There are now 32 countries booked for the World Cup finals – with the tournament arriving before we know it, let’s take a look at some of the key facts for each team. The qualifying nations are listed below by group, click on a link for a fact file about each team and predictions. The stage is set for one of the best tournaments in ages – do we say this every year? I think so.
Will Messi shine as he has for Barcelona and bring his idol another World Cup title but this time as manager? Will Wayne Rooney bring a World Cup trophy to England? Will Spain, with loads of talent, from Torres to Xavi to Iniesta, win a title? Will Brazil again become World Cup champs? The theatrics and drama will come in June.
All times are local (South African) times:
16:00 South Africa – Mexico
20:30 Uruguay – France
13:30 Korea Republic – Greece
16:00 Argentina – Nigeria
20:30 England – USA
13:30 Algeria – Slovenia
16:00 Serbia – Ghana
20:30 Germany – Australia
13:30 Netherlands – Denmark
16:00 Japan – Cameroon
20:30 Italy – Paraguay
13:30 New Zealand – Slovakia
16:00 Ivory Coast – Portugal
20:30 Brazil – Korea DPR
13:30 Honduras – Chile
16:00 Spain – Switzerland
20:30 South Africa – Uruguay
13:30 Argentina – Korea Republic
16:00 Greece – Nigeria
20:30 France – Mexico
13:30 Germany – Serbia
16:00 Slovenia – USA
20:30 England – Algeria
13:30 Netherlands – Japan
16:00 Ghana – Australia
20:30 Cameroon – Denmark
13:30 Slovakia – Paraguay
16:00 Italy – New Zealand
20:30 Brazil – Ivory Coast
13:30 Portugal – Korea DPR
16:00 Chile – Switzerland
20:30 Spain – Honduras
16:00 Mexico – Uruguay
16:00 France – South Africa
20:30 Nigeria – Korea Republic
20:30 Greece – Argentina
16:00 Slovenia – England
16:00 USA – Algeria
20:30 Ghana – Germany
20:30 Australia – Serbia
16:00 Slovakia – Italy
16:00 Paraguay – New Zealand
20:30 Denmark – Japan
20:30 Cameroon – Netherlands
16:00 Portugal – Brazil
16:00 Korea DPR – Ivory Coast
20:30 Chile – Spain
20:30 Switzerland – Honduras
ROUND OF 16
16:00 Winner Group A vs Runner-up Group B (1)
20:30 Winner Group C vs Runner-up Group D (2)
16:00 Winner Group D vs Runner-up Group C (3)
20:30 Winner Group B vs Runner-up Group A (4)
16:00 Winner Group E vs Runner-up Group F (5)
20:30 Winner Group G vs Runner-up Group H (6)
16:00 Winner Group F vs Runner-up Group E (7)
20:30 Winner Group H vs Runner-up Group G (8)
16:00 Winner Game 5 vs Winner Game 6 (9)
20:30 Winner Game 1 vs Winner Game 2 (10)
16:00 Winner Game 4 vs Winner Game 3 (11)
20:30 Winner Game 7 vs Winner Game 8 (12)
20:30 Winner Game 10 vs Winner Game 9 (13)
20:30 Winner Game 11 vs Winner Game 12 (14)
3RD PLACE PLAY-OFF
20:30 Loser Game 13 vs Loser Game 14
20:30 Winner Game 13 vs Winner Game 14
Fact Files See list of World Cup teams
The boss: Nutty professor Raymond Domenech, although not for want of trying to get rid of him. He’s hugely unpopular with the French press, and the FFF’s lined up Laurent Blanc as a replacement.
Qualifying: Shouldn’t really be there. Thierry Henry’s hand saw them scrape through a play-off with Ireland in the most contentious of circumstances.
Best result: World Cup winners on home soil in 1998, beaten finalists in 2006.
MVP: Bayern Munich playmaker Franck Ribery needs to carry the side on his shoulders; he’s the only one with something special going forwards.
Prediction: 2002 all over again – shocked by Uruguay in their opener and dumped out as the tournament’s first major casualty.
