in 10 matches and only allowing 4. I like the Swedes, and I like the English.