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Guide to the teams at South Africa 2010

On 18 November the guest list for the biggest party in world football was finalised and set in stone.

Next summer, 32 national teams will head to South Africa to compete in the 19th World Cup finals each hoping, with varying degrees of realism, to write themselves into the illustrious history of football's most coveted prize.

There are the usual suspects from Brazil, Italy, Spain and Germany the damaged but dangerous Argentina, France and Portugal, but also the dark-horses from the Ivory Coast and USA, those capable of a latter-stage surge like Australia and Cameroon and a differing collection of determined dreamers from across the globe.

You may also have heard about a certain team in white who have lately rejuvenated themselves under authoritative Italian guidance? Don't worry if you haven't yet, you will.

So with the draw now complete, squad announcements expected around mid-May and the tournament getting under way from 11 June, we take an early look at the teams.

Kagisho Dikgacoi

Manager: Carlos Alberto Parreira

Key player: Kagisho Dikgacoi

Best: Round one (1998, 2002)

World ranking: 86

Qualifying as hosts has its obvious advantages - giving straight passage without having to kick a ball in anger. However, the lack of a competitive edge is the drawback and South Africa will need to compensate for this by preparing thoroughly for the tournament on home soil. As with previous sporting events in the country, they are sure to have a passionate support backing them.

The side failed to score a single goal in the 2006 African Cup of Nations and immediately afterwards set about finding a new manager who could lead them during the 2010 World Cup. Parreira was their choice but it has not been plain sailing. The Brazilian briefly left for family reasons, after which he coached Fluminese in his homeland, before returning in October of this year. They showed how far they have come with a good showing at this year's Confederations Cup, where they finished fourth out of eight teams. However, the team remains disjointed and there are fears that they could be embarrassed.

MEXICO
Rafael Marquez

Manager: Javier Aguirre

Key player: Rafael Marquez

Best: Quarter-final (1970, 1986)

World ranking: 15

Mexico made sure of their 14th appearance at the finals with a game to spare after a comprehensive 4-1 victory over El Salvador - despite a swarm of bees in the goalmouth halting play for 10 minutes. Javier Aguirre's side won six of their nine games to seize the initiative in the group after a stuttering under previous coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Team captain Rafael Marquez has praised coach Aguirre for bringing back the team's belief following Eriksson's disappointing reign. The no-nonsense Aguirre has certainly improved the side and they are likely to prove tricky opponents in South Africa, especially in matches at altitude. Barcelona defender Marquez is their star man, but Deportivo La Coruna midfielder Andrés Guardado and Arsenal striker Carlos Vela are both talented performers, while West Ham striker Guillermo Franco is becoming something of a cult hero at Upton Park.

URUGUAY
Diego Forlan

Manager: Oscar Tabarez

Key player: Diego Forlan

Best: Winners (1930, 1950)

World ranking: 19

Two-time world champions Uruguay clinched the 32nd and final place in South Africa with a 2-1 aggregate victory over Costa Rica via the play-offs. Oscar Tabarez's men will reflect on their priceless 1-0 victory in San Jose in the first leg, which meant all they needed was to avoid defeat in Montevideo in the second leg. They took the lead through Sebastian Abreu and although Walter Centeno equalised for Costa Rica, the visitors failed to level the tie. In the South American qualifying group, Uruguay were the epitome of inconsistency - winning six, drawing six and losing six. Of all the teams who qualified from the group, Uruguay beat only Paraguay.

Uruguay possess some talented players who regularly do the business for their club sides but have rarely produced on the international stage. Case in point is Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan whose goalscoring record is hugely impressive in La Liga but his international form less so. However, if their big guns can fire they may well overcome what has become a crippling inability to perform on the biggest stage.

FRANCE
Franck Ribery

Manager: Raymond Domenech

Key player: Franck Ribery

Best: Winners (1998)

World ranking: 7

Having finished a point behind Serbia in Group Seven the French, led by Raymond Domenech, were paired with Republic of Ireland in the play-offs. A 1-0 win in Ireland was followed by a game of huge talking points in France, with the Irish going in front through Robbie Keane and taking the tie to extra-time. France won it, but with a goal from William Gallas that came from a blatant handball from Thierry Henry.