The boss: The hot-headed Javier Aguirre returned for a second spell as his nation’s coach a year ago, after a successful three-year spell with Atletico Madrid.
Qualifying: Aguirre rescued them after Sven-Goran Eriksson’s awful start; eventually a comfortable second behind the USA in CONCACAF.
Best result: Quarter-finals on home turf in both 1970 and 1986.
MVP: Captain Rafael Marquez isn’t getting a lot of game-time at Barcelona at the moment, but has bags of experience at either centre back or holding midfield.
Prediction: Will disappoint and fall at the first hurdle.
The boss: Carlos Alberto Parreira – in his second spell in charge of the hosts – will set a new benchmark when he manages his fifth team at a World Cup this summer. He won the tournament with Brazil in 1994.
Qualifying: As hosts, they didn’t have to qualify. Lucky, they wouldn’t have made it. A very positive display at the Confederations Cup last summer though.
Best result: This will be their third tournament; didn’t make it past the first round in 1998 or 2002.
MVP: Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar has tenacity and talent with equal measure, and is ready to graduate onto the world stage.
Prediction: The spirit that brought them Rugby World Cup glory in 1995 may get them out of the group, and that will be plenty for a side that just doesn’t have the players.
The boss: Oscar Tabarez has managed sides from AC Milan to Boca Juniors. He was in charge of Uruguay for the 1990 World Cup, the last time they made the knockout rounds.
Qualifying: The last of the 32 teams to make it, defeating Costa Rica in a two-legged play-off in November 2009.
Best result: Won the first World Cup, in 1930, and again in 1950.
MVP: Forward Luis Suarez is a little bit special, and has scored at more than a goal a game for Ajax this season. He and Diego Forlan should form a lethal partnership up top.
Prediction: Shocking France to top the group, but falling early in the knockouts.
The boss: A certain Mr Maradona. Win 4-0 in his first game, lose 6-1 in Bolivia, launch an expletive-filled tirade after securing qualification with 6 minutes to spare. Expect fireworks.
Qualifying: Mario Bolatti to the rescue with that decisive goal in Montevideo, after a series of away defeats left it looking unlikely.
Best result: Winners in 1978 and 1986.
MVP: It’d be foolish to argue against Lionel Messi, who may be the finest player on the planet, but it’s veteran Juan Sebastien Veron that pulls the strings.
Prediction: A recent defeat of Germany bodes well, but you never know what to expect. Quarters, but no further.
The boss: German Otto Rehhagel has been in charge since 2001, resisting advances from his homeland after Euro 2004 glory. His team will be well-drilled, but won’t attack much.
Qualifying: Second in Euro Group 2; scraped and defended their way past Ukraine in the play-offs.
Best result: Shock champions at Euro 2004, but this will only be their second World Cup. Didn’t make it past the first round at USA ’94.
MVP: Theofanis Gekas was the top scorer in European qualifying, but barely plays club soccer. He just loves putting that national shirt on.
Prediction: Won’t last long. Good riddance, the neutrals will say.
The boss: Former Swedish boss Lars Lagerback doesn’t have long to make his mark, the former Sweden boss having replaced Shuaibu Amodu in late February after a poor Africa Cup of Nations showing.
Qualifying: Unbeaten in all 12 qualifiers, but still just scraped in ahead of Tunisia.
Best result: The ‘90s were their golden days – won the 1996 Olympics, and made the last 16 of the World Cup in 1994 and 1998.
MVP: John Obi Mikel is the water carrier at Chelsea, but is given the freedom to pull the strings further forward, wearing number 10 for his national side.
Prediction: If they can grab second in Group C, will fancy themselves against the victors of Group A, so can make the quarters.
The boss: Huh Jung-Moo scored the goal that took them to the 1986 World Cup; in his third spell as the national boss.
Qualifying: Unbeaten throughout, and took four points off their fierce Northern rivals.
Best result: Made the semi-finals as co-hosts in 2002, beating Italy on the way.
MVP: Captain Park Ji-Sung has got World Cup and top-level European club experience with Manchester United.
Prediction: Need to beat Greece in what promises to be a low-scoring opener – can make the knockouts if they do so.
