World Cup Team Capsules
Not only is South Africa carrying the weight of hosting the first World Cup on African soil, but the Bafana Bafana will also be under pressure to qualify for the second round in a tough Group A as no host nation has ever failed to advance past the first round. While the qualification process was averted due to hosting the tournament, South Africa gained a vital amount of experience by reaching the semifinals of the 2009 Confederations Cup, also hosted in the country last summer. Led by Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira (in his second stint with the Bafana, his World Cup winning experience in 1994 is expected to propel South Africa to new heights, but much will depend on the efforts of star player Steven Pienaar of Everton fame.
Two-time World Cup winners Uruguay are far removed from their best years as a world footballing power, but La Celeste have big plans in 2010 after having defeated Costa Rica in a two-match playoff during the final stage of the qualification process. National team manager Oscar Tabarez has some serious star power at his disposal in the form of Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan and Ajax star Luis Suarez, but will also need to see the best out of captain Diego Lugano if Uruguay has any designs on advancing past the group stage. The inaugural World Cup winners from 1930 qualified for their 11th World Cup finals appearance this summer, but haven’t advanced beyond the last 16 since the 1970 tournament in Mexico.
The most controversial participant at the 2010 World Cup, France qualified at Ireland’s expense through the now infamous Thierry Henry handball during their two-match playoff in November. The 1998 World Cup winners boast a who’s who of star players like Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda, Patrick Vieira and Yoann Gourcuff from the best leagues in Europe, however Les Bleus struggled mightily in qualifying, resulting in numerous calls for the resignation of manager Raymond Domenech. However, the French FA stuck with the astrology-driven coach through the difficulties in the run-up to the World Cup and were rewarded with the team’s record fourth-straight appearance.
Los Tricolores reached an impressive 14th World Cup finals appearance (the most in CONCACAF history) by finishing second in the qualifying hexagonal behind the United States. Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson was supposed to be the man to lead Mexico to South Africa, but a number of poor results and a precarious early qualifying position led the federation to release him and bring back the steadying influence of Javier Aguirre. At 36-years old, Cuauhtemoc Blanco is still the talisman pulling the strings in the center of midfield for El Tri, but this time around he’s surrounded by a host of promising youngsters such as Arsenal’s Carlos Vela and Tottenham striker Giovani dos Santos (currently on loan to Galatasaray). Despite being a World Cup regular thoughout the years, Mexico has never advanced past the quarterfinal stage in any tournament, and both of those performances were on home soil in 1970 and 1986.
No doubt the most controversial and famous coach in the 2010 edition of the World Cup, the two-time winners Argentina are led by the man who scored the most famous goal in World Cup history in 1986 – Diego Maradona. Suspended for two months by FIFA after a media tirade following the Albiceleste’s qualification in Uruguay, Maradona is hoping for a smoother ride in South Africa after a rough road to reach the tournament this summer in the CONMEBOL region where the Argentines finished in fourth place. Led by FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and some of the best talents on the planet, the Argentines are always a threat to win the whole thing, but they will find themselves with some pretty stiff opposition in Group B, and no one can tell just what distractions Maradona will offer up during the finals.
The Super Eagles were Africa’s greatest World Cup threat in the 1990’s, however this is the team’s first appearance back in the tournament since 2002. With the World Cup on African soil, Nigeria is expected to give a solid account of themselves this summer with the crowds firmly behind them. While names like Jay-Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh bring back memories of Nigeria’s golden age, new youngsters such as Obafemi Martins and Jon Mikel Obi are more than ready to carry the torch for their famous predecessors. Coach Shaibu Amodu had to survive a rough qualifying stage after the Super Eagles opened with a scoreless draw against Mozambique that gave the early advantage to Tunisia, however Nigeria righted the ship just in time to qualify for its fourth World Cup finals.
The South Koreans provided a sensation in 2002 when under legendary Dutch coach Guus Hiddink they progressed all the way to the semifinals on home soil before bowing out to Germany. Hiddink is no longer in charge of the Asian Tigers, but new coach Huh Jung-Moo did what was necessary to lead his team to its seventh straight appearance at the World Cup. Manchester United winger Park Ji-Sung is the man expected to lead the team back to former glory, but a number of other stars plying their trade in leagues across Europe will make the job much easier for the talented midfielder. The first Asian team to represent the continent back in 1954, South Korea will be a dangerous side from the start, especially with a World Cup not being played on European ground.
