*We're in the final week run-up to the 2011 WCP Cup and it's time to get the tournament predictions in order. I'll cover Groups A, B, C and D on a different day throughout the week, and get to the quarterfinals, semifinals and final on Friday. For Saturday, the first day of the tournament, I'll have an interesting surprise post.*
The Contenders: This year we'll see a couple of good teams with something to prove and chief amongst those teams is France. Barely losing 2-1 to Ireland in the 2010 semifinals has got to still sting and I doubt any team will give them a real challenge in round-robin play. Luckily for Nigeria, besides the French there isn't anyone all that strong in this group and back-to-back playoff appearances should be in order. When the two play on April 15th at 9:30 p.m., expect France to impose its will.
The Challengers: For those of you who love VCU, Afghanistan and Botswana may be the only underdogs with a chance in 2011. Both teams played entertaining and sometimes inspired soccer in 2010 and Botswana even managed to somehow get a 2-2 tie against Canada. However, with a chance to do something great Botswana ultimately choked to Columbia 1-0 and Afghanistan couldn't manage to beat any strong teams in a tough group. Botswana faces Nigeria on April 9th at 10 p.m., and then Afghanistan the very next night at 10 as well so we'll know right then if they have a chance or not. Afghanistan gets to face Nigeria at 9 p.m. on April 16th.
The Pretenders: I almost feel bad poking fun at Italy and Greece, but then I remember their epic, 3-2 battle in the very last group stage game of 2010 that ultimately put the Greeks in last place overall and the Italians in second-last place. It was a thing to behold. Two extremely proud, extremely weak teams; already eliminated but doing their damndest not to lose to the other. The game-winning goal celebration could have doubled as a tournament-winning celebration. I predict much of the same in 2011, but unfortunately these two play in the middle of the tournament so they won't know that last place is on the line. Much less drama.
Predicted Order of Finish