By Grant Wahl
June 01, 2010
World Cup Power Rankings
22 Uruguay
La Celeste
If the rest of Uruguay was as good as its front line of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, this two-time World Cup champion might actually be contemplating a third. But the back line often struggles, and the midfield has to rely on youngster Nicolas Lodeiro in the wake of a suspension to Cristian Rodriguez. The result: Success would be surviving a rough-and-tumble Group A, which (given France's underperformance and South Africa's ineptitude) is entirely possible.
23 Switzerland
Schweizer Nati
UEFA World Cup qualifying is so competitive that it's surprising how regularly a mediocre team like Switzerland makes it to the Big Show. Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is a proven winner, and it's hard not to like creative winger Tranquillo Barnetta. But this is a plodding group that could run into problems against the high-powered attacks of Spain and Chile in Group H.
24 Australia
The Socceroos
The Socceroos have made the most of their move to Asian soccer and have fond memories of their run to the '06 second round, but it will be hard for lightning to strike twice in a group with Germany, Serbia and Ghana. Everton's Tim Cahill is fearless and a master of scoring goals with his head, but this defensive-minded team won't have enough firepower to make an impact this time around.
25 Greece
To Piratiko
Coach Otto Rehhagel should have a 20-year free pass from Greek fans for leading their country to the most improbable of European Championship titles in 2004. This team doesn't play much differently than that one, packing men behind the ball in numbers and looking for the occasional break behind Giorgos Karagounis and a front line of Georgios Samaras and Angelos Charisteas. But the game has changed in the past six years, and such a drastic style won't take you far in the World Cup.
26 South Africa
Bafana Bafana
Break up Bafana Bafana! The much-derided host team has gone 11 games without a loss, and while the opponents haven't exactly been Brazil (witness Monday's 5-0 win against Guatemala), the team's confidence is rising under coach Carlos Alberto Parreira at just the right moment. Steven Pienaar is asked to do much more than he is at Everton, but he might be capable of it, and forward Katlego Mphela has found his scoring touch of late, even if several of those goals have come from the penalty spot. Bafana's opener against Mexico on June 11 could get very interesting indeed.
27 South Korea
Taegeuk Jeonsa
The surprise 2002 semifinalists have some exciting young players (forward Park Chu-Young and midfielder Lee Chung-Yong) and a seasoned captain in Manchester United's Park Ji-Sung, but the back line is a big concern and the central midfield isn't great shakes either.
28 Japan
Nippon Daihyo
The Blue Samurai looked better than expected in a 2-1 friendly loss to England on Sunday, but the performance didn't do much to quell worries that its front line won't have the ability to score many goals in South Africa. In fact, Japan's hopes for pulling a surprise in Group E (Netherlands, Cameroon, Denmark) may rest on Shunsuke Nakamura's ability to score on free kicks. That's not a recipe for success.
29 Honduras
Los Catrachos
Los Catrachos won't get blown off the field in South Africa, for they have more athleticism than most Central American teams and several players who toil in top leagues, from Wilson Palacios (Tottenham Hotspur) to David Suazo (Genoa) to Maynor Figueroa (Wigan). But the defense will almost surely struggle against high-powered Spain and Chile, and goalkeeper Noel Valladares will be facing a lot of shots.
30 Algeria
Les Fennecs
The Desert Foxes knocked out African champ Egypt at the end of qualifying, but they have a tendency to melt down emotionally when things don't go their way. (They finished with nine men in a loss to Egypt at the AFCON.) The main Algerian threats come from the left side, where fullback Nadir Belhadj and midfielder Karim Ziani have plenty of attacking verve, but the spine of the team is vulnerable in the midfield and in the defense.
31 North Korea
Mysterious. Impenetrable. Opaque. You'll hear those words used a lot to describe the North Koreans, who are playing in their first World Cup since reaching the quarterfinals in 1966. But the fact is that Japan-based forward Jong Tae-Se, aka the Asian Wayne Rooney, is a heck of a player. (Check out his recent goal against Greece.) If defensive-heavy North Korea hadn't drawn such a difficult group in Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast, it might have been a sleeper pick to advance.
32 New Zealand
All Whites
I know, I know. The Kiwis upset Serbia 1-0 in a friendly on Saturday. But while I have loads of respect for England-based captain Ryan Nelsen, a former D.C. United star, the talent level here is nowhere near that of Group F rivals Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia. Coach Ricki Herbert's lads should be aiming not to be considered among the poorest World Cup teams of all time.
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