Controversial it may be but France will be in South Africa this summer and it would be naive to assume they are not capable of going far because of the circumstances surrounding their qualification. The side is packed with talent, including Manchester United's Patrice Evra and Gallas of Arsenal in defence, Real Madrid "water-carrier" Lassana Diarra and Bayern Munich's mercurial Franck Ribery in midfield and Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea and Barcelona's Henry up front. However, the jury remains out on coach Domenech, who is widely seen as the reason such an able group of players continue to under-achieve, and for the first time in many years the French are not viewed as certainties for the latter stages.

Lionel Messi

Manager: Diego Maradona

Key player: Lionel Messi

Best: Winners (1978, 1986)

World ranking: 8

Argentina endured a torrid qualifying campaign under manager Diego Maradona, who seemed to grow increasingly eccentric as the pressure on him grew. However the side came good in their crunch match in Uruguay, with Mario Bolatti's late goal securing the 1-0 win which secured their place in South Africa. Argentina had only failed to qualify for a World Cup once in their history - in 1970 - but their victory secured the fourth and final qualifying spot in the South America group.

Whilst they may appear to be as weak as at any time in living memory, you can never truly write off a side that boasts attacking talent such as Barcelona's 2009 Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria of Benfica. The manager's selection policy is a concern though and they are vulnerable in defence. Whilst they undoubtedly possess the resources to be competitive, it is difficult to predict how they will get on in South Africa (although the number of detractors continues to grow) but whatever happens, with Maradona in the dugout it will be an interesting ride.

NIGERIA
Yakubu Aiyegbeni

Manager: Shaibu Amodu

Key player: Yakubu Aiyegbeni

Best: Round two (1994, 1998)

World ranking: 22

Nigeria qualified in dramatic fashion with a 3-2 win against Kenya in Nairobi. The Super Eagles had to win to have any chance of denying Tunisia. They fought back from 1-0 down to lead 2-1, but conceded a 79th-minute equaliser, only for Obafemi Martins to seal an emotional win.

The Super Eagles were overwhelming favourites to win their qualifying group and in drawing three of their matches, including both against Tunisia, they showed enough fallibility to concern their passionate following. However, their quality ultimately shone through. Any side that boasts the likes of Everton defender Joseph Yobo, Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel and strike duo Martins and Yakubu in their ranks will be a threat to most teams but they will all have to fire if they are to repeat the success of past sides.

SOUTH KOREA
Park Ji-Sung

Manager: Huh Jung-Moo

Key player: Park Ji-Sung

Best: Fourth (2002)

World ranking: 52

The South Koreans secured a seventh successive World Cup finals place thanks to a 2-0 victory over United Arab Emirates in Dubai. Park Chu-young and Ki Sung-yueng grabbed the goals as Huh Jung-Moo's outfit strolled to a place in Africa's first World Cup. Four wins and four draws, with just four goals conceded in qualifying are a testimony to a well-drilled unit with the determination and ability to get the job done.

Under the leadership of Guus Hiddink, South Korea famously made it to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup on home soil, beating Portugal, Italy and Spain on the way. They are unlikely to repeat such a feat in South Africa and will do well to make it beyond the group stages. Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung is their captain and star performer but even his impressive work-rate cannot cover for deficiencies elsewhere in the side.

GREECE
Giorgios Karagounis

Manager: Otto Rehhagel

Key player: Giorgos Karagounis

Best: Round one (1994)

World ranking: 12

Euro 2004 champions Greece qualified for their first World Cup since 1994 thanks to veteran German coach Otto Rehhagel, who masterminded their success in Portugal. Having finished second in Group Two behind Switzerland, who twice beat them, they met Ukraine in a two-legged play-off and won 1-0 in Donetsk after a 0-0 draw in Athens, with Dimitrios Salpigidis getting the winner.

Rehhagel is a master of maximising the talent he has at his disposal. He added further to his hero status in Greece by guiding the side to only their second ever World Cup finals appearance, and they will be hoping to at least improve on the zero points haul of 1994. Captain and midfielder Giorgos Karagounis will be key to the side in South Africa, as will Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos in a side that relies on solidity over flair. It is not beyond them to shock the established order again but it is unlikely and the first round may once again be the limit of their involvement.