Long live King Otto! German coach Otto Rehhagel is already a legend in Greece after having led the team to a stunning Euro 2004 victory in Portugal, but his magic continued during World Cup qualifying as the Greeks emerged from a difficult group in second place and found themselves in a playoff with Ukraine for one of the final UEFA World Cup spots. After winning the playoff series 1-0 on aggregate against their Eastern European foes, Greece cemented its place in the World Cup finals for only the second time in its history. It was back in 1994 that Greece reached its first-ever World Cup in the USA, but finished the tournament in last place. The Greeks will be on the march to improve their overall World Cup record in South Africa, and with steady players like Angelos Charisteas, Georgios Samaras and Theofanis Gekas, it might be unwise to bet heavily against them.
After its failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championship, England was in need of a serious overhaul at the top level and found exactly what it was looking for in the form of new manager Fabio Capello. The Italian master transformed the Three Lions during their qualification for 2010 into a formidable side that went unbeaten until the World Cup had already been secured. Along the way, England put on a clinic against group rivals Croatia in Zagreb with a 4-1 victory. Leading the way for England in South Africa will be talented, hard-working striker Wayne Rooney, playing in front of a squad boasting players such as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. With only one World Cup title in its history and no major trophy since that one in 1966, the Three Lions are looking to end their title drought and Capello might just be the man to deliver the success so many England fans are craving.
After a 40-year absence since its last World Cup in 1950, the USA has now qualified for every World Cup finals since 1990 – six on the trot. Coach Bob Bradley took over for Bruce Arena after a dismal 2006 tournament and ledthe team to an impressive final appearance against Brazil in the 2009 Confederations Cup while simultaneously earning first place in the CONCACAF qualifying region. The Americans will be heavily reliant on their star midfielder Landon Donovan, especially with a number of key injuries piling up ahead of the tournament to players like Oguchi Onyewu, Charlie Davies and now Fulham attacker Clint Dempsey. The U.S. has been a yo-yo team since the 1990 World Cup, playing respectably at one tournament (1994, 2002) and floundering the next (1990, 1998, 2006), so if numbers are anything to go by (along with a tournament not in Europe and a modest group), the Yanks should be considered a threat to reach the second round.
In what was certainly one of the most thrilling qualifying series for the 2010 World Cup, the Desert Foxes of Algeria reached their first World Cup since 1986 after a remarkable playoff tie-breaker match against Egypt in Sudan. Coach Rabah Saadane faces a daunting challenge in Group C against the likes of England and the United States, but can rely on the experience of Algeria defender Antar Yahia and talented Rangers midfielder Madjid Bougherra to keep his team in any match. Algeria made history in 1982 by beating powerhouse Germany in the group stage, but the North Africans will have to create a new kind of magic if they hope to replace that legendary result with one of equal or higher relevance in 2010.
Surprise entrants in 2002, the small former Yugoslavian nation once again provided a shock by defeating Guus Hiddink’s Russia in a hotly contested November playoff. If that wasn’t enough, they also finished second in their group behind Slovakia but ahead of World Cup regulars Poland and the Czech Republic. While head coach Matjaz Kek has formed one of the stingiest defenses in Europe, he also can call upon the attacking threats of Milivoje Novakovic and captain Robert Koren to light up the scoreboard. The odds are long to go far for the nation of only two million people, but it would be foolish to count the Slovenians out of any match after the tense battles they overcame to reach South Africa this summer.
With probably the most consistent pedigree on the planet behind only Brazil, Germany has once again reached the World Cup with an eye on lifting its fourth trophy since the ‘Miracle of Berne’ – its first-ever world title in 1954. Germany hosted a brilliant World Cup in 2006 and was disappointed not to at least reach the final after losing to the eventual champions Italy in the semifinals, but head coach Joachim Loew has given himself every opportunity for success by grooming an efficient, yet explosive side that on its day can be the very best in the world. Longtime captain Michael Ballack of Chelsea will once again lead Die Mannschaft in South Africa, aided by superstars like Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. The Germans, having reached a record seven World Cup final matches, will look to make it eight in July and if it comes down to a shootout, never doubt the three-time World Cup winners – in four penalty shootouts in World Cup history, they’ve never lost one.
The Socceroos had gone 32 long years since reaching the last World Cup in Germany in 2006, but they returned with aplomb as they reached the knockout stage and fell to a late Francesco Totti winner against Italy. Leading the way was famous Dutchman Guus Hiddink, once again getting the most out of a team that probably had little business in the second round. Australia, taking the plunge and moving into the Asian qualifying region, made short work of its opposition and easily qualified for South Africa, becoming one of the first nations to book its ticket to this summer’s tournament. Now under the watchful eye of head coach Pim Verbeek, star playerslike Everton’s Tim Cahill and the Blackburn duo of Brett Emerton and Vince Grella will no longer be underestimated at the World Cup finals, so they’ll have to be at their very best to come through a difficult Group D.
