World Cup Q&A
This week some of our regular football bloggers will be answering your World Cup questions. South American football expert Tim Vickery went first, and here's European expert Phil Minshull ...
Q. Who do you think will win the World Cup and who do you think will be the star of the tournament? I think Netherlands could win, and I think the star of the tournament could be Luis Fabiano, so what do you think?
Andrew David, Wales
A. My choice is Brazil - yes, about half the global population is also backing them so it's not the most imaginative choice. The current team under Dunga does not have the style of the Brazil of 1958, 1970 nor even 1982 but for the first time in their history they have a genuine world class goalkeeper in Julio Cesar and a good defence, especially with Maicon and Lucio on the right side.
My only concern is that Luis Fabiano and Kaka haven't been in their best form at Sevilla and Real Madrid this season, but everyone - especially Robinho - seems to raise their game when they pull on the famous jersey.
Q. Who do the bloggers think will be the real surprise package this time around? Both overachieving and underperforming.
A. I think that Serbia, led by former Luton hero Raddy Antic, could be the big surprise package. With some question marks appearing over Germany in recent weeks, Serbia could conceivably top their group which would give them a reasonable last 16 match - they could cause England some big problems if they end up meeting them at that stage.
On the other side of the coin, I have a feeling that France could be revisiting 2002, when they didn't win a game. They seem, from the outside, to be a squad in turmoil - they were lucky to qualify, and their three group opponents are all decent teams (the home factor should be a boost for South Africa even though things haven't looked too good for them so far).
Raymond Domenech has not been helped by the illness which has ruled out Lassana Diarra although, as regular readers of my blog might suspect, I see the absence of Karim Benzema as less of an issue.
Q. At every tournament there is always one player and one team who fail to live up to expectations. Who will it be this time?
Jonathan Hind, England
A. As I said above, France look like they are an accident waiting to happen. I also have a feeling that Argentina are not going to get beyond the quarter-finals and may depart even earlier.
At least, this time, nobody expects Argentina to be one of the teams that could potentially lift the trophy but I'm still unconvinced about Maradona's qualities as a coach. However, he has enough players of true quality that they should avoid a complete fiasco in one of the easier opening groups.
If there is one high-profile player who might not do as well as predicted, I think it will be France's Franck Ribery. Fitness problems, the controversy about his personal life combined with all the other issues surrounding the French team could conspire to mean that this might be a tournament to forget for him.
Q. Which African country stands the best chance of going far into the competition and up to which stage?
Stanley Bobga Ambe, Cameroon
A. Perhaps you will accuse me of being Euro-centric but I think there is a distinct possibility that none of the six African teams will get beyond the first round.
Having said that, Nigeria look like the best bet to go furthest and their preparations have been, for once, without much controversy. I think they could beat South Korea and Greece to progress and they might then have a chance of beating whoever they face from Group A in the last 16.
I wouldn't put any money at all on Algeria, Ghana - especially as Michael Essien will not be there - or Cameroon getting into the last 16 and I think the chances of South Africa, despite home advantage, and the Ivory Coast are slim.
Q. Which players do you see leaving their mark on the tournament like Pele, Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldo etc?
A. I like the look of the Dutch team and even though they might not win the World Cup, I think people will know that they are there.
Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder had great seasons for Inter Milan and Bayern Munich respectively and I think their form will carry over to the World Cup and that one or the other, or maybe both, will do something memorable.
Wesley Sneijder was in brilliant form for Inter Milan this season
Q. Which unheard of players will shine in this tournament?
A. Anybody who makes it to South Africa will not be unheard of, apart from the majority of the North Korean squad. If you mean lesser-known players, then I'd have to look at someone who could make an impact for one of the more unheralded teams.
Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo, for example, can score the goals that could see his team through to the last 16 and while I'm not sure Victor Obinna fits the bill as 'unheard of', I've seen him in action here in Spain, where he is on loan to Malaga from Inter Milan, and he could do a similar job for Nigeria.
Q. Who do you think will get the Golden Boot (for top scorer)?
David Mulvihill, Ireland
A. Wearing my heart on my sleeve, Wayne Rooney for England.
Q. Very little has been said about the Asian teams. How well are they expected to do this time, with South Korea having really progressed in the last two World Cups?
Jay Goolaup, Mauritius
A. I'm certainly not an expert on Asian football but my impression is that the continent's national teams haven't really progressed since Germany in 2006. To be brutal, I can't see any of them of them making the last 16 except, possibly, South Korea.
Australia, Japan, North Korea and New Zealand (I'm including them here as they won their play off against Bahrain) have all got relatively loaded groups in which they all might end up without winning a game. South Korea could potentially get results against Greece and Nigeria and, perhaps, could go through as the runners up to Argentina in their group.
Q. In its current format the World Cup is predominantly made up of teams mainly from Europe and the Americas. Do you think it's time that Fifa changed the rules so that more countries from Africa and Asia participate in the finals? After all, it is the 'World' Cup?
A. No, I don't think the rules need changing. I think the balance is right at the moment. No African or Asian teams have made the final and very few still get beyond the group stage.
Individual successes in the last 20 years like South Korea and Senegal in 2002, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia in 1994 or Cameroon in 1990 can obscure the fact teams from those continents are still not getting into the knockout stages in any numbers.
