The 2010 FIFA World Cup is just seven days away and the fever pitch is rising. Every four years the world looks forward to the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet. This time around South Africa will play the hosts, the first African nation to do so and it has a real task on hand.
But coming to the football who are the pre-tournament favourites to win the title?
In my view European champions Spain and record World Cup winners Brazil are my favourites as they have been the most consistent performers over the last couple of years.
Spain have a golden generation of footballers. Especially moving forward they are on paper the best side in the world at the moment. A team which comprises of players with the quality of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Xabi Alonso, David Villa, Fernando Torres, David Silva, etc is more even a handful for any side. The only risk is the issue of complacency which has often hit the Spaniards over the years. Otherwise they surely would have won more titles at continental and international level. But Euro2008 seems to have changed that as Spain can play a whole tournament on a high level.
The Brazilians under Carlos Dunga combine samba flair with European pragmatism to be successful. Many in Brazil don't like Dunga's style of plays, but he is successful and as long as he is successful he is allowed to do his work. Dunga has learned a lot during his playing days with VfB Stuttgart in Germany and that shows in the way his team plays. Dunga has left some of Brazil's many creative players at home and rather took hard working team players along who fit into his scheme of things. Therefore players like Ronaldinho didn't make the cut.
Who could be the other candidates?
Besides Spain and Brazil there are the usual suspects for the title - Argentina, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and this time around even England have a realistic chance. But I hope that an African country does really well in the tournament with Ivory Coast my favourites.
Argentina have one problem and that is their coach Diego Armando Maradona. He was one of the greatest players of all times, but Maradona's credentials as coach have to be questioned. Some insiders say things are chaotic in the Argentinian team, but won't quality prevail? Argentina have many individually brilliant players who just need to work together as a team and top it all there is Lionel Messi. For Barcelona he's been the best on the planet, but for his country he still has to prove he can play on the same level and what better stage then the World Cup.
Germany as always looked a decent side a few weeks ago which could have a crack at the title, but since then injury problems have ruled out numerous players, the most important one being captain Michael Ballack. Now Germany will have to rebuild its side and the youngsters will have to prove their worth at the international level. Players like Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski will have to prove that they can win big trophies and though they are young, they have years of experience on their backs which could once more propel the German side.
The defending champions Italy are surely not as good as in 2006, but four years ago no one really expected the Squadra Azzurra to win the title. They are in the same situation this time around though everyone knows if the Italians have a solid defence and can score the odd goal upfront they can reach the finals again. But Marcelo Lippi's side is way past its prime and Italy has been able to make the cut to bring younger players into the squad at the right time.
Two teams who often make the list of potential candidates, but are then out of the tournament when decision time comes around are the Netherlands and England. Both sides look settled this time around.
Bondscoach Bert van Marwijk like the Spaniards has a set of attacking players which can win matches and tournaments. Players like Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt, Ibrahim Afellay and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar have the potential. Will they prove it?
England have evolved as a team in the last couple of years under coach Fabio Capello. The Italian has brought a whole new philosophy into his team, which boasts off some of the best midfielders in the world in Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard plus there is Wayne Rooney upfront.
What do we expect from the hosts?
It is one of the most difficult questions to answer. The South African side coached by seasoned Brazilian Carlos Alberto Pereira is an unknown quantity. If things go their way in Group A then Bafana Bafana could be the surprise of the tournament, but if they under perform as they often have in recent times against quality opposition then the group stages could be the end of the road. And that wouldn't be good for the tournament.