After spending two months in the summer of 2006 in Germany for the World Cup, and having 'connections' in the sport, I know soccer the way Matt knows a good Thigh. With the 2010 World Cup in South Africa a mere 273 days away, let's take a trip around the world and see how your favorite national team is looking during the final fixtures of the qualification stages.
PUNCHED THEIR TICKET:
- Australia (AFC): Their nickname is the Socceroos. That in itself should equal automatic qualification
- Brazil (CONMEBOL): The five-time winners look poised to make another deep run in South Africa
- England (UEFA): It's been 43 years since the Three Lions lifted the World Cup Trophy. On paper, this team is loaded, especially if a certain Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder can come off the pine and serve up those patented crosses. The biggest question: will ESPN use subtitles anytime Wayne Rooney is interviewed?
- Ghana (CAF): Ghana advanced to the Round of 16 in 2006 at the United States' expense. Look for another solid performance from the African side, especially if they can avoid the Group of Death this time around
- Japan (AFC): Will be looking to improve upon their dreadful 2006 appearance where they managed just 1 point in the Group Stage. Hopefully this time around, they can avoid being paired with Brazil
- Netherlands (UEFA): A potent attack that is a trendy pick to raise the Cup in Johannesburg
- North Korea (AFC): Let's hope their starting 11 consists of actual players, not nuclear weapons
- Paraguay (CONMEBOL): Punched their ticket with a stunning win vs. Argentina, leaving Leo Messi and company on the outside looking in with just a few games left in qualification
- South Africa (Host)
- South Korea (AFC): This is the Korea to root for!
- Spain (UEFA): The reigning champions of Europe look to be the team to beat less than a year away from kickoff
ON THE VERGE (notable teams):
- United States (CONCACAF): Sitting on top of the table with two matches remaining, the US is a virtual lock, despite two tough opponents remaining in Honduras and Costa Rica. The key? Bob Bradley has finally found Landon Donovan's natural position, namely, he doesn't have one. Landy Cakes (pictured right) has been given the green light to float all over the field. The best player in United States history is playing out of his mind. Make no mistake, the key to the United State's success is getting the ball to Donovan's feet and let him direct the show
- Mexico (CONCACAF): Just a few short months ago, it looked as if El Tri were doomed. Now, they are the hottest team in the region and have found that scoring touch once more. Let's hope they don't pack the Swine Flu with them. The plague and the Swine Flu? Drink it in!
- Germany (UEFA): The 2006 hosts are in a dogfight with the Russians for automatic qualification in Group Four, but have the attack to finish what they started four years ago
- Italy (UEFA): The reigning World Champs have head-butted their way through qualification, but face a steep climb to repeat. There was a reason why I took a photo with 'thumbs down' while sitting on their team bench the morning of the World Cup Final in Berlin's Olympic Stadium - guess I was just a few years too early
UH OH... (notable teams):
- Argentina (CONMEBOL): How can you have the World Cup without the World's Best Player? If the Argentinians remain in 5th, they would face the 4th placed team from CONCACAF in a playoff for their final chance at qualification. Are you reading this, Bob Bradley? Let's get it done the next two games
- Portugal (UEFA): Currently on the outside looking in, CR7 and company are in serious jeopardy of missing out on 2010. A World Cup without diving? Now that's a novel idea!
- France (UEFA): Currently sitting 4 points behind the Serb's, France is not in as much trouble as Portugal or Argentina, but their own star, Thierry Henry, needs to get on the same page as Coach Raymond Domenech if they want to do anything next summer
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