Group by group analysis

Alex Hayes gives his verdict on the likely winners
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The Independent Online

Group A

France, Senegal, Uruguay, Denmark

Les Bleus will feel a lot happier about their chances of holding on to the World Cup trophy this morning. None of their first-round opponents should pose any serious problems, although the Danes have developed into a strong team under the guidance of Morten Olsen. Their match against the World Cup's last qualifiers, Uruguay, promises to be physical, while the rendezvous with Senegal will be of particular significance to Patrick Vieira, who was born in the African country in 1976. If, as expected, the French progress as group winners, they may well meet England in the second round. Pas de problèmes.

Prediction: 1 France 2 Denmark

Group B

Spain, Slovenia, Paraguay, South Africa

Not the most exciting of groups, but Spain will not care. Well organised since the arrival of their "little bull", Jose Camacho, the perennial World Cup under-achievers should ease into round two. The battle for second place could be interesting, though, with manager-less Paraguay (the surprise package from France 98), Slovenia (the most improved European nation) and South Africa (the best from football's third world) fighting for qualification. Paraguay's eccentric goalkeeper, Jose Luis Chilavert, will back from suspension to take his David Beckham-like free-kicks after match two. Will it be too late by then?

Prediction: 1 Spain 2 South Africa

Group C

Brazil, Turkey, China, Costa Rica

Another uninspiring set of match-ups (or should that be mismatch-ups). Brazil may have struggled to reach Japan and Korea, having only secured their place in their last match of the qualifiers, but they should have few problems making it through to the second round. Turkey, whose club football is much improved of late, will be the only serious challengers, while China will simply enjoy the ride as this is their first World Cup. Costa Rica are no great shakes, but the Central Americans should not be under-estimated. Just ask Scottish fans, who still blush at the thought of their team losing 1-0 to the Central Americans in 1990.

Prediction: 1 Brazil 2 Turkey

Group D

South Korea, Poland, USA, Portugal

The United States will surely never have a better chance of progressing in a major tournament. South Korea are seeded, but only because they are co-hosts, and Poland, despite winning their qualifying group, remain shaky in defence. Portugal, though, will be favourites for the group and perhaps even the competition, as they are many people's dark horses to go all the way. Not only are the likes of Luis Figo, Jao Pinto, Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes coming into their prime, but they also have the experience of last summer's semi-final appearance in the European Championship, when they lost to France in the dying seconds.

Prediction: 1 Portugal 2 USA

Group E

Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Cameroon

Lucky, lucky Germans. Having faltered in the latter stages of the qualifying process and required a play-off against the Ukraine to book their ticket, many were perplexed that Rudi Völler's team should be seeded. They were and, but for Mick McCarthy's Ireland, should have a relatively untroubled route to the knock-out rounds. The Republic, meanwhile, deserve the kind draw after their impressive qualification from the same group as Portugal and the big absentees, Holland. Cameroon are less exciting than in 1990, but they are also more experienced. What odds on Roger Milla making yet another comeback?

Prediction: 1 Germany 2 Ireland

Group F

Argentina, Nigeria, England, Sweden

If Sven Goran Eriksson was blessed with the golden touch during his first nine months in charge, Lady Luck finally turned her back on the England manager at yesterday's draw. Juan Sebastian Veron's Argentina, the tournament favourites; Kanu's Nigeria, the most sophisticated of the African teams; and, of course, Sweden, the England coach's country of birth. Argentina should top the group, but Sweden are no pushovers. Tommy Söderberg and Lars Lagerbäck's side were the best of all the European qualifiers, with 20 goals scored (eight by Celtic's Henrik Larsson) and only three conceded. Did you say group of death?

Prediction: 1 Argentina 2 England (just)

Group G

Italy, Ecuador, Croatia, Mexico

As always, the Italians have somehow managed to land themselves in a comfortable group, and Giovanni Trap-atonni's men should breeze into the second round. The ageing Croatians, who finished a surprise third four years ago, are not the force they were. Ecuador are making their World Cup bow and have little chance of qualifying. Mexico, though, are in the finals for the 11th time and have progressed from their group in the last two tournaments. Carlos Blanco, the man who introduced the world to his two-footed hop at France 98, continues to score goals aplenty, while the robust defence remain as mean as ever. Prediction: 1 Italy 2 Mexico

Group H

Japan, Belgium, Russia, Tunisia

Philippe Troussier's men might just give his adopted land of the rising sun plenty to smile about next summer. The Frenchman will be delighted with the very favourable draw, which should allow the co-hosts to face Brazil or Turkey in the last 16. Belgium will be the other main contenders for top spot, although their last three appearances at World Cup finals have faltered at the first hurdle. Russia are a team with bags of potential – that is, potential for more internal bust-ups. If they can keep their heads, they have an outside chance of causing an upset. Frenchman Henri Michel's Tunisia are the outsiders.

Prediction: 1 Japan 2 Belgium

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