Wayne Rooney

Manager: Fabio Capello

Key player: Wayne Rooney

Best: Winners (1966)

World ranking: 9

Rarely has a qualifying campaign gone so smoothly for England, who have found a new lease of life under the authoritative leadership of Italian coach Fabio Capello. They swept into the finals with a 5-1 rout of Croatia, their eighth victory in eight Group Six matches, ensuring their progress to the finals with two matches to spare and providing a fitting revenge for the 3-2 defeat to the same side that denied them participation at Euro 2008.

Disappointing quarter-final eliminations at both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup and the failure to reach Euro 2008 were huge under-achievements for a group of players widely considered something of an English "golden generation". However, many of them, including David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and captain John Terry remain and appear to have found a coach capable of successfully utilising their combined talents. They lack proven quality beyond the first choice side and there are concerns in goal but if they play to potential and Wayne Rooney shines the inevitable hype may finally be justified.

UNITED STATES
Landon Donovan

Manager: Bob Bradley

Key player: Landon Donovan

Best: Third (1930)

World ranking: 14

The United States had to work hard to seal qualification with a 3-2 win over Honduras, but Bob Bradley's side did enjoy the luxury of having a game to spare. The Americans gave a strong showing throughout qualifying, securing good wins over their principle rivals Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica to take top spot in the group.

The US have featured in each of the previous five World Cups and are now expected to make the knockout rounds. In making the Confederations Cup final, beating Euro 2008 winners Spain along the way and pushing eventual winners Brazil in the final, the Americans demonstrated enough to suggest a latter-stages push is within their reach in South Africa. Bradley's team is well-organised with a good keeper in Everton's Tim Howard, and goalscoring threats in the shape of Fulham midfielder Clint Dempsey and Los Angeles Galaxy striker Landon Donovan. However, the coach used 43 players in qualification, suggesting consistency may be alluding them at present.

ALGERIA
Karim Ziani

Manager: Rabah Saadane

Key player: Karim Ziani

Best: Round one (1986, 1982)

World ranking: 26

Algeria, the Desert Foxes, are appearing at their first World Cup for 24 years since exiting in the first round of Mexico 86. They made it to South Africa the hard way, forced to go to a one-match play-off against Egypt when they lost 2-0 in Cairo in the final group game as the two sides finished neck-and-neck at the top of Group C. They came through the contest at a neutral venue in the Sudanese capital Khartoum thanks to defender Antar Yahia's magnificent first-half volley that crashed in off the crossbar.

The Fennecs could well be one to avoid in the group stages, having shown enough technical ability and passion in qualifying to suggest the current highest Fifa ranking of 28 is justified. Stylistically they have been likened to a European side and possess a large number of players who ply their trade within the continent, including Portsmouth's Nadir Belhadj and Lazio midfielder Mourad Meghni. In what is often a rarity for an African side they are blessed with a highly talented goalkeeper in the shape of Faouzi Chaouchi.

SLOVENIA
Milivoje Novakovic

Manager: Matjaz Kek

Key player: Milivoje Novakovic

Best: Round one (2002)

World ranking: 33

Matjaz Kek's side reached their second World Cup finals thanks to a surprise play-off win over much-fancied Russia, having finished second in Group Three behind Slovakia. A late reply left them trailing 2-1 after the first leg in Moscow but Zlatko Dedic's goal in Maribor proved enough to earn them victory on the away goals rule. It would be easy to dismiss the threat of Slovenia but any side that denies Guus Hiddink's Russia a World Cup spot deserve to be taken seriously.

Slovenia have made something of a habit of upsetting the odds, beating Ukraine to surprisingly qualify for Euro 2000 before drawing with both Yugoslavia and Norway in the tournament finals. They also beat Romania in a play-off to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. They are well-organised and tough to break down but lack the class to truly hurt sides.

