To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.
We've saved the best for last... quite literally. Spain is pretty much the consensus favorite to win it all. Including mine.
SpainGroup H THE BASICS
• Nickname: La Furia Roja (Red Fury)
• Colors: Red and Gold
• FIFA Ranking: 2
• How They Got Here: Breezed through European qualifying without a loss or draw in a group that included Turkey and Belgium
• World Cup Pedigree:
12 World Cups ('34, '50, '62, '66, '78, '82, '86, '90, '94, '98, '02, '06), fourth place once and quarterfinalists four timesTHE PLOT
Will the world's most talented team on paper be able to get over their historical failings to join the world's elite soccer nations?THE DIRECTOR
Vicente del Bosque
Del Bosque is the most successful manager in modern Real Madrid history and is an excellent man-manager. He is probably the best suited manager for this team, as he'll work mainly on motivation and let his team flow and use their instincts.LEADING MAN
This could've easily been any number of players (like, say, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Iniesta or Iker Casillas), but Xavi is really the key to this team. He's the best passer in the world. It's no coincidence that Barcelona (his club team) and Spain both play the most attractive attacking style in the world. I could watch videos like these all day long.SUPPORTING CAST
Wow, you got 15 minutes? There's a lot here. Fernando Torres (forward, Liverpool) is one of the finest strikers in the entire world, his skill on the ball and his pace with it is unparalleled, his recovery from an injury is crucial; David Villa (forward, Barcelona) transferred to Barca this off-season and is a fantastic pure goalscorer and a leading candidate for the Golden Boot at the Cup; Xabi Alonso (midfielder, Real Madrid) is the leading reason Liverpool struggled so much this past year, he means that much as a ball-winner and hard-man behind the creative attackers; Cesc Fabregas (midfielder, Arsenal) is one of the Top 10 players in the world, but he's almost got no place on this team because he plays behind Xavi and Iniesta, the most overqualified super-sub in the world; Andres Iniesta (midfielder, Barcelona) picked up a "minor muscle" injury in the last friendly before the Cup, the last time he missed a tournament was the Confederations Cup, when Spain was beaten by the USA; Gerard Pique (defender, Barcelona) and Carlos Puyol (defender, Barcelona) are the backbone of Barcelona's central defense and will likely be the favorite pairing for La Furia Roja; Iker Casillas
(goalkeeper, Real Madrid) is, oh yeah, probably the best 'keeper in the world. I'm exhausted from typing.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
The midfielder had a great season at Sevilla and is primed for a role as a late sub and potential emergency replacement if an injury strikes. Any team would love to have a guy this talented just sitting on the bench twiddling his thumbs.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
The only thing that can stop this team from a long and beautiful run is the big man upstairs taking down one of the star players with a knee injury or giving them all the stomach flu.PRODUCTION NOTES
This is a highly flowing and very attractive 4-4-2 with Torres and Villa up top. They are a perfect combination of skill, pace and finishing.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
Every indicator points to the movie and the team being awesome. But big-budget surreal flicks and attractive soccer teams don't always equal great success.TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
According to a recent survey, Spain leads the world in liver transplants. I too thought it would've been Russia.CRITICAL BLURBS
Beautiful skill. Superior talent. Youth. Depth. Creativity. The only thing that Spain doesn't have is experience winning in the knockout stage of a World Cup. But they won Euro 2008, so there goes that knock. ... With the possible exception of Portugal in the second round, this is a gold-brick path to the semifinals. (They'll squash Italy, a potential quarterfinal foe.) ... Villa or Torres will be the odds on favorite to win the Golden Boot. ... It's hard for Americans to understand why a guy like Xavi matters, after this Cup, I hope that's not a problem anymore. ... As if this matters, this is the most fun team to play with in EA Sport's FIFA World Cup game. ...POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
Accepting the World Cup trophy after a thorough dismantling of England, Brazil, Germany or the Netherlands. It won't matter which team, this will be massive in Spain. Bigger than even the Spanish Inquisition.
Group A: South Africa, Uruguay, Mexico, France
Group B: South Korea, Greece, Nigeria, _blank">Argentina