France, Senegal, Uruguay, Denmark
Current champions France, with the backbone of the Euro 2000 team intact,
look set to win this one and the battle will be on for second place, with
no clear favorite and not much to choose between Uruguay, who placed 5th
in CONMEBOL and qualified via a play-off win over Australia and Denmark,
who overcame the Czech Republic and Bulgaria to go through directly. Outsiders
Senegal may be worth a bet to surprise their more established opponents,
but then again
Our Picks: France and Denmark.
Spain, Slovenia, Paraguay, South Africa
Of all of the world cup groups, this may be the most difficult to call.
The lack of tough competition in South Africa's qualifying group leaves
a question mark over their true strength, while Slovenia only managed
second place behind Russia. Spain was unbeaten in qualifying. Paraguay
are more than a match for most teams, having drawn with Argentina and
beaten Brazil on their way to second place in CONMEBOL.
Our Picks: Paraguay and Spain.
Brazil, Turkey, China, Costa Rica
Despite Brazil's poor showing in qualification only a fool would suggest
they would fail advance from this group. Turkey are disappointed to finish
second to Sweden and will be difficult to break down due to sheer determinism.
If Costa Rica can reproduce their qualifying form, they could provide
an upset. China are likely to make little impact.
Our Picks: Brazil and Turkey
Korea, Poland, USA, Portugal
As hosts, South Korea will have massive support, but it is doubtful this
will be enough to upset the Europeans. The States will probably struggle
to make an impact too, while Portugal have the talent and experience necessary
to progress to the later stages. Poland may lack flair but are well-organized
and are traditionally a tough nut to crack, giving little away defensively
and often striking on the break.
Our Picks: Portugal and Poland.
Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Cameroon
With an out-of-form Germany and an in-form Ireland, this group may be
decided on whether either of those two manages to overcome Cameroon convincingly
- and the Africans could spring a surprise. Germany will likely improve
though, and their vast experience at this level will be crucial. The Irish
will again possess the passion, but - Robbie Keane aside - there's a question
mark over their creativity. To be frank, the Saudis lack the strength
and experience to cause a major upset and will likely get panned.
Our Picks: Germany and Ireland
Argentina, Nigeria, England, Sweden
The 'Group of Death' provides some of the first round's most attractive
matches. Argentina won the CONMEBOL qualifying competition so convincingly
that they must be favorites - and if England continue to progress under
Eriksson they are more than capable of giving them a game. Of the other
two, Sweden are more predictable - difficult to break down but always
beatable. On the other hand Nigeria are just as likely to turn it on and
provide an upset as they are to flop.
Our Picks: Argentina and England
Italy, Ecuador, Croatia, Mexico
This group is a Euro/Americas affair, with Italy possessing the pedigree
to come out on top - a look at the World Cup records suggests at least
a top 8 finish, probably more. Of the other three, Mexico have been disappointing
- finishing below the USA in qualifying - and Ecuador seem unlikely to
be able to rise to the occasion, leaving Croatia, who topped their UEFA
qualification group as the team most likely to progress to the knock-out
Our Picks: Italy and Croatia
Japan, Belgium, Russia, Tunisia
Co-hosts Japan have a real chance here, though their progress will hinge
on overcoming Tunisia and getting a result against Belgium. Russia dominated
their qualifying group conceding only 5 goals in 10 games - while Belgium
were forced into a play-off against Scotland. Tunisia pose no real threat,
and so with Russia likely to come out on top, there'll be a dog-fight
for second place, perhaps with home advantage being the deciding factor.
Our Picks: Russia and Japan.