Ghana reached its first-ever World Cup finals in 2006 and had a magical run as the only team from Africa to move on to the second round before falling to Brazil. One of Africa’s most successful teams within the continent, success on the world stage is only now becoming more of an expectation than mere hope, especially with a team led by Chelsea superstar Michael Essien. The Black Stars cruised through qualifying in the African region and firmly believe that with a World Cup on African soil they can progress out of the group stage and make some noise in the knockout round. Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac has a multitude of stars at his disposal, including Inter Milan’s Sulley Muntari and and captain Stephen Appiah of Bologna, so reaching the second round would be no great shock for this team, but the opposition will be stiff in what many feel is the tournament’s second Group of Death.
First, it was Yugoslavia, then it became Serbia and Montenegro. Now fully independent, Serbia comes into its first-ever World Cup as a new nation, but can rely on that wealth of experience to once again strike fear into the opposition. Serbian success in qualifying was heavily reliant on a staunch defense anchored by one of the best in the world – Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic. The rock-solid center back is complemented by Inter midfielder Dejan Stankovic and Milan Jovanovic at the point of attack. Head coach Radomir Antic knows a daunting task in Group D lies before him, but the new Beli Orlovi (White Eagles) will be keen to make a solid first impression against Ghana in their first group match in Pretoria.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride … two-time World Cup runners-up Holland return to the finals as one of the perennial favorites on paper to win the entire tournament, but internal strife once again threatens to derail the team before a ball is ever kicked in anger. Few teams can match Die Oranje in terms of overall skill, but the mental fatigue and pressure in World Cups always seems to get the best of the Dutch when it matters most. But Bert van Marwijk’ current charges will certainly try to rewrite recent history with a successful outing in 2010, and should that happen, no one should be surprised. The Dutch were flawless in qualifying and easily punched their ticket to South Africa behind the remarkable skills of winger Arjen Robben and the steady influence of midfielders Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder. Up top, Arsenal hitman Robin van Persie and Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt provide all sorts of problems for any opposing defense.
Few believed Denmark had a serious chance to reach the World Cup when the qualifying groups were announced three years ago, but the Danes brushed aside Sweden, Portugal and Hungary in fine style to earn an automatic berth in South Africa. Longtime coach Morten Olsen brings the team back to the World Cup for the fourth time in its history, their last visit a 2002 round of sixteen exit against England. The 1992 European champions are led in attack by Feyenoord striker Jon Dahl Tomasson and Gunners ace Nicklas Bendtner, while the back line is steadily anchored by Liverpool stopper Daniel Agger.
Having appeared in more World Cups than any other African nation, it was quite a shock not to see Cameroon in Germany back in 2006. The Indomitable Lions are back however, and will certainly reflect on their incredible run to the quarterfinals in 1990 as inspiration to once again lead the way for the continent. Coach Paul Le Guen of Lyon fame took over the team after a poor start early in qualifying and immediately the move started paying dividends. Four straight victories ensured safe passage to South Africa and no player was more essential to the cause than Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o. The dynamic forward scored nine goals in qualifying alone, but was ably accompanied by world stars such as Geremi, Jean Makoun and Arsenal’s Alexandre Song. With an impressive amount of firepower at his disposal, Le Guen will certainly never get a better opportunity to lead Cameroon one step further than its amazing run 20 years ago.
Their fourth straight World Cup appearance, Japan comes to South Africa after a dominating display in Asian qualifying which saw them easily book their place in this summer’s tournament. Head coach Takeshi Okada will know however that solid results in Asia won’t necessarily translate to World Cup success. The Samurai Blue are led by midfield free kick maestro Shunsuke Nakamura, but the talented Espanyol man will no longer be able to rely on former teammate and center stalwart Hidetoshi Nakata after his international retirement. While the Japanese fared well on home soil back in 2002 after reaching the round of 16, their last World Cup performance left a lot to be desired, so the current squad will be fighting to give a much better account of itself this time around in South Africa. The odds however, are stacked against them.
