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2010 World Cup set to kick off in South Africa

The 2010 FIFA World Cup begins on June 11 in Johannesburg as the host, South Africa, take on their Group A opponents, Mexico. It will be the first tournament to be hosted by an African country and the first in which the host nation, not the defending champions (this year Italy, which won on 2004), will play the opening match.

There has been some controversy over choosing South Africa as the venue, including the fact that at this time winter is starting in the Southern Hemisphere. However, given the huge number of world-class players set to participate, the competition promises to be a worldwide soccer celebration.

Though they might not get as much attention from the press and fans, coaches are crucial to a team’s success. Unlike club managers, national team coaches have much less time to select and test their available players. They work around the clock preparing for this one competition, choosing the best 23 players for the final tournament. More often than not, they get heavy criticism for their decisions, but the strongest personalities always prevail.

Who to bet on this year?

Brazil. Their entire lineup is very solid, even without some of the more its players (like Ronaldo or Ronaldinho). Their coach, Dunga, started in 2006 and Brazil has won all of the tournaments played since: Copa America in 2007 (beating Argentina 3-0 in the final) and the Confederations Cup in 2009 (beating the US 3-2 in the final, coming back from a 2-0 defecit).

Who not to bet on?

Spain. They’re the #1 favorites - the current European Champions — and they have won 96% of their 25 games under their coach, Vicente del Bosque. The one defeat was 0-2 against the US in the semifinals of the 2009 Confederations Cup. While Spain promises to put on a dazzling performance, they have history against them. The number one favorites have never won the tournament. In addition, no European team has ever won the World Cup outside of Europe.

Which powerhouses will disappoint?

Argentina. While Argentina boasts 5 of the best strikers in the world (Messi, Milito, Higuain, Aguero and Tevez scored a combined 155 goals this season) their defense and midfield lack players of the same caliber. The legendary Diego Maradona, now coach of Argentina, has yet to prove his skill at this level, as his team barely qualified to this World Cup.

France. They have stellar players throughout the lineup, but their coach, Domenech, has not been able to make them into a strong team. They face a tough group with Uruguay, Mexico and hosts, South Africa, and could exit the tournament at the end of the group stage.

For some of the other teams in the tournament, the role of the captain will be crucial. These are players who have enormous experience on the international stage, and their team will rely on their leadership to advance in the tournament.. They include Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, Alexander Frei of Switzerland, Diego Forlan of Uruguay and Dejan Stankovic of Serbia.

Given these factors, which teams will advance past the group stage? Here are my predictions:

Group A: Uruguay and South Africa

Group B: Argentina and Nigeria

Group C: England and USA

Group D: Germany and Serbia

Group E: Netherlands and Cameroon

Group F: Italy and Paraguay

Group G: Brazil and Portugal

Group H: Spain and Switzerland