Michael Ballack

Manager: Joachim Loew

Key player: Michael Ballack

Best: Winners (1954, 1974, 1990)

World ranking: 6

Only Brazil and Italy have won the World Cup on more occasions than three-time champions Germany. They have also been runners-up on four occasions and have more semi-final appearances than any other side with 11. They have not missed a World Cup finals since 1950 and that record was extended as they booked their place with a 1-0 victory away to their group rivals Russia. Miroslav Klose's 35th-minute strike clinched the win and saw Germany win the group with one round of matches remaining.

A strong qualifying campaign suggests they will once again be a force in South Africa, albeit not as powerful as they once were. Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack and Bayern Munich striker Miroslav Klose remain world-class talents whilst young Werder Bremen winger Mesut Ozil is one to watch. They were comfortably beaten 2-1 by England in a friendly in Berlin late last year, but with their game faces on they will be a different proposition and should figure at the business end of proceedings.

AUSTRALIA
Tim Cahill

Manager: Pim Verbeek

Key player: Tim Cahill

Best: Round two (2006)

World ranking: 21

Guus Hiddink may have gone but his influence remains. The Socceroos showed the same level of skill and passion that saw them only narrowly beaten by eventual winners Italy in the second round in 2006 by easing into the 2010 World Cup without conceding a goal in the six matches it took them to qualify. A 0-0 draw against Qatar in Doha wrapped things up for Pim Verbeek's team after they picked up 14 points in Group A of the final Asian qualifying phase.

There are plenty of faces familiar to fans of the Premier League in the Australia squad. Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer, Everton defender Lucas Neill, and midfield duo Brett Emerton of Blackburn and Everton's Tim Cahill all feature regularly for their respective sides. Former Leeds and Liverpool winger Harry Kewell, now with Galatasaray is another skilled, if inconsistent performer. The highest seeded sides will not relish a group encounter with them and they may well make another foray into the knockout stages.

SERBIA
Nemanja Vidic

Manager: Radomir Antic

Key player: Nemanja Vidic

Best: Fourth place (1930, 1962, as Yugoslavia)

World ranking: 20

Serbia beat Romania 5-0 in Belgrade to earn automatic qualification for the 2010 World Cup as unassailable leaders of European qualifying Group Seven. Nikola Zigic gave the Serbs a half-time lead before they hammered home their superiority after the break through goals from Marko Pantelic, Zdravko Kuzmanovic and a Milan Javanovic double. Edging an albeit out-of-sorts France into second place in a tough group shows the strides Serbia have made.

Serbia are coached extremely efficiently by former Luton player Radomir Antic, who has built a solid side that also comprises plenty of firepower. Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic is the most recognisable face, but defender Branislav Ivanovic is a consistent performer for Chelsea, midfielder Nenad Milijas has performed well at Wolves and Inter Milan's Dejan Stankovic remains a class performer in midfield. A lack of big tournament experience could be their undoing.

GHANA
Michael Essien

Manager: Milovan Rajevac

Key player: Michael Essien

Best: Round three (2006)

World ranking: 37

Ghana were the only African side to progress beyond the first round in the 2006 World Cup and became the first African side to reach the 2010 World Cup via the qualifiers when they defeated Sudan 2-0 in Accra. Inter Milan's Sulley Muntari and Chelsea's Michael Essien scored the goals in each half to give Ghana an unassailable lead at the top of qualifying Group D. In truth though, despite the improvements Mali and Sudan have made, it would have been a major shock had they failed to qualify.

The Black Stars are reliant on the superb Essien and his midfield partner Muntari. Both have shown enough for their respective club sides to suggest they can compete with the world's best. However, there are concerns over the goalkeeping position and they lack a potent goalscorer. If they keep their discipline they could repeat their feat of 2006 but are unlikely to go much further.

Mark van Bommel

Manager: Bert van Marwijk

Key player: Mark van Bommel

Best: Runners-up (1974, 1978)

World ranking: 3

The Netherlands were the first European side to qualify for South Africa, having won all eight of their games in Group Nine, conceding only twice in the process. A 2-1 away win in Iceland with goals from Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel ultimately confirmed their place at the finals.

