“Wow, that immensely unattractive naked woman sure is happy that we won the World Cup.” That might be the thought running through the head of a Buenos Aries resident in the aftermath of the World Cup Final should it be Javier Mascherano taking receipt of about 11 pounds of gold. Maradona has promised to streak through the streets of the Argentine capital should he guide his team to World Cup glory and the combination of over-doing it on genital shrinking steroids and moob-enhancing McDonalds' drive-thru’s would naturally lead anyone to conclude it’s a hairy female naturist romping through los avenidas of the city.
Luckily, due to the permanent pool of insanity he’s never far from diving into, it won’t happen and a nation will be spared seeing its dinner once again. Argentina have the talent to be a force at the World Cup, but entrusting Maradona with the job of organising it into a successful unit is like letting a child wash your Bentley. Fine in principle, but don’t be surprised to find they’ve used their questionable initiative and decided to omit the use of water in favour of rocks. Even the squad he has selected hasn’t made the most of the talent available to him and with long periods of mental stability seemingly a problem, the boss will undoubtedly make one mistake too many. So Argentina won’t, but who will?
England do have a chance because in a long overdue break with tradition, the FA have appointed someone who knows what they’re doing. In the past, usually confident managers have wilted in the face of the pressure. They began to doubt themselves and listened to the advice of shouty tabloid journalists who got their jobs because of the ability to shout rather than their knowledge of football. But Capello couldn’t give a monkey’s what they think. He’ll be doing it his way and that way will largely involve wrapping up his first-teamers in cotton wool and hoping he doesn’t actually need to use Emile Heskey. The goalkeeping position still inspires all the confidence of Ashley saying it was a once off. Joe Hart is a goalie of real potential, but when it comes to English goalkeepers, that tends to mean he just hasn’t been around long enough to make enough high-profile howlers. If they get some luck with injuries and opponents that don't like taking shots, this could be their year.
What’s happened to Brazil sums up all that’s wrong with modern football. Normally they approach football with a childish distain for caution. Running with scissors €“ I’ll do it. A re-enactment of William Tell with real arrows €“ why the hell not? Exploring the possibilities of human flight by jumping off the top of a garden shed €“ it’s all in the name of scientific progress. Under Dunga however, they’ve developed a dastardly pragmatism that makes them hard to beat and even harder to mock. He’s even left Ronaldinho at home which has dealt a crippling blow to our stock of dental jokes. The Samba Boys are more like the Sensible Boys these days and it would be no surprise to see them claim World Cup number 6.
Spain are again looking strong, but that old phrase comes to mind. One swallow does not a hard-earned reputation as chokers dispel. They were excellent in winning Euro 2008 and qualified for South Africa with ease, but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that they’re prone to an off day. Cast your mind back to 2008 and you might just recall that they needed penalty kicks to beat Italy and that was an Italian side only marginally better than the current crop.
In an overly dismissive and ill-considered round up of other nations, Italy can field a reasonable first team, but there’s a real lack of talent in depth. And in shallow for that matter. Cannavaro is heading off to a lucrative retirement home in the UAE after the tournament and that tells you all you need to know about the level the man charged with marshalling the defence is operating at these days. France have their own madman in charge and his bizarre decisions rule them out. Holland will enjoy another extended run, but defensive frailties will see them fall short. Joachim Low deserves a lot of credit for getting so much out of a poor group of German players and with him at the helm, an extended stay in South Africa is probable. That’s where it will end because not even a Low/Jesus/Paul Daniels hybrid could work the magic necessary to win it, especially without Ballack. Portugal are interesting. Utterly rubbish in qualifying, their form has picked up of late and their first team will be competitive against any opponents. Depth again is the major issue, but they are a big price.
Ones for the ‘won't win it but watch with interest‘ file are Serbia. France’s struggles since qualifying has slightly tarnished the merit of their convincing path to South Africa, but they conform to the lazy stereotype of being technically sound and well organised and very often that's enough to make progress in the tournament. Analysing the African teams is an exercise in stating the obvious. Ghana will struggle without Michael Essien, Didier Drogba and the Toures have too much on their plate to turn Ivory Coast into genuine contenders and as it’s their party and they’ll cry if they want to, South Africa should get a bit of help to hang around for a while €“ not that we're accusing anyone of anything untoward €“ we’ll leave that to Lord Treisman. Considering their achievements in 2004, Greece are a very big price, but the main problem with backing them is you’ll have to watch their matches and that’s never enjoyable. North Korea will win the World Cup, but only after the state broadcaster edits the footage. If you can get 2000/1 in a Pyongyang bookie, lump on.