In a world, where every four years, 32 nations gather to determine a champion, only one team can hoist the World Cup trophy. [Cue the massive explosions.]
With apologies to "Iron Man 2," "Twilight" and whatever other blockbusters are headed to theaters this summer, none of them can compare to the most dramatic event of 2010: The World Cup.
The World Cup, in addition to being the only truly world championship outside of the Olympic Games, is the only tournament capable of providing the full range of human emotion:Anger
. The best screenwriters couldn't script some of those things.
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.
The "favorite" in the Group of Disorder...
FranceGroup A THE BASICS
Blue, white and red
•How They Got Here:
Finished second in European qualification group; controversially defeated Ireland 2-1 in a two-leg playoff
•World Cup pedigree:
12 World Cups, 1 title ('98, when they hosted), second place ('06) and third place ('58, '86).THE PLOT
Can an unlikely couple (conservative manager Raymond Domenech and a free-spirited, youthful squad of attackers) salvage and maintain their relationship for the sake of their nation?THE DIRECTOR
The controversial manager is generally disliked by many of the team and often choses his starting XI based on astrological signs. This worked great in the movie "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" and it worked well for him in Germany in 2006. But it almost blew up in his face during qualifying.LEADING MAN
The clever Bayern Munich winger has assumed the role of playmaker from Zinedine Zidane, even though he's more of a winger than central playmaker. Ribery is involved in an underage prostitution case in France, which is only one of about a billion controversies swirling around Les Bleus. It is unknown at this time whether the case will affect his World Cup status.SUPPORTING CAST
(forward, Barcelona) is still a useful striker who will likely being plying his trade stateside after the Cup;Karim Benzema
(forward, Real Madrid) is a rising star that could really make a name for himself (provided Domenech actually calls him up for a roster spot);William Gallas
(defender, Arsenal) will be tasked with organizing a solid but not spectacular defense.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
The goals are going to have come from somewhere, and Henry and Nicolas Anelka (who has never scored in a World Cup) will need as much help as they can fromYoann Gourcuff
(attacking midfielder, Bordeaux).THE LIKELY VILLAIN
He's had a few dust-ups with his players and is likely going to walk the plank as soon as the Cup is over.PRODUCTION NOTES
The French run a possession-based conservative offense, usually with a double dose of defensive midfielders and a lone striker.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
"She's Out of My League"
Domench is the nerdy guy and the French team are the really hot blonde. No one thinks it should work (and, more often than not, it doesn't) but somehow they are holding the relationship together.TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
The French drink more bottled water per capita than any other nation in the world.CRITICAL BLURBS
Discredit the French at your own risk. After a poor showing in 2002, the entire world thought the French would be run out of Germany rather easily. They were a Zidane head-butt away from winning it all. ... Ribery isn't Zidane and attempts to make him into that player will only fail. Having said that, he's the one player on this team that is capable of conjuring up a magical performance all on his own. He could single-handedly get them into (and beyond) the knock-out phase. ... Three-and-out wouldn't be terribly surprising. They are not a strong defensive team and they won't produce a lot of goals. ...Best-case scenario?
Domenech finds the right astrological pairings to get this team firing and they find themselves into the quarterfinals. ...Realistic prediction?
Failing to win Group A outright and losing to the Cup's other "headcase," Argentina, in the second round.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
June 22. 88th minute. France vs. South Africa. The game is knotted up at nil-nil. Each team has won a game and drawn a game and Mexico, who have drawn twice and are beating Uruguay 3-0, will advance as the group winner on goal differential. South Africa is applying some pressure off the wing and earns a corner. The ball floats dangerously from the right. South Africa's Benni McCarthy and France's Thierry Henry go up to meet the ball with their heads. Henry reaches out and punches the ball with his hand. The referee (and karma) blow the whistle, awarding the host nation a penalty. They convert it. South Africa wins, France goes home.
Group A: South Africa
South Korea, Greece, Nigeria, Argentina
Algeria, Slovenia, USA, England
Serbria, Australia, Ghana, Germany
Japan, Cameroon, Denmark, Netherlands
New Zealand, Slovakia, Paraguay, Italy
North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook