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Half-baked World Cup predictions

We’ll know who wins the World Cup on July 11. But that would have been too late. The world wants to know now. We shall try to answer the million-dollar question being asked by millions. Like in any World Cup, it’s always a good idea to start by a process of elimination. It’s much easier …

We’ll know who wins the World Cup on July 11. But that would have been too late. The world wants to know now.

We shall try to answer the million-dollar question being asked by millions.

Like in any World Cup, it’s always a good idea to start by a process of elimination. It’s much easier to predict who cannot possibly win. It also does wonders for the egotist writer.

The winner will not, in a million years, be Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, North Korea, Chile, Honduras or Switzerland.

Some teams are good: Uruguay, Greece, South Korea, Denmark, Japan and Paraguay. But not good enough.

The three S’s – Slovenia, Serbia, Slovakia – employ the traditional east European style of play, with little flare and fanfare, but tactically aware enough and physically fit to cause their share of upsets. But only upsets.

It would be an opportune time in this World Cup, the first in Africa, for an African country to win it all. However, Pele’s prediction that an African country would win the World Cup in 10 years was made in 1980, and we’re still waiting.

No host country has ever bowed out after the group stage, but South Africa might just make history.

Cameroon and Nigeria are not the continental powerhouses they used to be.

The Ivory Coast could go far but first it must overcome its group which includes Brazil and Portugal. Using fresh faces who won the Under-20 World Cup Ghana is Africa’s biggest hope but the loss of injured Michael Essien was a big blow.

Algeria, the Arab world’s sole representative, beat us to go to South Africa but that’s as far as the fat lady will sing.

The US and Portugal are pretty much equal in terms of standard and destiny. The US unexpectedly reached the Confederations Cup final last summer, defeating Egypt and then ending the world record unbeaten run of Spain before succumbing to Brazil after letting slip a 2-0 lead. Mentally and physically tough, the Americans straightforward sense of soccer has been successful in their regional zone but not enough to take the global prize.

Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo but also has coach Carlos Queiroz, the former Manchester United assistant manager who many believe is just that, a number two, unable to lead a team or make the big decisions.

We’re done with the wannabees; what’s left are the mightbees, those who have a chance but a lot has to go right to get it right. France captured the trophy in 1998 and was the finalist in 2006, but had it not been for the hand of Henri, France might have missed this World Cup entirely.

Maradona was one of the greatest as a player but nowhere as super as a coach. His biggest task is making the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, shine for Argentina as brightly as when he plays for Barcelona. No luck thus far.

With some of the world’s best players playing in the world’s best league, England consistently goes to World Cups with huge expectations but inevitably meets its doom somewhere around the quarter-finals. The difference this time might be Fabio Capello, the best coach it’s had in many years, and Wayne Rooney, if he’s firing on all cylinders.

With three World Cups, Germany is a historical super power. Still, it ended the 2006 edition in third place, even though it hosted the event. Amazingly, the players and their fans were satisfied with the result. That they settled for something less than first looks like those days of superiority are not only gone but acceptable and that absence of hunger is not a good sign.

Holland was the first European nation to qualify for 2010 so the 100 percent record it takes to South Africa instills in it much confidence. But, like in all other World Cups and as in the 2008 European championship, it’s just a matter of time before it falls by the wayside.

The defending champions Italy believe it’s a good omen when it starts slowly, lulling its opponents into dismissing it, then slowly and slyly coming into its own against unsuspecting victims. Four World Cups attests to the efficacy of the tactic. But in its disastrous Euro 2008, Italy never got out of first gear. The lethargic display at last year’s Confederations Cup set alarm bells ringing. Beaten by Egypt and thrashed by Brazil, Italy looked anything but world champions.

Which leaves Brazil and Spain. Brazil is Brazil. You don’t win the World Cup a record five times and not be, as always, a serious threat. To win is always the minimum requirement at any World Cup for Brazil.

Spain finally threw off the tag of chokers when it won Euro 2008. What’s left is to make sure the jinx doesn’t return in South Africa.

Playing in last year’s Confederations Cup in South Africa was indispensable for both, giving them a close-up feel for the local atmosphere.

If Spain and Brazil finish atop their groups and keep on winning thereafter, they will meet in the final.

A sound prediction necessitates that each of the 32 teams play at least two matches.

So let’s play it safe and wait.

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