World Cup First Look – Live Contenders

Today we’re going to look at five teams that have the potential to win it all at the World Cup, but only if they are absolutely flawless and the top teams ahead of them have a bad month:

Italy (12/1)
– You have to give Italy serious respect because they are the defending champions. They also totally dominated their qualifying process. They are going to focus on the defense that has made them as strong as they have been recently, and they still have the talent that makes them world class led by Gianluigi Buffon, the best goalkeeper in the world. There are a couple of reasons for concern, though. Most significantly, their qualifying run was so easy that a team could become lethargic as a result – unable to turn it back on when the games matter. That was a real problem during the Confederations Cup when the team was awful and looked out of place.

Germany (12/1)
– I’m not sure that this is the most talented team out there, but I’m also not sure it matters. The Germans don’t play with a lot of creativity or explosiveness, but they are the best in the world at getting up for big games and getting the most out of their talent. They were second at the World Cup in 2002,third in 2006, and second at Euro 2008. They exceeded their talent in each case, so there is no reason it couldn’t happen again here. The x-factor here is Michael Ballack. The midfielder and captain is the best player of his generation in Germany, and the emotional and physical leader of this team. This will be his last World Cup – he’s 33 – and that could be motivation to take this team to great heights.

Netherlands (12/1)
– The Dutch are another team that excels at crushing the expectations of their fan. They rolled through their qualification unscathed, outscoring opponents 17-2 in the process. They have talent and discipline galore in excess, but they have been knocked out of the last couple of major international tournaments in the quarterfinals and have looked as bad as a team possibly can in those losses. The problems with this team seem more mental than physical. That’s much harder to overcome.

Portugal (28/1)
– Cristiano Ronaldo could be the best player in the world right now, so this team is obviously a factor with him in the lineup. The defense is fantastic as well. They didn’t lose a single game in 2009, and appear to be ready. We’ll get a good sense of how good this team is when they play Brazil in the round-robin, but at this point they seem to be solid value at this price.

Ivory Coast (25/1)
– There has to be an African team in consideration in an African World Cup, and the Ivory Coast is the best there is. They are led by Didier Drogba, one of the best strikers in the world. Their biggest issue is the group they are in – they will have to play both Portugal and Brazil in the first round of the Group of Death. There is going to be a very good team that doesn’t even get a chance to try their luck in the elimination rounds. If Ivory Coast gets through the first round then they can be dangerous. They are a feisty, tough team that could cause any team troubles. We’ll be able to easily re-assess the caliber of this team after they have played their group round, but they are the pride of their continent.

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