I ran through the previews at Sports Illustrated and Yahoo to get an idea of what's going on... here's my take (which is heavily influenced by my news sources):
Projected Order of Finish
1) Mexico - Mexico is relying on three 21-year old forwards. They are supposed to be talented... and I assume we will find out very shortly how talented they are!
2) France - This is an interesting team... in that Sports Illustrated does not like their coach at all. Let's not forget... they only qualified because of a non-call on a hand-ball by Thierry Henry against Ireland. However, I don't like the other teams as much.
3) Uruguay - This team apparently is all about attacking at all times with a very weak defense.
4) South Africa - South Africa is poised to become the first hosts to fail to move on from the opening round... on the bright side, they have a player named Pienaar who plays for Everton in the Premier league, so he is good at least.
Group B - crapshoot for 2nd place
1) Argentina- Maradona is the leader. But I figure his erratic decisions and bizarreness will not cause the talented Argentines to lose until the knockout stage.
2) South Korea- they have a younger team this time around; only 3 starters return from 2006's team... but they lost one of their better players to injury during a game this past Sunday.
3) Nigeria- They ended up relieving their coach and hiring a new one a few months ago... I thought this one quote was really entertaining from SI, "At 18 John Obi Mikel was so highly regarded in the English Premier League that he was the subject of a bizarre transfer dispute between Chelsea and Manchester United involving tens of millions of dollars, death threats and the player hiding at a friend's house while agents sorted out his future. "
4) Greece - Greece apparently still relies on playing heavy defensive soccer and surviving games 0-0 and 1-0. I just think the other teams sound more talented in this group, but they would certainly be one of the best 4th place teams.
1) England - one of the better teams of course.
2) United States - I think the US can survive the 1st round... it doesn't help that no on knows how healthy their best defender (Oguchi) is, or that they lost Charlie Davies to injury before the World Cup. This seems like more of a manageable group than usual... though the US biggest weakness this time around seems to be the defense, which has been making all kinds of sloppy mistakes of late.
3) Slovenia - this is one of the surprises from Europe, as they knocked out Russia in a home-and-home at the last stage of qualifying. They rely on defensive soccer and counterattack (same as Greece). What's funny is that this team is out for revenge on England and especially Wayne Rooney... who apparently tried to injure one of their players during qualifying!
4) Algeria - Interestingly, this was the surprise from Africa, as they knocked out Egypt in the end. They struggled to score throughout qualifying and appear to be the most lightly regarded African team (along w/ South Africa).
1) Serbia- They actually won their European qualifying group, ahead of France (though France is considered a favorite here)... they also have a 6'7" forward up front, which would give them a large size advantage in most games.
2) Ghana- Fact: they made the 2nd round in 2006; in addition, they won the 2009 U-20 World Cup (and some of those players are now playing here, including the leading scorer from that tourney , Dominic Adiyiah [AC Milan]). This team could be even better than in 2006 then! Downside: Michael Essien is not healthy enough to play.
3) Germany- They originally had a goalie slated to start but he sadly committed suicide in November, despite playing in a number of the qualifiers. Then, they lost Midfielder Michael Ballack, who is out with an injury. They lost another defender to injury this past Saturday. This team is a top-seed... but I'm picking the upset because this is just a lot of problems for any team to deal with.
4) Australia- they focus on playing defense, but do not have the talent to advance out of this dangerous group.
1) Netherlands- the Dutch are extremely talented and do quite well by playing insane, attacking soccer. Massive disappointments have occurred along the way (Russia manhandling them in 2008 Euros), losing to Portugal 1-0 in the round of 16 in the 2006 world cup, and failing to even qualify in 2002.
2) Cameroon-World class talent in Eto'o (9 goals in 11 qualifiers) and young 22-year old Arsenal player Robert Song should get Cameroon through to the next round.
3) Denmark- Should not be taken lightly, having somehow finished AHEAD OF Portugal and Sweden in their qualifying group. Contrary to every other country... Denmark is using the same coach, Morten Olsen, since the year... 2000. He guided Denmark to the 2nd round in 2002, even winning a group (over Senegal, Uruguay, France), before losing 3-0 to England. The Danes don't have a talented bunch, but play well together.
4) Japan- They have trouble scoring... and the coach has used 21 different strikers in the last 2 years!
Group F - Weakest group, by far.
1) Italy- I don't like these guys, as they play a boring style, but as we saw in 2006, this can lead to a championship. They get a cupcake group to start this time.
2) Paraguay- They lost their top goal scorer from qualifying... as he was gunned down in a Mexico City bar in January. He somehow survived the attack, but is not healthy enough to play soccer. They have other players who are still good... I just feel bad for them.
3) Slovakia - Apparently, not very highly regarded.
4) New Zealand- please remember, that Australia decided to join the Asian qualifying group... paving the way for New Zealand to get the Oceania half auto bid. They fight off small island contingencies to get the qualification, though they did have to beat the 5th-place Asian team (Bahrain). They have no chance.
Group G - Strongest group, by far.
1) Brazil- excellent team, and the favorite to win it all.
2) Cote D'Ivoire - excellent team. They have all sorts of European players (and goal-scorers especially), including the top scorer in England in Drogba. Defense may be slight question mark.
3) Portugal - excellent team. Interestingly, Portugal opens with Cote D'Ivoire. A victory by either side will go a long way to determining this group. They struggled in qualifying, though Cristiano Ronaldo missed a bunch of games.
4) North Korea - No way do they succeed... though I will be watching if anyone decides to defect. For those not aware, the weirdest story about their team is their Japanese national who decided to play for North Korea because his grandparents are from N. Korea.
Group H -
1) Spain - only lost once in the last like 40 matches. Wow. Struggles on the big stage for some reason.
2) Chile- Chile is crazy, and scored 32 goals (2nd to brazil)... but gave up 22 goals. It's also a very young team, but they are fast as hell.
3) Switzerland- Very inconsistent team... apparently beat Portugal in the Euro championships, but lost to Luxembourg! early in qualifying.
4) Honduras - amazing advance from N. America... but they have no shot here.
Knockout Stage (this is so arbitrary for me to do this, but here it goes):
Mexico over S. Korea
England over Ghana
Netherlands over Paraguay
Brazil over Chile
Argentina over France
Serbia over United States
Cameroon over Italy
Spain over Cote D'Ivoire
England over Mexico
Brazil over Netherlands
Argentina over Serbia
Spain over Cameroon
Brazil over England
Spain over Argentina
Spain over Brazil