Just look at four years ago when only Ghana and Australia reached the last 16, despite high hopes that other teams like Ivory Coast and South Korea might get through.
Unilke the 70s and 80s, the opportunities are now there for African and Asian teams to make an impact at the World Cup, with many of their players at European clubs, but few have taken them.
Q. Do you think England have a good chance of winning the World Cup? Luke Anderson, England
A. I think that England have the best chance of winning the World Cup since they reached the semi-finals in 1990. This is being written before Fabio Capello names his final 23 but I hope he has the courage to go with Joe Hart rather than David James as the first-choice goalkeeper and a lot depends on Wayne Rooney but, overall, I think there is talent spread across the squad.
I think Capello has found the trick, which Sven Goran Eriksson never really did, in getting the best out of his men.
Q. Who do you think will go out in the 'group of death' - Brazil, Portugal or Ivory Coast?
George Wysocki, England
A. I was not impressed with Portugal during the qualifiers and nothing I've seen since has changed my mind, but I think they are still going to be too good for Ivory Coast, whose limitations were exposed at the African Nations Cup.
The Elephants are only half a team and what Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers can do for them doesn't compensate for their other weaknesses, not least some eccentric defending and goalkeeping. Brazil? I think they will top the group without any problems and, as mentioned, I even see them as my World Cup winners.
Q. Is the vuvuzela trumpet going to put you off the World Cup at all?
A. Not at all. I think it's an integral part of the 'South Africa experience' at this World Cup. I'm looking forward to seeing the South African fans blowing them very loudly!
Q. Spain are rightly regarded as the favourites to win this World Cup. They have a squad full of world class talent but no one seems to be discussing what their weaknesses are. What, in your opinion, are the weaknesses of Spain, tactically or otherwise, and so what is the best way to play against a team like Spain?
Luke Ottaway, England
A. This also answers questions from Mark Ooi in Singapore and Rachel in the United Kingdom. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said that Spain were the favourites but they'll go to the World Cup with a few question marks over their heads. I mentioned in last week's blog, Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres are unlikely to be fully fit by the time they get to South Africa.
Iker Casillas is still a very good goalkeeper but has not been in the same form this season as he was before. In fact, the Spanish sports newspaper Marca on Monday was openly debating whether either Victor Valdes or Pepe Reina should replace him as the Spanish first choice after his poor display in Saturday's lacklustre 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
To be honest, Casillas looked very average and was caught out of position on several occasions. Hopefully, this match will act as a wake up call for Spain, just like the defeat by the United States at the Confederations Cup last year did.
Iker Casillas has been below his best for Real Madrid this season
Interestingly, Vicente Del Bosque opted for Alvaro Arbeloa rather than Joan Capdevila at left-back against Saudi Arabia but otherwise he started with the team that I'm expecting to walk out onto the pitch for their opening match against Switzerland on 16 June in Durban.
Similarly to Casillas, Sergio Ramos also has not been in as good form this season as previous years although he remains Del Bosque's first choice as right-back.
The absence of Marcos Senna is a big blow, when you think of his contribution to Spain's win at Euro 2008. However, Sergio Busquets is a very adequate replacement and Xabi Alonso has often been asked to play a bit deeper in the last few games.
Q. Do you think this is the tournament where a European team will win the World Cup outside of Europe? Especially when considering the strength of the European teams at the moment, the time difference (lack of) and the make up of the groups for teams such as Italy, Spain, England, Holland and France?
Tej Jethwa, England
A. I don't think much has changed since I wrote this blog back in December although Brazil are my marginal favourites.
Q. Antonio Di Natale, as good as Fernando Torres, or just a club player?
Nathan Moulding, United Kingdom
A. An easy question to answer. Did you see my blog on Di Natale in March? I am a big fan of Di Natale and don't think he gets the respect he deserves as he is a loyal servant of Udinese.
Without any disrespect to Fernando Torres, I think he is currently just as good, although Di Natale is six years older so he may well have reached his peak and this could be his last World Cup whereas Torres could still improve and go onto greater heights.
Q. I am asking question about the chances of the Netherlands to lift the trophy? Is it the most balanced team in the competition?
A. They are certainly a very good team. I was impressed with them all the way through the qualifiers and they exude quality in almost every position.
If the pencilled predictions on my World Cup wall chart come to fruition, they are scheduled to meet Brazil in the quarter-finals. At this moment, potentially this could be one of the games of the tournament.
The winner of this encounter will surely have a good chance of going all the way. I would love to see Holland win the World Cup, partly because I'm old enough to fondly remember the teams that came close in 1974 and 1978. If they play the type of football they have been doing in recent games, I would certainly not object if they manage to come out on top, ahead of Brazil, Spain and even England.
Q. How far do you think Denmark can go in the World Cup? After such a strong qualifying campaign, I see them as quite an underrated team.
Kevin Amidzadeh, England
A. You are right, I think they are an under-rated team and they certainly stand a good chance of getting through to the last 16. Cameroon and Japan are certainly beatable although Holland look the favourites to top that group.
They are extremely solid at the back but the big problem looks to be their ability to find the net. As Arsenal fans will testify, Nicklas Bendtner is maddeningly inconsistent for both club and country.
I could see them getting to the quarter-finals, which would certainly be considered a success and a platform on which to build for Euro 2012.