My money's on England.
9 The Netherlands
This is my finish list for Chris Morris' World Cup pool. If I were to give it a second crack, I would have moved Netherlands up to 2nd or 3rd; and before their loss today to Ecuador, I would have found a place for Poland in lieu of France. I think the big surprises will be that some of these big teams may not even make it out of the Group Stage.
Let's hope for a minimum of ugly, stifling football in the Group Stage and for more scoring games like Germany v. Costa Rica (4-2) today. If that's any indication of what we're in for, then this could be the best tournament since 1982 when Paolo Rossi made his comeback and won it in dramatic fashion for the Azzuri.
It could be very exciting because many teams seem to be poised to come out of the defensive mentality which has plagued the game for decades. Italy, The Netherlands and England in particular have stolid defenses, but whispers indicate they will be going for goals.
You have to hand it to Sven. The choice of young un-knowns with footspeed up front is a master-stroke. No one will know what Aaron Lennon & Theo Walcott can do -- even Aaron & Theo. Coming on against tired legs at the 80th minute will be freightening for the very best defenses. That's where the meaningful chances will come.
Rooney's metatarsal & Alex Ferguson's rage-habit has been all the news, but I'm looking for Peter Crouch to be the Man of the Tournament. He is tall, yet underestimated: being 6'7" he is yet not much of a header of the ball and will show his deft touch when the ball is delivered to his feet. Micheal Owen will pull defenders away and leave Crouchie room to move his sharp elbows and do creative things -- like lay-offs to his Liverpool teammate, Steven Garrard.
And add here Beckham's boomerangs sailing in hard from the wide right flank. These will knock opponents dumb because they will expect them to happen repeatedly, but the sheer pinpoint accuracy makes them difficult to deal with: near post, far post, layed back across the eighteen. Beckham's disquise is one of the most underappreciated threats in football. Then, when you've cut off his outside, David cuts inside and the attack stays on the floor in short passes, cutting through the heart. People who write off Beckham because Real Madrid have not won La Liga with him are not paying attention...he's been carring the baggage of players whose minds are on other things, like Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo.
So, England will be scoring a lot. This is not even to mention the half-dozen risers we will see bulge the roof of the net from Garrard and Lampard, together at minimum.
This England has the lionsheart to come back when down two goals. "We few, we happy few..."
Brazil are simply too easy to rate highly. And every team will be looking to stifle them. Some will succeed and it may even be in the Group Stage. As magic as they are, It would not surpise me if Brazil don't make it to the Knockout Stage.
There's a difference between Ronaldinho's magic in a Nike commercial versus the leaden performances due him with multiple Croatians, Japanese and Australians hanging off his jock. People will be disappointed that he only hovers in the air once or twice during the entire tournament.
The pressure will tell most clearly on Kaka and Ronaldinho: the world will be asking too much of them to coordinate the central holding responsibilities when their minds are on goals, goals & goals. I would be counter-attacking Brazil up the middle.
This is the team much underestimated. I am looking for van Persie to make a big presence.
Luca Toni is on song, and you just have to like their quality. They relish the world stage and know how to kill off games and pace a tournament. Marcello Lippi is class.