The boss: Rabah Saadane is enjoying an incredible fifth spell as national team manager, over nearly 30 years.
Qualifying: Beat arch-rivals Egypt 1-0 in a winner-takes-all play-off, after finishing their qualifying group dead level.
Best result: Made the finals in 1982 and 1986, but not past the first round.
MVP: Nadir Belhadj plays left back for Portsmouth, but will be a chief creative influence from further up the flank for ‘The Desert Foxes’.
Prediction: For the neutral, it’s a shame they and not Egypt qualified. Won’t make the knockouts.
The boss: Italian Fabio Capello answers to no-one and now commands huge popular support in his adopted home, but has got no international tournament experience.
Qualifying: The top scorers in European qualifying; whooped Croatia home and away to progress with two games to spare. Impressive.
Best result: 44 years of hurt, since lifting the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966.
MVP: Most-certainly Wayne Rooney. A classic number 10, everything will go through the Manchester United forward, who’s turned into a 30-goal-a-season man this term.
Prediction: Semi-finals, at the very least.
The boss: Matjaz Kek was a defensive leader as a player, and has directed the national side with distinction since 2007.
Qualifying: Second behind Slovakia in their group, an important late goal in Russia and a 1-0 home win saw them defeat Guus Hiddink’s fancied side on away goals in their play-off.
Best result: Since forming in 1992, they’ve only made the World Cup once, losing all their games in 2002.
MVP: Lanky Cologne striker Milivoje Novakovic will be relied on to score the goals, as he did during the qualifiers.
Prediction: Group stage losers.
The boss: Referees won’t want to be the target of a Bob Bradley glare. Not much of a player himself, he got his first coaching job at 22. Son Michael plays in midfield.
Qualifying: Cruised through in CONCACAF top spot. Included a 9-0 drubbing of Barbados.
Best result: 3rd place back in 1930.
MVP: 121-cap Landon Donovan proved his doubters wrong with an impressive recent spell on loan with Everton, and has pace to burn.
Prediction: Knocked out by Germany in the last 16.
The boss: Pim Verbeek was assistant to Guus Hiddink during South Korea’s 2002 campaign. Should be good fun in press conferences.
Qualifying: Apparently Australia is now a part of Asia. Were beaten by Iraq and China early on, but eventually cruised through well ahead of Japan.
Best result: Desperately unlucky to be eliminated by Italy in the last 16 in 2006.
MVP: 37-year-old Mark Schwarzer has truly become a top-class ‘keeper since his move to Fulham, and is now getting European experience.
Prediction: Have got a shot at the last 16, but might be unlucky.
The boss: Joachim Low has got his critics, but he’s bold and seems to want to cram as much attacking talent in his 11 as possible.
Qualifying: Topped a tricky group ahead of Russia. 10 games, 26 goals scored, 5 conceded.
Best result: Winners as West Germany in 1954, 1974 and 1990.
MVP: Difficult one, but Michael Ballack is past his best. Werden Bremen’s Mesut Ozil is a bit of a wildcard, only 21, but can change games on his own.
Prediction: Are always there when it gets serious, and should make the last four.
The boss: Milovan Rajevac’s first World Cup game will be against his homeland, Serbia. Interesting.
Qualifying: Pretty comfortable, the first to make it through African qualifying.
Best result: Made the last 16 of their first World Cup, in 2006.
MVP: Michael Essien will dominate many a midfield, and should be fresh after an injury-hit season at Chelsea.
Prediction: Same as four years ago.
The boss: Radomir Antic has some pedigree, having managed Real Madrid and Barcelona. Doesn’t like journalists much.
Qualifying: In their first attempt since splitting from Montenegro in 2006, made it to South Africa in style with a 5-0 thrashing of Romania, to consign France to the play-offs.
Best result: Confusing. As Yugoslavia, finished 4th in 1930 and 1962. As Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, finished bottom of the ‘Group of Death’, humbled 6-0 by Argentina.
MVP: Having Nemanja Vidic at the heart of your defence is no bad thing. The physical Manchester United man is a big influence on his national side.