The Dutch have often been troubled by a lack of unity within their squad, which has on more than one occasion seemingly scuppered their chances of challenging at major tournaments. However, their run to the last eight at Euro 2008 and the qualification campaign for 2010 has demonstrated, when the whole squad pulls in the same direction they are as capable as any side.

They have plenty to offer in attack through Arsenal's Robin van Persie, Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben and midfield craft in Robben's club teammate van Bommel and Real Madrid's Rafael van der Vaart. It is strange that a side which only conceded twice in qualifying should have question marks over its defence but many see this as Holland's Achilles heel, a problem that has been exacerbated by the inability to unearth a genuine replacement for the retired Edwin van der Sar in goal.

DENMARK
Christian Poulsen

Manager: Morten Olsen

Key player: Christian Poulsen

Best: Quarter-finals (1998)

World ranking: 26

In arguably the hardest European qualifying group Denmark came through in first place, beating an admittedly struggling Portugal side into second (having beaten them home and away) and consigning Scandinavian rivals Sweden to a summer on the beach. It was a 1-0 win over the latter in Copenhagen that ultimately sealed their place at their first major tournament since the 2004 European Championship.

After failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup coach Morten Olsen considered resigning but his decision to remain at the helm has been rewarded. They do not have strength in depth but possess a handful of players with quality and experience such as ever-improving Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, Juventus midfielder Christian Poulsen and former Newcastle forward Jon Dahl Tomasson, now at Feyenoord. Not to be underestimated.

JAPAN
Shunsuke Nakamura

Manager: Takeshi Okada

Key player: Shunsuke Nakamura

Best: Round two (2002)

World ranking: 43

Takeshi Okada's Japan became the first team to book their place in South Africa after earning a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Uzbekistan in Tashkent. Shunji Okazaki grabbed the only goal of the game after nine minutes to book a fourth successive finals berth. They finished second in their Asian qualifying group, having lost their final game to eventual group-winners Australia, but this should not take away from the ease of their progression.

Japan have shown signs of steady improvement over the four successive World Cup tournaments in which they have participated. As joint hosts in 2002 they reached the second round before losing to eventual third-place finishers Turkey, but they will do well to achieve such a feat again. Much rests on the shoulders of ex-Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura, now with Espanyol, to provide the spark.

CAMEROON
Samuel Eto'o

Manager: Paul Le Guen

Key player: Samuel Eto'o

Best: Quarter-finals (1990)

World ranking: 11

Cameroon came close to missing out on South Africa. The Indomitable Lions avoided drama on the last day of qualification as their 2-0 win in Morocco rendered Gabon's result in Togo meaningless. Goals from Achille Webo and Samuel Eto'o sent the team to the World Cup for the sixth time - a new African record. Cameroon were bottom of their group after two games, before former Rangers boss Paul Le Guen took over as manager from Otto Pfister.

Regardless of their qualification difficulties, Cameroon possess enough talent and experience to worry the best sides in the tournament. In Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o they possess a truly world-class striker, and Sebastien Bassong of Tottenham and Arsenal's Alexandre Song provide quality and strength in defence and midfield respectively. Realistically the side should be aiming to reach the first knockout stage of the competition at least.

Andrea Pirlo

Manager: Marcelo Lippi

Key player: Andrea Pirlo

Best: Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)

World ranking: 4

Italy sealed the chance to defend their world title in South Africa in dramatic fashion, equalising in the last minute in Ireland to snatch a 2-2 draw and top spot in Group Eight. Mauro Camoranesi cancelled out Glenn Whelan's opener for Ireland, but Sean St Ledger's goal looked to be taking the group to the final round of matches until Alberto Gilardino's decisive late goal. They did not have it all their own way during qualifying but they remain a stubborn and ruthless opponent, as their unbeaten campaign suggests.

The Azzurri look to be a weaker outfit than in 2006, suggesting a successful defence of their title is unlikely. Their best players are not getting any younger, but with this comes the experience to deal with a major tournament. Manager Marcelo Lippi has come in for criticism but knows how to win, even if the side will have to rely on grinding out the results as opposed to blowing the opposition away. Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo will orchestrate things but does defender Fabio Cannavaro have the legs to keep pace with the world's best and who will score the goals?

