Group A should be fun. Host country Germany is the lone powerhouse and ought to walk through the opening round without too much trouble. But the battle for second place will be intriguing as Costa Rica, Poland and Ecuador fight for respect. Ecuador was terrific in qualifying, Costa Rica has a solid goal-scorer in Paulo Wanchope and Poland has much to prove after failing to reach the UEFA Euro finals in 2004. Expect Germany, behind its passionate home crowd, to come out on top and score a lot of goals. And look for Ecuador to play consistently enough to edge out Poland for the second position.
– David VandeVusse
The picks: Ecuador and Germany
Group B has already demonstrated the importance of strong defense. Only one goal has been scored in the entire group – an own-goal prompted by a David Beckham free kick against Paraguay in the first two minutes of the match. Trinidad and Tobago played a similar game against Sweden, the tiny nation holding the Scandinavian powerhouse to a 0-0 draw in its first appearance at the World Cup. England is the favorite to win the group, but to beat Sweden, it will have to move the ball better than it did against Paraguay. If England beats Trinidad and Tobago, it’ll be comfortably at the front of the group, but the Caribbean nation has proven that it’s not just in Germany for a vacation.
– Jeremy Davidson
The picks: England and Sweden
Aside from Rocky’s victory over Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, few athletic events can claim responsibility for ending wars, but the Ivory Coast’s qualification for the World Cup has had a similar effect on the country’s civil war. And the team is serious about contending. After failing to make it out of the group stage in 2002, the ever-talented Argentineans should have a chip on their shoulders. The Netherlands (and their orange jerseys) is often dubbed the best team never to win the World Cup. Even Serbia-Montenegro, who finished ahead of Spain in World Cup qualifying, believes they can advance.
– Ian Robinson
The picks: Argentina and the Netherlands
Even though it’s almost a given that Portugal and Mexico will be the pair to advance out of Group D, the soccer should still be interesting. Despite a possible bloodbath in their opener against Angola — the last match between the two was suspended 20 minutes early after four Angolans were sent off – the Portuguese should advance with relative ease. Mexico appeared to be in trouble when goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez left the team when his father died, but now he’s back. Iran has an outside chance of some upsets, but injuries should keep them from threatening anyone. Angola should be the bottom feeders of Group D.
– James V. Dowd
The picks: Portugal and Mexico
It’s not considered the “Group of Death” for nothing. The Czech Republic, United States and Italy are ranked Nos. 2, 5 and 13, respectively, in the world. The Czechs and Italians have the two best teams on paper but this will be the first time the Czech Republic plays on the world’s largest stage. Look out for an American upset this afternoon because the United States is battle tested and has something to prove due to the lack of respect given to them. Despite its internal problems, Italy will be the other team to move on. Ghana will just receive the “thanks-for-coming” ribbon.
– H. Jose Bosch
The picks: Italy and the United States
Defending World Cup champion, Brazil, is in Group F. Does that leave Australia, Japan and Croatia to battle for the second and last spot left? Not necessarily, but most likely. Evenly matched Australia and Japan will attempt to rattle the flashy Brazilians. Expect virus-stricken Croatia to fight to keep up. If recovered, the well-balanced Croatia field could pose as Brazil’s toughest competition. Following a 32-year absence, the hungry Socceroos will look to make a splash in the field. It’s a safe bet that Brazil will win the group and the Aussies will advance, too.
– Katie Field
The picks: Brazil and Australia
With the sting of their embarrassing first-round exit in Korea/Japan 2002 still fresh in their minds, France looks to be a team on a mission, which should make the 1998 FIFA World Cup champion a dark horse to win it all again. With the French all but certain to advance, the remaining spot into the elimination round will go to Switzerland, Korean Republic or Togo. Switzerland seems to have the best shot. Korean Republic struggled recently to qualify, and Togo lacks World Cup experience.
– Imran Syed
The picks: France and Switzerland
If Group E is the “Group of Death,” then Group H is the “Group of Apathy.” Nobody is too excited about this group outside of the four countries involved. Spain is the lone team here that’s experienced in World Cup play, and should be a lock to advance. The battle for the second spot should be tight, but will probably go to the team that messes up less, rather than a team that truly plays well. Saudi Arabia embarrassed itself last World Cup with an 8-0 loss at the hands of Germany, Tunisia’s offense is usually non-existent and Ukraine has never played in a World Cup before. In the end, the offensive star power Ukraine has in striker Andriy Shevchenko should be enough to push it into the round of 16 to go with powerhouse Spain.
– Scott Bell
The picks: Spain and Ukraine