The reigning World Cup champions rarely get it done in flashy style, instead relying on an impregnable defense and clinical finishing at just the right moment, but Marcelo Lippi’s men have a point to prove in defense of their 2006 title in Germany. They’ve been called a bit ‘long in the tooth’ over the years when anything went just slightly pear shaped, but as usual, the Azzurri came through qualifying with little fuss in a group that included unlucky Ireland and Bulgaria. Bidding to tie Brazil for the most World Cup titles this summer with five, motivation will be the least of Lippi’s problems. Instead, he’ll have to worry about bringing back grizzled veterans like Francesco Totti and Luca Toni at the expense of young stars like Giueseppe Rossi and Sebastian Giovinco. With Lippi’s incredible resume in world football, he’ll most likely get the balance just right. At the very least he can be certain to see the best out of his world class goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Few things can make the World Cup seem insignificant, but Paraguayan fans’ hearts are for the moment strictly focused on Salvador Cabanas, the Club America striker who was recently shot in the head in Mexico and is fighting for his life each and every day. The burly hitman was the perfect foil to Manchester City star Roque Santa Cruz, but now head coach Gerardo Martino will have to make due without him in South Africa. He’ll expect big things out of Dortmund midfielder Nelson Valdez to help stabilize a team that has now qualified for four straight World Cup finals. The Paraguayans were disappointed after a first round exit in 2006, but after a brilliant qualifying campaign in South America which saw La Albirroja finish third behind only Brazil and Chile, the team will certainly have designs on getting farther this time around, especially with Cabanas constantly in their thoughts.
A member of the 1982 World Cup squad, New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert took full advantage of Australia’s exodus from the Oceania region in leading the Kiwis to their second-ever appearance in the finals. Blackburn skipper and former D.C. United star Ryan Nelsen took charge of the Kiwis’ playoff series against Bahrain, leading the team to two shutouts and a 1-0 aggregate win over the Asians to reach the tournament this summer. New Zealand natives have jumped on the bandwagon and the rugby-mad nation is fully behind the All-Whites, however anything more than a pedestrian first round exit will undoubtedly be the surprise of the tournament.
Long in the shadow of its talented neighbors the Czech Republic, Slovakia emerged as this summer’s powerful representative from the former Czechoslovakia, a nation with a terrific World Cup pedigree including a finals appearance in 1934 and a quarterfinal exit in 1990. The Slovaks impressively finished first in a qualifying group that included those same Czechs, fellow qualifiers Slovenia and Poland, a feat made even more stunning due to the fact that the team hardly boasts any major star players outside of Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel. But head coach Vladimir Weiss has formed a tight, collective unit which knows what it takes to grind out results. And while not the biggest star in Italy, Napoli hitman Marek Hamsik is a constant threat to score and can cause many headaches for any center back.
No team goes into a World Cup with more expectations than Brazil, and the 2010 edition of the tournament will be no different. Having won a record five titles, the Selecao is once again poised for a deep run in South Africa, especially after having already experienced success on the same grounds last summer by winning the Confederations Cup final against the U.S. Brazil is stacked at every position, boasting a wealth of talent that no country in the world dare attempt to rival. In fact, finding playing time for all those stars is most likely the greatest issue for head coach and 1994 World Cup winner Dunga, but it’s a problem most coaches would love to have. Leading the vaunted Samba attack will be Real Madrid superstar Kaka, while deadly attackers such as Luis Fabiano and Robinho are certain to run riot against their foes throughout the tournament. Providing steady hands in between the pipes should Brazil’s tireless defense shut off for a second will be Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar. It’s the trophy or bust once again for the Brazilians … and really it’s impossible to imagine it any other way.
No African team looked a safer bet to do big things in South Africa than the Ivory Coast, but the Elephants must have felt slightly undone when drawn into the ‘Group of Death’ alongside Brazil and Portugal. However, with the fans firmly in their corner, Didier Drogba and his team will have every chance to still advance and make some noise. And why wouldn’t they with a squad featuring the likes of Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Didier Zokora , Yaya Toure and the England-based pair of Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure? Regardless the draw, head coach Vahid Halilhodzic can be certain that the other teams in the group are just as worried about his team as he is of theirs. Ironically, the Elephants were also drawn into the ‘Group of Death’ in 2006 with match-ups against Argentina, Holland and Serbia-Montenegro. The team failed to reach the second round after finishing in third, but valuable lessons were learned which could make the difference towards a better showing this summer.
Its ‘Golden Generation’ now long gone, Portugal is still finding a way to get the job done, and ironically, it has little to do with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Goalless during qualifying and then injured at the finish line, the world’s most expensive transfer did little on paper to help the Selecção das Quinas qualify for South Africa. Instead, the club relied on midfield stars Deco and Simao Sabrosa, along with defensive talisman Ricardo Carvalho, to carry them through a difficult qualifying process which almost saw the Portuguese miss out on the 2010 finals. A dismal start put the team in early jeopardy, but coach Carlos Queiroz turned things around to earn a playoff with the dangerous Bosnians. With Ronaldo watching from the sidelines, Portugal made short work of the Balkan nation over both legs and easily qualified for its fifth World Cup appearance. But while the Portuguese did excellent in 2006 by reaching the semifinals against France, the lack of a consistent forward could make repeating the feat quite difficult.
