SOUTH AFRICA SWEET 16
Forgive us for an indulgent and hypothetical look, but if the 2010 World Cup were to start today, these 16 teams would be the favorites to win the tournament. Be sure to share your thoughts as we look ahead to the greatest show in soccer.
The clock is set at 482 days and counting as the Road to South Africa comes into clearer focus for the world's finest soccer nations.
With final qualifying in most regions now underway, June 11, 2010 – the start of the World Cup – suddenly doesn't seem quite so far in the distance.
From now until the final field of 32 teams is finalized, Yahoo! Sports will be keeping tabs on the movers and shakers within FIFA's various confederations.
The United States made a dream start by beating fierce rival Mexico in Columbus and looks to be the dominant force in the region. Mexico's struggles are serious, but it should still have enough firepower to go through. Costa Rica continued its fine recent form with a home victory over Honduras and also looks good to clinch a spot in South Africa.
Predicted qualifiers: United States, Mexico, Costa Rica.
Qualifying in this brutally tough region is just past the midway point and continues next month with Paraguay six points clear at the top. Argentina and Brazil have both found life difficult, winning only four out of 10 matches, while Chile can reach the World Cup for the first time since 1998 if it holds on to fourth place.
Predicted qualifiers: Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay (via playoff).
Australia and Japan are too good for their Group One rivals and are on course to secure a finals spot. Matters in Group Two are far less clear. North Korea moved into contention for an automatic place by beating Saudi Arabia, while traditional Asian powerhouses South Korea and Iran fought out a draw in Tehran.
Predicted qualifiers: Australia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Iran (via playoff).
The final round of qualifying begins next month, with five teams to progress from there to the finals. With only one team going through from each group of four, the big teams can afford no slip-ups.
Predicted qualifiers: Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast.
As always, competition for places is fiercely contested. European champion Spain is looking unbeatable, while England has returned to form in meaningful games. However, France and Portugal both need significant improvement to book a place in South Africa, while Sweden, which has qualified for four of the last five World Cups, is in trouble.
Predicted qualifiers: Denmark, Greece, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, England, Serbia, Italy, Holland. Via playoff: Portugal, France, Russia, Croatia.
New Zealand has already won the weakest of all regions but will be a heavy underdog when it takes on the fifth Asian team for a place in the finals.