World Cup will provide plenty of excitement this time around

By Alex Oltmanns

This international competition comes around every four years and brings fans from around the… This international competition comes around every four years and brings fans from around the world to one place for a month. No, not the Olympics. It’s simply all the excitement of the Olympics distilled into one sport: soccer. The FIFA World Cup will begin June 11 in South Africa and there seems to be more quality teams in this year’s tournament than in years past.

If you’re not a big soccer fan — but still plan on watching what captivates people all across the world — this should get you up to speed on some of the major things you need to know while watching games throughout the next month.

Group A – South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France

While it might be the host nation, South Africa will have a hard time advancing out of this group, as Mexico and France look to be the favorites, but don’t count it out, since the team will have the home-field advantage in every game. France has the star power with forward Thierry Henry, but he is aging and might be used in a lesser role than fans are accustomed to seeing. With players like Carlos Vela and Rafael Márquez, Mexico should join the French in making its way out of this group.

Group B – Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece

Argentina is the best team in this group and possibly the whole tournament. Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in the world, and Carlos Tévez is also a strong player. If opposing defenses aren’t ready to run when playing against these two, they will easily lose. It looks like a race for second place between Greece and Nigeria. The Greeks came out of nowhere to win the 2004 UEFA European Football Championship and are a solid team but will have to compete against a Nigeria team full of young talent.

Group C – England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia

England’s roster is loaded, and its fans are hoping this is finally the year it wins its first World Cup since 1966. Players like Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and John Terry headline the team, but its defense is full of injuries, which could come back to hurt them. The United States is the second best team in this group on paper but will have to play strong defensively to ensure a berth in the elimination round. Goalkeeper Tim Howard will do his best to accomplish this, while Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will look to put the ball in the net for the Americans.

Group D – Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana

Germany is the favorite in this group, but the loss of star Michael Ballack to injury makes it a little vulnerable. Ghana has the best player in the group in Michael Essien, and it will look to build off of its surprising run from the last World Cup and likely advance. But Australia could challenge for the second spot as it breezed through the qualifying rounds under the leadership of star player Tim Cahill.

Group E – Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon

If there’s one team that could make a surprise run in this year’s tournament, it’s Cameroon. With speedy superstar forward Samuel Eto’o, it cruised through the qualifying rounds and could go the furthest of any of the host continent teams. Netherlands, a strong defensive team led on the offensive end by Arjen Robben, is probably the second best team in this group, but Denmark and Japan could also challenge the Dutch.

Group F – Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia

Italy, the defending champion, is the clear favorite in this group and could make a deep run in the tournament, but the Italians are getting a little long in the tooth, which might end up hurting them if they get into a fast-paced track meet with someone down the road. This group shouldn’t pose as much of a problem for them, as Paraguay and Slovakia. The two teams will battle it out for the No. 2 spot in Group F.

Group G – Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal

This is considered the hardest group in the tournament or “The Group of Death.” Perennial power Brazil along with Ivory Coast and Portugal are all good enough to advance, and each has plenty of star power. Brazil boasts Kaká, Luis Fabiano and Robinho and is the popular pick to win the championship. But Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo, who is in a two-man race with Messi to be considered the best player in the world, and every opposing team must know where he is on the field at all times. Ivory Coast is a solid team and has star power of its own in Didier Drogba, but a recent arm injury has left his status for the World Cup in jeopardy, and if he can’t play, it would all but eliminate its chances of advancing.

Group H – Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

Spain is very good. Ranked as the No. 1 team in the world, it could win the whole thing. But with Fernando Torres’ availability still in question, there remains some doubt about the Spanish team. Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta should be able to pick up the slack and lead this team into the final four. Switzerland, Honduras and Chile could all potentially advance, and second place could come down to the wire.

Those are some of the basic storylines going into this year’s World Cup, and it should be a thrilling tournament.

Let the games begin.

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