Prediction: In spite of their hugely impressive qualification campaign, will lose to Ghana in their opener and never recover.
The boss: Paul Le Guen had a great spell with Lyon, flopped at Rangers, and turned Cameroon around by ruffling some feathers.
Qualifying: Not easy. Otto Pfister resigned after they were beaten by Togo. Le Guen to the rescue, Morocco dispatched in the final game to secure their passage.
Best result: Won an awful lot of affection on their way to the quarters in 1990. Africa’s most regular World Cup qualifiers.
MVP: Jean Makoun is some player, but it’s got to be Samuel Eto’o. The new national captain has scored in two Champions League finals and scored 44 international goals.
The boss: Morten Olsen has been in charge for ten years, having previously won 100 caps as a player for the Danes.
Qualifying: A 3-2 win in Lisbon set them off for a superb campaign, which they finished ahead of Portugal and Sweden at the top of Euro Group 1.
Best result: Won Euro ’92 having not even qualified. World Cup best was the quarter-finals in 1998.
MVP: A number of solid players. Daniel Agger at the back, Christian Poulsen in the middle, but, because they need goals, Nicklas Bendtner is key up top .”
Prediction: Confidence is high after qualifying, and Olsen knows what he’s about. Last 16.
The boss: Bert van Marwijk has been in charge since 2008. Did you know? He’s Mark van Bommel’s father-in-law.
Qualifying: Stunning. 100% record, only two goals conceded.
Best result: Runners-up in 1974 and 1978.
MVP: We always knew winger Arjen Robben was good, but he’s upped his game since moving to Bayern Munich. Time to be world class.
Prediction: Were irresistible at Euro 2008, then crashed out without a trace. Quarter-finals.
The boss: Takeshi Okada is in his second spell as national coach, having also taken them to the 1998 World Cup.
Qualifying: No match for Australia, but qualified comfortably with two games to spare.
Best result: Made the last 16 at home in 2002, this will be their fourth consecutive tournament.
MVP: CSKA’s Keisuke Honda will be the chief component of a midfield that has plenty of goals in it.
Prediction: Not quite good enough to make it out of the group.
The boss: World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi is back, after Roberto Donadoni failed at Euro 2008.
Qualifying: Comfortable if not overly impressive. Topped Euro Group 8, unbeaten.
Best result: They’re the holders, don’t you know? Winners 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006.
MVP: With Gianluigi Buffon between the sticks, the rest of the team know that one goal will often be enough to win a game.
Prediction: You’d be mad to bet against them reaching at least the quarters.
The boss: Ricki Herbert played for the All-Whites at the 1982 World Cup, and shares the national job with managing Wellington Phoenix.
Qualifying: Made hard work of Oceania qualifying, but made it to the play-off against Bahrain, which they won 1-0 over two legs.
Best result: They will appear for the second time, having lost all three and conceded 12 in 1982.
MVP: Ryan Nelsen is captain of both his country and his club, Blackburn Rovers. Masses of no-nonsense leadership from the back.
Prediction: Making up the numbers, but won’t be a walkover.
The boss: Argentine Gerardo Martino took the reins in 2007.
Qualifying: Were top of the South American tree for the first half of qualifying, having beaten Brazil 2-0. Slipped slightly to finish third.
Best result: Made the second round in 1986, 1998 and 2006.
MVP: Roque Santa Cruz has had a frustrating debut season with Manchester City, but will always get you a goal, or two.
Prediction: Will test Italy in their opener, but fall short of qualification.
The boss: Vladimir Weiss took charge in 2008. His son, also Vladimir, plays for Bolton and is a part of the national squad.
Qualifying: Top of Group 3 ahead of rivals the Czechs, and Poland.
Best result: This will be their first World Cup finals. Czechoslovakia were runners-up in 1934 and 1962.
MVP: Napoli’s box-to-box midfielder Marek Hamsik is quickly becoming hot property. The young captain is ready to shine on the biggest stage.
Prediction: An outside tip to go a long way.
The boss: Dunga lifted the trophy as captain in 1994, and has shaped the team in his mould, providing a ruthless edge, and leaving big names on the sidelines.