After 40 years in the football wilderness, North Korea stormed back into the international spotlight for the first time since their miraculous run in 1966. Back then in England, the Asians ousted a stunned Italy in the group stage and took a 3-0 lead against Portugal in the quarterfinals, only to watch World Cup legend Eusebio score four goals and lead the Portuguese back to a 5-3 victory. Few North Korean players ply their trade outside of its borders, but a handful are making names for themselves in other markets. The most notable player on the squad is Jong Tae-Se, a striker plying his trade in Japan, but the true master in the middle is home-based Mun In-Guk. While coach Kim Jong-Hun enjoyed great success during the qualifying rounds, he must have been disappointed to see his team drawn into the same group as Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast. Dreams of 1966 are sure to dance in the players’ heads, but a repeat against this opposition is highly improbable.
The Spaniards finally broke their tournament jinx by fashionably winning Euro 2008 and claiming their first major trophy in 40 years. And while the squad could be pardoned for relaxing a while after finally overcoming that hurdle, head coach Vicente del Bosque only pushed the team to greater heights, including an astounding 35 match unbeaten streak which came to an end against the U.S. in the Confederations Cup semifinal. La Furia charged through qualifying like a bull in a china shop, scoring a perfect ten wins in ten matches and setting the standard for resilience, creativity and resolve. The team is perfectly balanced from goalpost to goalpost, with Iker Casillas between the sticks, Sergio Ramos and Carles Puyol in defense, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Xabi Alonso in the middle, and El Nino Fernando Torres providing the deadly finishing. And while World Cup success has always eluded the team (its best-ever finish a fourth place in 1950), this current crop of players, loaded with experience, youth and the majority in their primes, has a massive chance to repeat France’s feat in 1998 and 2000 of simultaneously holding the European and World Cup titles.
The 1962 World Cup hosts returned in grand style with a surprisingly efficient road to qualification that ended in a best-ever second place (behind Brazil) finish in the CONMEBOL region. Argentinean coach Marcelo Bielsa brought his magic with him as La Roja qualified for their first World Cup since 1998. The famous forward tandem of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano is now long gone, so a new generation of attacking players has grabbed the baton and is leaving scores of befuddled goalkeepers lying helpless in its wake. Humberto Suazo relies on Gerd Mueller-esque instincts to always pop up at the right time in front of goal, while Matias Fernandez and Alexis Sanchez provide a youthful burst that’s caught fire at just the right time. The Chileans finished in third place when they hosted the tournament, and while such lofty heights are unlikely to be repeated, Bielsa’s tactical genius, along with a hungry and skilled young squad, would make it no surprise at all to see the South Americans in the second round.
When it comes to top European exports from Central America, no team can compare to Honduras. With stars like David Suazo, Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa all playing at the highest levels each week, Los Catrachos aren’t in South Africa to simply make up the numbers. Coach Reinaldo Rueda overcame a devastating home defeat against the Americans in qualifying by winning the team’s final match against El Salvador, and then sweating as Costa Rica held a 2-1 lead in added time against the U.S. at RFK stadium. Jonathan Bornstein’s headed goal in the final seconds broke hearts in Costa Rica as they were forced into a playoff with Uruguay, while Hondurans celebrated their automatic qualification thanks to the draw. Their first World Cup since their only other involvement in 1982, seven qualifying goal scorer Carlos Pavon and his team will certainly not look out of place against any team in their group, but face formidable obstacles in the form of Spain, Chile and Switzerland to reach the second round.
The Swiss got the qualifying wake-up call they needed when they suffered an early and highly embarrassing loss to Luxembourg, ultimately reeling off a series of consecutive victories and securing their place in South Africa this summer. One of only two men to win the Champions League with two different clubs, manager Ottmar Hitzfeld brings a wealth of knowledge and quiet resolve to the Swiss squad, characteristics mimicked by his star striker and Switzerland’s all-time leading scorer Alexander Frei. The Basel ace will no doubt rely on the Leverkusen duo of Tranquillo Barnetta and Eren Derdiyok to supply him with steady service up top, while Arsenal defender Philippe Senderos (on loan to Everton) will be called upon to stop players like Fernando Torres, Humberto Suazo and David Suazo. The Swiss were quarterfinal regulars in the 1930’s and 50’s, but the team hasn’t done better than a round of 16 finish (2006) since then. However, Hitzfeld was no doubt pleased in December when the groups were drawn and will certainly believe that a place in the knockout round is in the cards.