PARAGUAY
Oscar Cardozo

Manager: Gerardo Martino

Key player: Oscar Cardozo

Best: Round two (1986, 1998, 2002)

World ranking: 30

Paraguay secured their place at a fourth-straight World Cup finals with two games to spare after a 1-0 win over Argentina. Nelson Valdez's goal earned his side victory over Diego Maradona's struggling outfit in the South American qualifying group as Paraguay joined Brazil in qualifying for South Africa. Finishing just one point behind Brazil is no mean feat for Paraguay and demonstrates that this solid, counter-attacking side should not be underestimated.

After the disappointment of failing to emerge from the group phase at Germany 2006, Paraguay will be hoping to bounce back in South Africa. They may still be finding their feet as a side following the retirement of key players but in forward trio Nelson Haedo Valdez of Borussia Dortmund, Oscar Cardozo of Benfica and Manchester City's Roque Santa Cruz they have the firepower to pose plenty of problems. Bowing out in the group stages is likely but they cannot be discounted as a dark horse to scrape through.

NEW ZEALAND
Ryan Nelsen

Manager: Ricki Herbert

Key player: Ryan Nelsen

Best: Round one (1982)

World ranking: 77

The Kiwis sealed a berth at only their second World Cup finals with a 1-0 aggregate play-off victory over Bahrain, winning the second game in Wellington in front of a New Zealand record football crowd of 35,100 thanks to Rory Fallon's header just before half-time. New Zealand were overwhelming favourites to win the Oceania group, which they did with relative ease, but it is their play-off win that shows they have the stomach for a fight.

The All Whites are one of the lowest-ranked sides at the finals and on paper appear to be the whipping boys. Their squad is largely a mixture of journeymen and lower league players, including Plymouth striker Fallon. However, they will have little to lose and do possess individuals, such as Blackburn defender Ryan Nelsen and Celtic's Chris Killen, who have played at a high level.

SLOVAKIA
Marek Hamsik

Manager: Vladimir Weiss

Key player: Marek Hamsik

Best: No previous appearances

World ranking: 34

Slovakia qualified for their first World Cup finals after beating Poland 1-0 thanks to a third-minute own goal by Seweryn Gancarczyk and some key saves from Jan Mucha. Winning European Group Three was an impressive feat. The away victory at group favourites the Czech Republic shows they have the grit and ability to pose problems for the top sides.

England comfortably dispatched Slovakia 4-0 in a friendly last March which may well be a telling result as regards the latter's ambitions in South Africa. They are no soft-touch, though, and in midfielder and captain Marek Hamsik, who plays in Italy with Napoli, have a true star in the making. A lack of further quality is likely to limit their interest to just the group stages.

Kaka

Manager: Dunga

Key player: Kaka

Best: Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)

World ranking: 2

When discussing the World Cup it would simply be rude not to begin with the five-time winners Brazil, the only team to have appeared at every finals to date. They made sure that record continued in the best possible fashion, beating their bitter rivals Argentina 3-1 on their home turf. Two goals from striker Luis Fabiano and another from defender Luisao was enough as they inflicted only the second home defeat in World Cup qualifiers on Diego Maradona's struggling side.

The men in yellow and blue are always favoured, but this time, under the managerial guidance of former World Cup-winning captain Dunga they are justifiably considered one of the teams to beat. Dunga's approach may not please those in his homeland who favour samba style over substance, forged as it is around solidity and efficiency, but there can be no doubting his results and he is rapidly winning over the purists. Real Madrid midfield maestro Kaka will be the key man, but he is ably assisted by the likes of Seville's prolific striker Luis Fabiano, Juventus midfield enforcer Felipe Melo and Barcelona's pacey full-back Daniel Alves.

NORTH KOREA
Hong Yong-Jo

Manager: Kim-Jong Hun

Key player: Hong Yong-Jo

Best: Quarter-final (1966)

World ranking: 84

Iran's failure to defeat South Korea in Seoul earlier in the day meant North Korea only needed to draw in their final group match against Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. They did exactly that, with a 0-0 result putting them into their first World Cup finals since 1966. Back then, they famously defeated Italy 1-0 before being beaten 5-3 in the quarter-finals by Portugal - despite taking a 3-0 lead.