Qualifying: Topped the South American table to uphold their record of never having failed to make a World Cup, and did it with plenty of goals, especially away from home.
Best result: Five-time winners, in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002.
MVP: After the four-brilliant-attackers-see-what-happens strategy of 2006, this is now very much Kaka’s team. He can pull the strings like few others.
Prediction: Losing finalists this time.
The boss: At the moment, they haven’t got one. Guus Hiddink’s been linked with the job, and that’s got to be good news.
Qualifying: Progressed comfortably, although it has taken time to recover from a stampede which killed 20 in Abidjan a year ago.
Best result: Drawn in the Group of Death in 2006, they didn’t make it out of the first round.
MVP: Captain Didier Drogba will have the bit firmly between his teeth, and no defence will be looking forward to dealing with his physicality.
Prediction: The first Africans to win the World Cup? They’ll go close.
The boss: Kim Jong-Hun has got his side playing disciplined, defensively-minded soccer. It works.
Qualifying: A never-ending qualification campaign ended when a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia, which proved enough for progression from the final group stage.
Best result: Quarter-finals in 1966, their only previous appearance.
MVP: Hong Jong-Yo, the only North Korean with European club experience, currently plays for FC Rostov in Russia. He’s normally DPR’s lone front man, and only goal threat.
Prediction: In the Group of Death, no chance I’m afraid.
The boss: Former Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz has not gained many admirers since taking the reins of his national side in 2008.
Qualifying: Couldn’t buy a goal at the start, and came perilously close to not even finishing second in their group. A play-off victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina eventually secured qualification.
Best result: Have never won a major international tournament; runners-up at Euro 2004, third at World Cup 1966 and fourth in 2006.
MVP: The World Player of the Year and most expensive man on the planet, Cristiano Ronaldo can answer those who argue he doesn’t deliver on the big stage.
Prediction: It all depends on their opener, against the Ivory Coast on 15 June. They’ll lose and go home early.
The boss: Marcelo Bielsa managed Argentina between 1998 and 2004 and has got Chile playing attacking soccer since taking over in 2007.
Qualifying: Started slowly, but after beating Argentina for the first time since 1973, they ended second, just one point behind Brazil.
Best result: Third place at home in 1962; have had summers off since 1998.
MVP: Humberto Suazo, owned by Mexicans Monterrey but currently on loan at Real Zaragoza, topped the South American scoring charts with 10 in qualifying.
Prediction: They’re well worth watching, but will fall short against Swiss discipline.
The boss: Reinaldo Rueda, who has previously enjoyed success with the Colombian youth and full sides.
Qualifying: Carlos Pavon’s winner at El Salvador in their final game secured qualification behind the USA and Mexico.
Best result: 2010 will only be their second appearance. They didn’t make it past the first round in 1982.
MVP: Spurs midfielder Wilson Palacios wears his country’s number 8, and will look to provide both discipline and thrust from the middle of the park.
Prediction: Will put up a fight in an open group, may be unlucky.
The boss: Vincent del Bosque will be able to handle the pressure that comes with being favourites, having managed Real Madrid’s first Galacticos.
Qualifying: 10 games, 10 wins, 28 goals scored. The world is afraid.
Best result: The reigning European champions’ best World Cup effort is fourth in 1950.
MVP: Who to choose? Perhaps Andres Iniesta, Barcelona’s miniature maestro, who will be charged with picking defensive locks to supply Torres and Villa.
Prediction: The favourites will go a long way, but don’t quite have what it takes to win a World Cup.
The boss: Ottmar Hitzfeld led both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to Champions League wins, but this is the German’s first international tournament in the dugout.
Qualifying: Embarrassingly beaten at home by Luxembourg, but went on to top their group ahead of Greece.
Best result: Three-time quarter-finalists in the early days – 1934, 1938, 1954.
MVP: Tranquillo Barnetta caught the eye in 2006, and the Swiss side’s attractive style revolves around the subtleties of the Leverkusen midfielder’s game.
Prediction: Should finish as runners-up in Group H, but will find it tough going from there.
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