Print and Go Back ESPN.com: World Cup 2010 [Print without images]

Saturday, April 10, 2010
Best bets to disappoint

ESPN.com

It's never too early to let the debates begin. Our contributors weigh in on the team they feel could disappoint come June.

Brazil

Joga bonito is dead. Brazilian midfield enforcer-turned-head coach Dunga has killed "playing pretty." Dunga understands the pressures of being Brazil at a World Cup. "If we don't win, I will be killed," he said earnestly before captaining Brazil at the 1994 World Cup. Brazil won, and Dunga lived. Yet Dunga has traded in the very quality that has made Brazil a world champion a record five times in favor of ... winning. Call it a gruesome lapse in judgment. Its once glorious attacking whimsy -- underpinned by players of fantastic technical skill, which would break opponents down like a relentless battering ram, with an eye only for scoring goals -- has made way for a dull, mirthless counterattacking style, premised on defensive solidity and, that awful word again, pragmatism. Such an approach worked in qualifying, but it might not this summer when the competition is tougher and more shrewd.

What set Brazil apart has been hurled from the window of a moving car, fallen by the wayside on the road to the World Cup. Brazil will no longer be Brazil. Without an embarrassment of attacking riches, as Brazil has had so many times in the past, this team should have stuck to its guns, knowing that its mere reputation for frantic attacking would have put its opponents behind 1-0 psychologically before the game had even begun. And so it will disappoint, if only because it won't look like Brazil anymore.

-- Leander Schaerlaeckens

England

As any optimistic pundit or fan will tell you, England's first-choice side can beat anyone. However, how many World Cup-winning teams have used just 11 players throughout an entire tournament? Squads win championships and, because of this, when I put aside my patriotic fervor, I just cannot foresee England being deep enough to be celebrating on July 11.

Granted, Wayne Rooney is a player capable of carrying an entire team, while Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are also world-class operators. Elsewhere, however, there are question marks. Among them, who plays in goal? Can Rio Ferdinand stay injury-free? Will Ashley Cole and Aaron Lennon be back to their best after their own health issues?

The key man is Fabio Capello, England's coach, who is the latest to accept the (lucrative) challenge of trying to lead the nation to its first trophy since 1966. Since then, campaign after World Cup campaign has ended in disappointment to the extent that hope now tends to outstrip expectation as the prevailing emotion of many England fans. Not that, to paraphrase the famous song, it will stop us dreaming ...

-- Andrew Hush

Ivory Coast

Such is the talent possessed by the Ivorians that they had been tipped by many to be the African side most likely to make a deep run in the 2010 World Cup. Even when the Elephants landed in a group with heavyweights Brazil and Portugal, the likes of Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure were thought to provide enough quality, balance and depth to make it out of Group G.

But after being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations last January, coach Vahid Halilhodzic was fired, despite losing only one game during his tenure. This revealed a sense of panic within the Ivorian Football Federation, one that can't instill much confidence in the squad. Halilhodzic also revealed in subsequent interviews that there were deep divisions within the team. While the federation did land a quality coach in Sven-Goran Eriksson, he has little time available to get the side operating back near its peak. And in a group as brutal as the one Ivory Coast finds itself in, that likely means a performance similar to 2006, when it was eliminated at the group stage.

France

We all know the FIFA rankings are wonky, and France sitting at eighth is just another example. Not many in France expect Les Bleus to reach the quarterfinals, and they might just face elimination in the group stage, courtesy of Mexico and Uruguay.

Sure, people didn't expect France to do much in 2006, but back then it at least had one of the greatest of all time, Zinedine Zidane, dictating play from midfield.

Embattled French manager Raymond Domenech remains unpopular and his talisman up front, Thierry Henry, has played sparingly at Barcelona this season. Karim Benzema, his heir apparent, isn't seeing much time at Real Madrid. Further, France has major injury concerns in defense. William Gallas is struggling with a calf problem, while Eric Abidal and Sebastien Squillaci aren't fit, either.

Bright spots include goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, perhaps the top keeper in the world at the moment, but the signs don't look good.

-- Ravi Ubha