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World Cup

Brazil, Spain established as favorites in 2010 tournament.

(Wednesday, June 9, 2010) -- Brazil and Spain seem to be the consensus favorites to win the 2010 World Cup. The tournament brackets are set so the two nations cannot meet until the championhip match.

Six other teams -- Argentina, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and England -- would appear to have a chance at winning the tournament.

Then there are the remaining 24, only a handful might be considered legitimate dark horses. They would include the United States, France, Ivory Coast, Serbia, Cameroon, and Mexico. A look at the eight groups with the top two from each advancing to the knockout Round of 16.

Group A

France (FIFA ranking: 9)
Mexico (17)
South Africa (83)
Uruguay (16)

SoccerTimes predicts: This could well end up the most competitive of the eight groups. Mexico, off strong showings in friendlies against England and the Netherlands, and then a defeat of Italy, comes into the tournament looking like the best El Tri side in years. France thinks this may be its year and Uruguay seems ready to return to past glories. If host South Africa can take a couple of points, this group will be up for grabs. The belief here is if Mexico beats France on June 17, it well may be Les Blues who will be heading home early with Mexico and Uruguay moving on.

Group B

Argentina (7)
Greece (13)
Nigeria (38)
South Korea (47)

SoccerTimes predicts: Argentina simply has too much talent compared to the rest of this group and should easily end up on top. The other three will fight it out for the other advancement spot. Both Greece and Nigeria have turned into conservative, defense-minded teams. South Korea will depend on a young and untested offense to try to return to the glory of 2002 when, as host, it reached the semifinals. This is likely a group that will have to go to tie-breakers. The feeling here is it will be Argentina and Greece moving on.

Group C

Algeria (30)
England (8)
Slovenia (25)
United States (14)

SoccerTimes predicts: England should have too much talent at both ends of the field to be much bothered by the rest of the group. Many think the U.S. should be able to easily handle Algeria and Slovenia. Maybe on paper, but remember, in five World Cups since 1990, the Americans have won a total of only two group matches. Everyone is talking about the U.S.-England opener, but the critical match might end up being U.S. versus Slovenia on June 18. If the U.S. wins that match, it should advance along with England.

Group D

Australia (20)
Germany (6)
Ghana (32)
Serbia (15)

SoccerTimes predicts: Germany is entering this World Cup without its top offense threat in Michael Ballack, its top two goalkeepers and several other key players. If their replacements come through, Germany will easily top this group. But if they struggle, this could become a wide-open group. Serbia looks to be the quality of the remaining three, but Ghana could make things interesting. The feeling here is Germany will again move on along with the winner of the Serbia-Ghana match on June 13.

Group E

Cameroon (19)
Denmark (25)
Japan (45)
Netherlands (4)

SoccerTimes predicts: The Netherlands is the quality of this group and should have few problems ending up on top. This leaves unpredictable Cameroon and steady Denmark to fight it out for the other spot. If the Indomitable Lions are on top of their game they will defeat steady, blue-collar Denmark in their meeting on June 19. If Denmark prevails, it will accompany the Dutch out of the group.

Group F

Italy (5)
New Zealand (78)
Paraguay (31)
Slovakia (34)

SoccerTimes predicts: Despite its well-earned reputation for slow starts in group play, Italy should have little trouble dominating this group. After that, it will be a duel between Paraguay's wide-open offense and Slovakia's stingy defense when the two meet June 20 with the winner advancing along with the Azzurri.

Group G

Brazil (1)
Ivory Coast (27)
North Korea (105)
Portugal (3)

SoccerTimes predicts: This is 2010's "Group of Death," featuring South America's best in Brazil, one of the top two or three in Europe in Portugal and Africa's best in the Ivory Coast. Brazil should win the group, but now with Ivory Coast possibly without its (and Africa's) best player in Didier Drogba it might take something extraordinary for Sven-Goren Eriksson to lead Ivory Coast past Portugal. Their meeting June 15 shapes up to be the most important match of group play.

Group H

Chile (18)
Honduras (38)
Spain (2)
Switzerland (24)

SoccerTimes predicts: Spain should come out on top with Chile having too much quality and experience for Switzerland. A very weak Honduras should provide and automatic three points to the others, so it will be up to the Swiss to fashion an upset.

The 2010 competitors by continent:

Africa (5) -- host South Africa, Algeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria..

Asia (4) -- Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea.

Europe (13) -- Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland.

North America, Central America and Caribbean -- Honduras, Mexico, United States.

Oceania -- New Zealand.

South America - Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay.

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