Whilst unlikely to pose too many problems to the bigger nations in South Africa, North Korea remain something of an unknown quantity. The majority of their squad are based domestically and in their recent 0-0 draw against Congo in France - their first match on European soil since 1966 - gave little away despite the side missing six key players. Russian-based forward Hong Yong-Jo is arguably their most prominent player, although Suwon Bluewings midfielder Ahn-Young Hak is also an able performer.

IVORY COAST
Didier Drogba

Manager: Vahid Halilhodic

Key player: Didier Drogba

Best: Round one (2006)

World ranking: 16

Widely considered to be Africa's strongest team, the Ivory Coast sailed through their qualifying group. A 1-1 draw with Malawi in Blantyre meant they were the second African side to reach South Africa from the qualifiers. Chelsea's Didier Drogba came on as a substitute to score the crucial equalising goal for the visitors after Jacob Ngwira's opener.

The Elephants put on an exciting show at the 2006 finals in Germany but failed to progress beyond the first round, largely because they were drawn in the 'group of death' with Argentina and Holland. The side has undoubted talent in the shape of forward Didier Drogba, who is firing on all cylinders for Chelsea this season, Manchester City defender Kolo Toure, and Sevilla midfielder Didier Zokora, to mention just three. The excitement that Africa may finally have a side to challenge for football's biggest prize could well be justified.

PORTUGAL
Cristiano Ronaldo

Manager: Carlos Queiroz

Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Best: Fourth place (2006)

World ranking: 5

Despite having Cristiano Ronaldo, the 2008 Fifa World Player of the Year, in their ranks, Portugal made hard work of qualifying. They were languishing in fourth in Group One at one stage before a late rally earned them second and a play-off berth. Without the injured Ronaldo they secured a place in South Africa thanks to two hard-fought 1-0 victories over Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Similarly to France, Portugal are a side packed with talent but led by a much-criticised coach in the shape of former Manchester United assistant manager Carlos Queiroz. However, the near disastrous qualification campaign should not fool opponents into underestimating the Portuguese. Ronaldo is clearly their main threat but Chelsea's Deco and Atletico Madrid's Simao provide able support and Deco's club team-mate Ricardo Carvalho marshals the defence well.

Xavi

Manager: Vicente del Bosque

Key player: Xavi

Best: Fourth (1950)

World ranking: 1

Spain matched the feats of England and the Netherlands, qualifying for the 2010 World Cup with two qualifying group matches to spare thanks to a workmanlike 3-0 defeat of Estonia in Merida. Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata got the goals to make it eight straight wins, with a 1-1 draw between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey ensuring the European champions' smooth progress to the finals for the ninth straight time.

That Brazil are no longer the number one ranked side in the world is a testimony to the progress made by Spain over the last few years, and the Euro 2008 winners will be a major contender in South Africa. Picking out individuals to praise is not only difficult but very unfair to the rest of the side, but it could be argued the key to their side is Barcelona midfield duo Andres Iniesta and Xavi. Doubters and pessimists may legitimately point to the 2-0 defeat by the USA in the semi-final of the Confederations Cup in June as proof of chinks in the Spanish armour, but with that being their first loss in 35 matches - a run that equals Brazil's world record - teams will have to employ expert aim if they are to penetrate such flaws.

SWITZERLAND
Tranquillo Barnetta

Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Key player: Tranquillo Barnetta

Best: Quarter-final (1934, 1938, 1954)

World ranking: 18

Switzerland got the point they needed to qualify in their final match against Israel but not without a struggle - Ottmar Hitzfeld's side were hanging on even after their hosts had Avihay Yadin sent off after 59 minutes. The Swiss went on an eight-match unbeaten run after a surprise defeat by Luxembourg to reach the finals.

