We move on with our early World Cup Favorites review, this time moving down a level, to the second tier of favorites – England, hoping that the results from the qualifying group will carry on to the World Cup, Argentina, hoping for a much better time than in the qualifiers, and the Netherlands, who like England, hope that their perfect qualifiers mean a successful 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

England Flag

England

Is it time? It’ll be 44 years since their only World Cup triumph when the tournament kicks off in South Africa this summer. Much too long for a nation that perceives itself to be among the World’s elite. Results suggest otherwise, but when you’re the “birthplace of football” and the best league in the world is played in England, there are bound to be expectations. But this time, yes, it may be different. Why? Probably because of Fabio Capello. Capello has won a a championship with every club he’s coached (Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus, Roma) and it seems his magic touch has done something to England.

England PlayersImage: Source

It’s pretty much the same players, but the way they breezed through their qualifying matches, including a double demolition of Croatia (a revenge thing, you know) makes people wonder, can the England squad, despite not having a reliable goalkeeper, no world class right back, no world class partner for Rooney and some more problems, go all the way in South Africa? Last night’s loss at Brazil was an England B side, so there’s nothing to take from that game, but it’ll be interesting to see Capello’s creation finally playing against the really good sides in a non friendly, and if he really does have the magic touch.

Argentina FlagArgentina

Along with Germany, England’s fiercest rivals, more to do with politics and the Falklands in the beginning but the 1986 World Cup and the hand of a cheater changed all that. Argentina usually suffer from the same fantasy that England does, with or without just cause. There’s that belief that they have the best and most talented team, especially around go time, when a World Cup begins. Reality? They haven’t been to a Semi Final since 1990, including a group stage exit in 2002. There’s always talent in the squad, but something else is lacking, besides at a certain point, usually facing tougher opponents.

Diego Maradona

The manner in which they made it through the South American Qualifying group, meaning hardly and with some help from the football gods it seems, Diego’s team won’t come to Africa as favorites, and that should be in their favor. Maybe without the burden of expectation and some sort of “everybody thinks we’re not good enough” spirit, the until-now heavily criticized living legend turned head coach can get far with his side. He does have Messi, Aguero, Higauin and a very strong central midfield when it’s healthy, there’s good material. In the back is where the Albicelestes problems lie. The Argentinians don’t have the highest quality of defenders and goalkeepers, which usually means no trophy. Their last match against Brazil showed that they’re under-matched in almost every position, and were easily beaten by the Brazilians at home 3-1. Does Maradona have what it takes to make this group into World Cup champions? So far it seems he doesn’t, but a lower expectation level from his side might be good, very good.

The Netherlands Flag

The Netherlands

After a perfect qualifying campaign (8 wins in 8 matches) with a 17-2 goal record, how can the Dutch not be considered among the favorites? Well, history and tradition do point that eventually, doesn’t matter how talented a side they have, the trophy goes somewhere else. Since the 1970’s (2 World Cup Finals, 2 defeats) the Dutch have made it to the Semi Final only once, in 1998, losing to Brazil in a penalty shootout. They didn’t make it in 2002 and lost in the “Battle of Nuremberg” to Portugal in 2006. In the 2008 Euro, the Dutch showcased their awesome talent upfront, finishing the group of death (France, Italy, Romania) with a perfect record, after two memorable counter-attack masterpieces against Italy (3-0) and France (4-1). Russia proved too hard for Van Basten’s side in the Semi Final.

Robin Van PersieImage: Source

As usual with the Dutch in recent years, there’s lots of speed and talent up front, hoping to hide the fact that they’re defense isn’t what you call “top notch”. It doesn’t seem that the current side has one go-to superstar type player but a very balanced side. Van Persie, Sneijder, Kuyt and others might not be the most feared names in the European football, but the Netherlands is a very dangerous side, maybe especially to those considered better than them, and I have a hunch they won’t make an early exit like in 2006.

Part I – Brazil & Spain