The wait for the 2006 World Cup is almost over

Oscar Areliz

It has been a long four years, but the wait is finally over. The 2006 FIFA World Cup is finally just a month away, and it is a tournament that is bound to have some surprises this summer.

There are always the favorite picks to win the tournament. Safe predictions are usually Brazil or Argentina. So is it safe to say that Brazil will win its sixth World Cup? Not quite yet.

For this tournament, expect the unexpected. There are a number of national squads that have great talent and determination to hold up the trophy on July 6. For many nations, this year’s squad is their best ever.

You can never rule out the hosting nation, which is Germany. The Germans should have no trouble advancing from Group A. Despite having struggles in international exhibitions, they have great young talent and they are playing at home, which is always an advantage. Just ask France and Mexico, who both played their best tournaments whenever at home.

The underachieving English squad have one of the most talented squads, not to mention the best midfield in the world, with Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Frank Lampard. Then again, they always have great talent, but can never develop the chemistry needed to win a World Cup. Their chances of winning got smaller this past weekend when striker Wayne Rooney broke his foot. It is going to be a tough summer for England in Group B.

Also in group B is Sweden. The Swedish squad has always been a solid one, but never worthy of winning the World Cup. Do not expect them to go far in the tournament, but they’ll give the English some trouble.

Argentina and the Netherlands are in Group C, otherwise known as “the group of death,” along with Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro. Argentina must advance to the next round so their fans can forget the team’s early exit in 2002. The Argentinean team has talent all over the field, with Juan Roman Riquelme, Roberto Ayala and Hernan Crespo. Expect to see a player breakout and show his talent on the big stage, like Carlos Tevez or Lionel Messi.

The Netherlands are playing their best soccer. They haven’t looked this good since the 1970s. Coach Marco Van Basten gambled by calling up younger players, but the gamble paid off. The young Dutch players are getting better with experience. But Van Basten should be careful, for what got his team to the tournament may also be the reason they get eliminated from it.

Mexico and Portugal are expected to advance from Group D, over Angola and Iran. Mexico is the only squad to have their players already training for the World Cup. They had a great showing at the 2005 Confederations Cup, beating Brazil 1-0.

This year’s Mexico team is arguably the best it has ever had. They have the chemistry to go far. With players such as Jared Borgetti, Rafael Marquez and Oswaldo Sanchez, there are high hopes for this Mexican squad.

Portugal has much to prove after losing to Greece in the EURO 2004 final. They have a solid team, and great talent in Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The U.S. national team is the other “group of death.” Group E consists of the U.S., Italy, Ghana and the Czech Republic. Italy has always been an elite team, and the Czechs are currently the second best team in the world, according to the FIFA rankings. It is a very tough group for the U.S., but they may advance from this difficult group. The U.S. plays smart soccer and has a good coach in Bruce Arena.

The Italians are playing their best soccer in recent years, while the Czechs have a great midfield with Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky, and a speedy striker in Milan Baros. This group is going to be an exciting one.

Brazil, in group F, will not have any trouble advancing to the second round. The Brazilians have dominated the sport and have the best player in the world, Ronaldinho.

Brazil may have trouble winning the tournament because their stars have not been playing much like stars lately. Strikers Ronaldo and Adriano have had troubles getting the ball in the net. Midfielder Kaka has struggled with his club team, A.C. Milan. If these players continue to struggle this summer, then Brazil will not be defending their world cup in the final.

The French hope to repeat what they did in 1998 and go far. They should have no trouble winning group G. They might stumble against the Korea Republic, which has a very solid squad. Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry can lead the French team to a good showing at the world cup.

The final group has another underachieving team. Spain, historically, always has a great team full of talent, and this year is no exception. The Spanish have a complete team. They have talent in every position, which is a rarity. But they do tend to disappoint many when failing to go far in the tournament. It is hard to say what team will show up this summer.

Only seven nations have felt the joy of winning the World Cup, Brazil having won the most with five.

Germany and Italy follow with 3 titles while Argentina and Uruguay have held the trophy twice. The English and the French have won it just once.

Will 2006 add an eighth nation to the list? That is a possibility. After watching Greece win the EURO cup in 2004, anything is possible.

Oscar Areliz can be reached at