The Swiss impressed at the last World Cup, where they did not concede a single goal prior to a second-round penalty shoot-out loss against Ukraine, and the experience that will come from co-hosting Euro 2008 should put them in good shape for South Africa. The side lacks any true world superstars but Bayer Leverkusen's Tranquillo Barnetta and Udinese's Gokhan Inler are a capable midfield duo and, if fit, Alexander Frei is a capable goalscorer. However, if they are to progress beyond the group stages Hitzfeld will have to weave his magic and hope all his players are on the top of their game.

HONDURAS
Wilson Palacios

Manager: Reinaldo Rueda

Key player: Wilson Palacios

Best: Round one (1982)

World ranking: 38

A 1-0 victory over El Salvador and a crucial last-minute goal by the United States against Costa Rica clinched Honduras' place in South Africa next year. It was a close call though as they only secured their third-place finish in the group thanks to a superior goal difference to the Costa Ricans. It is only the second time they have qualified for the finals, the other being in 1982 - and it has all happened while Honduras has been in turmoil following a military coup in June.

Honduras are a rapidly improving side, boasting a number of players who ply their trade in Europe, including Tottenham midfielder Wilson Palacios and Wigan duo Hendry Thomas and Maynor Figueroa. Reaching the finals was a major feat for the side in the circumstances but it would be a monumental achievement for them to progress beyond the first round in South Africa.

CHILE
Alexis Sanchez

Manager: Marcelo Biesla

Key player: Alexis Sanchez

Best: Third place (1962)

World ranking: 17

To be labelled the most attractive South American team when Brazil are included in the competition is some testimony to the strides Chile have made as a side. Unfortunately, they appear to lack the defensive strength to match, demonstrated through the conceding of 22 goals in qualifying, seven of which came in their two encounters with Brazil. They reached South Africa courtesy of a 4-2 victory over Colombia, with substitute Jorge Valdivia scoring one goal and creating the other three. It is Chile's first appearance at the World Cup finals since 1998.

Argentine coach Marcelo Biesla has instilled a confidence in his side they have rarely demonstrated on the world stage, and his favouring of attacking play is admirable, if not sometimes a touch naive. The squad is an extremely young one, averaging around 23, and is forged around the creative skills of of players like Sporting Lisbon's Matias Fernandez and Al Ain's Jorge Valdivia and the goalscoring prowess of striker's Alexis Sanchez of Udinese and Monterrey's Humberto Suazo. Chile could well be one to keep an eye on and could well upset a few.


FULL LIST OF TEAMS AT 2010 WORLD CUP

HOSTS: South Africa

AFRICA QUALIFYING: Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria

ASIA QUALIFYING: Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea

EUROPE QUALIFYING: Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland

SOUTH AMERICA QUALIFYING: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay

NORTH, CENTRAL AMERICA AND QUALIFYING: Honduras, Mexico, United States

ASIA/OCEANIA PLAY-OFF New Zealand

*All rankings as of 20 November 2009



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see also
World Cup draw & reaction as it happened
04 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010
England seeded for 2010 World Cup
02 Dec 09 |  Internationals
World Cup map
05 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010
Uruguay take last World Cup spot
19 Nov 09 |  Internationals
France 1-1 Rep of Ire (agg 2-1)
18 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Portugal secure spot at World Cup
18 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Yahia sends Algeria to World Cup
18 Nov 09 |  African
Cameroon qualify for 2010
14 Nov 09 |  African
Nigeria qualify for the World Cup
14 Nov 09 |  African
New Zealand 1-0 Bahrain
14 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Win seals Argentina qualification
15 Oct 09 |  World Cup 2010
Swiss & Slovakia make 2010 finals
14 Oct 09 |  Internationals
US & Mexico qualify for World Cup
11 Oct 09 |  Internationals
World Cup qualifiers round-up
11 Oct 09 |  African
Italy seal World Cup finals berth
10 Oct 09 |  Internationals
England 5-1 Croatia
09 Sep 09 |  Internationals
Spain qualify for 2010 World Cup
09 Sep 09 |  Internationals
Ghana qualify for 2010 World Cup
06 Sep 09 |  African
Brazil beat Argentina to qualify
06 Sep 09 |  Internationals
North Korea qualify for World Cup
17 Jun 09 |  Internationals
Netherlands seal World Cup place
06 Jun 09 |  Internationals


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