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FIFA World Cup 2010 – A Poignant Sporting Celebration on a Mystifying Continent - Groups...Key Players...

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Any slip up by Germany in the group stages may mean an early encounter against bitter rivals England in the knock out stages. Germany has been installed at 14-1 by William Hill, while Ladbrokes offer 10-1 odds, placing them ahead of Holland!

Group E will see the formidable Netherlands clubbed with Denmark, Japan and Cameroon. The Dutch are the only team alongside Spain to have made the World Cup finals with a clean sheet. Anything less than a dominating performance will be a huge disappointment for the Flying Dutchmen. Cameron will be expected to ride a wave of support from the African fans to stay ahead of Denmark and Japan. Holland is fifth on the list of favourites with their odds at 12/1.

Group F is a dream-like scenario for the defending champions Italy. They should have a relatively straightforward passage in a group that consists of Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. The 'All Whites' lack the exposure to really trouble the others in the group, leaving Paraguay and Slovakia to battle it out for the second spot from this group. The Azzuri are a tightly knit defensive unit, and enjoy 14/1 odds in the run up to the grand event.

Group G is this edition's group of death as Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal and North Korea feature in what is probably the toughest group of them all. Ivory Coast is the best equipped African nation to go deep in this tournament, which means they will give Portugal a run for their money. Brazil can be expected to get through this tough group, with the other spot a toss up between Portugal and Les Elephants. Brazil are considered second favourites, just a shade behind Spain at 5/1.

Group H is the final group with favourites Spain joining Switzerland, Honduras and Chile. La Roja finished second in the South American qualifiers behind Brazil, and could end up meeting them again if they reach the knock-out stages.

Spain should have a fairly simple path to the top of the group, the favourites this time, Spain are offered 4/1 by almost every betting expert worth a mention.

Watch-out for the Stars

The World Cup is often the litmus test for true greatness. Success or failure in the quadrennial event determines many a player's immediate future as well as their place in the pantheon of the game. And they shall all assemble in South Africa in a bid to showcase their talent and skills.

Here is the low down on the stars that can make the difference between winners and losers, the players that shall determine the course of this tournament with a quick slithering pass or an orgasmic flurry of goals.

Lionel Messi - Argentina

The magical Messi could make this tournament his defining career statement, creating or scoring goals with equal finesse. He is quick on his feet and he can outpace defenders just as easily as he can outsmart them.

His playing style has drawn comparisons with his coach Diego Maradona, and this is the 5'7" magician's opportunity to give substance to those claims by helping Albiceleste go deep in the World Cup finals. In his role as a creator, he may not get his foot on the Golden Boot but if one of his team mates does get the prize he will have to thank this star for his services.

He has 13 goals from his 44 caps with the national team. He could add a handful if Maradona allows him to play right up top.

Kaka - Brazil

Brazil's finest playmaker has made a mark among the current generation of players, his reputation as one of the greatest playmakers of this generation established beyond doubt. Kaka will be central to Dunga's plans in a team from which he has opted to leave out Ronaldinho and Ronaldo.

Despite his troublesome knee, Kaka's experience and guile will be invaluable to the Brazil frontline. He has the uncanny ability to leave defenders stranded with his intelligent passing, and his immense experience will enable him create an attack that will be feared.

He has represented his nation 73 times, scoring 26 goals. His true value though lay in his ability to create scoring opportunities for the team.

David Villa - Spain

The unselfish Villa may have been an unlikely candidate to score the most for Spain, but an injury prone Fernando Torres invests in this diminutive striker the responsibility of carrying the hopes of Spain on his broad shoulders.

He is a consummate forward, strong off both feet and always willing to pass the ball when the best chance lay at someone else's feet.

He has a commendable 65% scoring rate, having scored 36 goals in his 55 appearances for Spain.

Wayne Rooney - England

England's superstar striker, Rooney carried the hopes of his club this season, with almost single minded determination. Given that he hasn't been as consistent for England at the international level - falling victim either to injury or a reckless tackle - he will be keen to correct the script in this World Cup.

He can be a potent force in determining how far England travels in the premier tournament this year, provided he can stay free of injury and retain his poise.

The 24-year old striker has 25 goals from 60 appearances for the national side. 

Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal

The showman forward is an excellent dribbler with the ability to strike from far or head when near, but he is most renowned for his skill in set play situations. If he can curb his tendency to showboat and put his team in front of himself, he can be a lethal force. Portugal badly needs his skills and presence in a team that is ageing, besides being part of a tough group that consists of Brazil and Ivory Coast.

Ronaldo has been far less successful at the international level compared to his enormous success with his club teams. He has scored 22 goals in his 68 appearances for his national team.

The wonderfully enervating festival of Football is concluded with the award of some of the most prestigious team and individual prizes. Media members will vote for the winner of 'The Golden Ball', awarded to the best player in the tournament. ''The Golden Boot' is awarded to the player who scores the most goals in the World Cup finals. The finest goalkeeper is rewarded with 'The Yashin Award'; this is determined by the FIFA Technical Study Group. Youth is celebrated at the tournament with 'The Best Young Player Award' given to the best player aged 21 or younger once again as decided by the FIFA Technical Study Group.

The honour of 'The FIFA Fair Play Trophy' is awarded to the team with the best record of fair play, according to the points system and criteria established by the FIFA Fair Play Committee.

south_africa_fan.jpgAn anonymous poet celebrated Football thus -

How I long for the freedom afforded
With jumpers for goalposts
But my wishes are wanton
For my body is - defunct
It is meant for all of us who have all but feet of clay, but know that there is no more beautiful game that mankind has ever known.

The month long celebration is now just a few weeks away. The storm will wash over us drenching us with unparalleled thrill, as the sensual joy of the smoothly passed around ball would lead to the orgasmic pleasure of the goal. Keep your calendars free guys, the greatest show on the planet is on its way!

Click here for the World Cup Schedule, here for the Group Previews and here for the Team Previews.

File Photograph Copyright: Rob Milne and The Media Connection

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