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
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
. 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.
Some people may call the Brazil-Portugal-Ivory Coast group the Group of Death. It isn't. This group is, and it starts with Australia.
AustraliaGroup D THE BASICS
Yellow, green and white
•How They Got Here:
Qualified at the top of their group in Asia, allowing only 1 goal.
•World Cup Pedigree:
2 World Cups ('74, '06), lost in the knock-out phase in '06.THE PLOT
Can the sequel to 2006's magical run ignite the same kind of passion and excitement in a country where soccer isn't amongst the top three sports?THE DIRECTOR
A disciple of mercenary coach Guus Hiddink (the world's greatest national team coach), Verbeek stresses defense and organization and fitness over everything else. Much like Bruce Arena did with the U.S., Verbeek favors European-based players ahead of national-league players (only two made the preliminary roster). Can he find the same angles Hiddink found in guiding the Socceroos to within a controversial penalty call from beating eventual champions Italy in '06?LEADING MAN
A solid attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, Bresciano is the most talented player in the Australian player pool and recently transferred from Italian side Palermo to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia. He will need to bring his goal-scoring boots to South Africa, as it is the one area that the Socceroos are woefully short. Very dangerous on set pieces.SUPPORTING CAST
(forward/midfielder, Everton) is probably the best-known Aussie in England and scored Australia's first World Cup goal ever in 2006;Lucas Neil
(defender, Galatasaray - Turkey) is the team's captain and will anchor the team's biggest strength: The backline;Mark Schwarzer
(goalkeeper, Fulham) might be getting up their in years (he's 37), but there aren't a lot of keepers that command their area or parry penalty kicks as well as he can;Brett Emerton
(midfielder, Blackburn) is another useful midfielder who has the ability to score goals (17 in 72 national team games).LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
Born in Croatian and playing professionally for FC Nuremberg in Germany, Vidosic could very well be the solution to the Socceroos scoring issues.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
Australia will struggle to score goals, which is a problem that the man nicknamed "Jesus" shouldn't be able to save them from. The striker, who plays for Nagoya Grampus in Japan, once went 27 games without scoring a goal. Might be the Aussies Achilles heel.PRODUCTION NOTES
Verbeek likes himself some defensive football and will most likely set-up in a 4-2-3-1 with two defensive midfielders and Bresciano joining the lone striker when attacking.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
"Endless Summer 2"
In '06, the country rode a gnarly wave (of euphoria). In '10, they'll try to hang ten on that same wave.TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
Australia ranks second in the world in pet fish per capita, only trailing Sweden.CRITICAL BLURBS
In any other group, Australia would be a threat for the knock-out stage. This is the real Group of Death, as every team should be expected to move on. Germany is the most successful European team in World Cup history, Serbia is a defensive powerhouse and tournament dark horse, and Ghana is one of the strongest African sides ever. ... Australia and the United States have a lot in common (besides speaking English, enjoying beer and being relative newcomers to soccer). Australia made an unlikely run to the knock-out phase in 2006 (just like the U.S. did in '02), lost in controversial fashion to the eventual champion (just like the U.S. did in '02), qualified relatively easily for the next World Cup (just like the U.S. in 2006) and was drawn into the Group of Death (just like U.S. in 2006). The Socceroos will hope that the comparisons stop there. ...Best-case scenario?
Finding a way to figure out Serbia and/or Ghana, qualifying for the knockout stage before bowing out. ...Realistic prediction?
A Mexican standoff in the standings: All four teams in the group finish with a win, draw and loss. Germany and Ghana advance on goal differential.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
Unlike most other British colonies, Australia broke free of the empire peacefully in 1931 and remained supportive of the empire ever since. On June 26, in Rustenberg, that could change. A second-place finish in the group could draw England (if they win Group C). And, pleasantries aside, you have to think the Aussies might be a little more up for this game than for any other game in their history.
Group A: South Africa
Group B: South Korea
Group C: Algeria
Serbia, 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