In an easy group, Brazil is the favouriteEngland and Sweden should dominate Group BIvory Coast hopes to make an impact with Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure
LONDON: Message to the Asians, Africans, Americans and Australians going to the World Cup. Enjoy the trip.
This World Cup should wind up with Europe vs. South America again.
With soccer's biggest event back on European soil, the only ``visitors'' likely to make an impact are South American powerhouses Brazil and Argentina, who could well meet in the July 9 final in Berlin.
Fourteen of the 32 teams are from Europe, four from South America, five from Africa, four from Asia, four from North and Central America and one from Oceania Australia is making an appearance for the first time since 1974.
Chance for Ukraine
The way the draw pans out, the only newcomer likely to make it to the second round is Ukraine, which should have enough quality to beat Tunisia and Saudi Arabia and maybe get at least a tie with Group H favourite Spain.
The South Koreans might make it to the last 16 by beating Switzerland and newcomer Togo, but shouldn't be strong enough to topple group favourite France.
The United States makes its fifth appearance in a row, reaching the quarterfinals four years ago before losing to Germany 1-0. In a tough group with Italy and the Czech Republic, the Americans will do extremely well to get that far this time unless they beat the Czechs in their opening game.
Grouped with Brazil, the Australians are effectively chasing second place along with Croatia and Japan. A victory over the Japanese would be an ideal start for the Aussies, but then comes a game against the Brazilians, who should make it through from Group F along with the Croats.
Having led Brazil to its fifth title four years ago, Luiz Felipe Scolari is now in charge of Portugal and is in a comparatively easy Group D along with Mexico, Iran and newcomer Angola. Making its 13th appearance, Mexico should be the other team to advance to the last 16, but doesn't look strong enough to make it to the quarterfinals for the third time.
The toughest group of all has Argentina taking on the Netherlands and Serbia-Montenegro. First-timer Ivory Coast hopes to make an impact with Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and Arsenal defender Kolo Toure.
Star-studded Argentina should beat the Ivorians in their opening game, with the two European teams meeting a day later in what could be a decisive game. Argentina and the Netherlands should squeeze through.
With the entire draw mapped out, the second round should throw up some intriguing matchups, such as Brazil-Italy and Portugal-Netherlands. Germany-England is another possibility if only one of them wins a group.
As for France, it's difficult to predict which team will show up.
Four years ago, the French went into the World Cup as defending and also European champion, yet failed to score a goal and went out in the first round.
This year's team still has six of the 1998 World Cup-winning squad and, although the talent is there and the draw appears kind, the French may struggle to go all the way to the final. There's a good chance they could meet Argentina or Germany in the semifinals anyway.
England is another enigma.
Despite the likely absence of injured striker Wayne Rooney from the early games, England and Sweden should dominate Group B at the expense of Paraguay and World Cup rookie Trinidad and Tobago, which has former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke in the line-up.
If Rooney recovers from his broken foot to recapture his standout form, England has its best chance since it won the title 40 years ago. In Rooney, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Jamie Carragher it has the nucleus of a winning team.
With an easy group to kick off its campaign, Brazil is the favourite and has a star-quality line-up including Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka, Adriano, Cafu and Roberto Carlos.
A second-round game against three-time champion Italy might appear the final has come three rounds too early. But the Italians could be sidetracked by a betting scandal sweeping through Italian soccer.
Brazil would be confident of beating perpetual underachiever Spain in the quarterfinals and the likelihood is then another meeting with a European team, possibly Portugal, the Netherlands or England, for a place in the final.
Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira led his team to victory in 1994, and traditional foe Argentina could be waiting in Berlin to stop him from winning another in the first all-South American World Cup final to be staged in Europe.
But form says it will be Europe against South America. AP