How will this work (for any World Cup rookies)? A team plays each of the other teams in their group (3 games). You get 3 points for each win and 1 point for each draw. After the opening three matches, the two teams in each group with the most points advance to the knockout stages. (Any ties are decided by the number of goals.)
Here's how I see it right now. Teams advancing listed in order of finish. All predictions are guaranteed to be inaccurate or your money back:
Germany, Costa Rica, Poland, Ecuador
This group shouldn't challenge the hosts much at all. Costa Rica, their opponent in the competition's opening match, was dreadful down the qualifying stretch, and Ecuador is the weak link in my opinion from South America. Germany, Poland advance.
England, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago, Sweden
You've got to hate to see Sweden in this group if you support England. They just can't seem to beat the scandanavians. I like Trinidad to be entertaining, but still come in last. Sweden and Paraguay should battle for second. England, Paraguay advance.
Argentina, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro, Netherlands
This is it. The group of death. Argentina is, well, Argentina. Ivory Coast tore through Africa during qualifying, and the Netherlands probably should have been seeded. Normally, I'd go with the underdog Ivory Coast, but they are newcomers, and although I like them to surprise Argentina, they go home early. Netherlands, Argentina advance.
Mexico, Iran, Angola, Portugal
This is the coulda shoulda group. The group that could have been the U.S.'s had they gotten a top seed. I don't know anything about Angola, and that usually doesn't bode well. Portugal, Mexico advance.
Italy, Ghana, U.S., Czech Republic
Ouch ouch ouch. So the U.S. dodges group C, but ends up making the second hardest group. This one is almost too hard to handicap, but I won't let that stop me. The U.S. needs to soundly defeat either Italy or the Czechs to make it easy. Italy struggled a bit of late, but the catennaccio will carry them through. I think the U.S. advances as well using goal differential.
Brazil, Croatia, Australia, Japan
Australia's dream ends here. Japan played to well in the qualifying; I don't see them crashing out. Brazil is a perennial favorite to win the whole thing. Brazil, Japan advance.
France, Switzerland, South Korea, Togo
One of the two groups where I was hoping the U.S. would land. France struggled mightily in qualifying, but they can never be ignored. Togo is making it's first trip. Switzerland? See Australia. South Korea, France advance.
Spain, Ukraine, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia
The easiest group in the competition. As inconsistent as Spain has been, they should still advance easily. Can Shevchenko carry Ukraine past the first round. Can Tunisia or Saudi Arabia finally make some noise? Not this time. Ukraine has been too hot. Ukraine, Spain advance.
Now for my travel arrangements. The first three games for the U.S. are in Gelsenkirchen, Kaiserslautern, and Nuremburg. I'm leaning toward the final match against Ghana in Nuremburg. This will probably be the make or break match for the U.S.'s hope of advancing. I'd also get to see Japan Croatia match if I get there a few days earlier. Time to start pricing things.
NP: "Kasey Keller" - Barcelona