The warm-ups are finished – so what exactly did we learn along the way?

Tim Rich on who shone brightest and which teams slipped up in the friendlies

Which teams are in peak form?

the one concern about Spain was what impact the injuries to Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres that ended their Premier League seasons early might have. Those who came to Murcia to see the favourites off with a 6-0 demolition of Poland on Tuesday, witnessed Fabregas take minutes to put his name on the scoresheet while Torres kicked the rust off his boots against some supine opposition. The outstanding performer was, however, Andres Iniesta.

Holland, the most thoroughbred of dark horses, had the opposite experience; with Arjen Robben a late casualty in a 6-1 demolition of Hungary in Amsterdam. Worse, is the indecision in the Dutch camp about whether their single most influential player could be risked in Monday's opener against Denmark. Their physio says yes, their manager, Bert van Marwijk reckons no.

Compared to the chaotic, careering way in which they approached the last World Cup, Germany's acceleration has been Mercedes-smooth, with comfortable victories over Hungary and Bosnia, although their former captain, Lothar Matthäus, claims they "lack individual class", especially without the injured Michael Ballack. But that is precisely the point. They were short of individual class in 2002 and in Euro 2008 and they still made the final.

Which sides have struggled?

step forward France. There are many who think that because of Thierry Henry's handball in the play-off against Ireland they should not be in South Africa at all, a view the French squad seem to share. Their preparations began with a lacklustre 2-1 victory over Costa Rica and went rapidly downhill, via a 1-1 draw with Tunisia and a 1-0 defeat to China. Reports of a player revolt and criticism of their luxurious training base have all added to a desperate mix.

It says something for the way England have prepared that they are the one team to have made Japan look good. The statements by their coach, Takeshi Okada, that they would "definitely" reach the semi-final are beginning to compare with Ally MacLeod's "Scotland will win the World Cup" in 1978 for fatuousness. After defeats to Serbia, South Korea and Ivory Coast , Okada claimed: "This is a team still capable of going places." Straight back home.

Fabio Capello might be relieved that Algeria, whom England meet in Cape Town, have lost their best player, midfielder Mourad Meghni, to injury and dropped their captain, Yazid Mansouri.

And who will walk away with the Golden Boot?

a word of warning. The player who scores more goals than anyone else in a World Cup is not necessarily the best player as Miroslav Klose proved four years ago. One hat-trick, such as Gary Lineker's against Poland in 1986, can be enough. David Villa was Euro 2008's leading marksman despite missing the final and the semi. His hat-trick against Russia was sufficient. So while Argentina's forward line looks formidable, their goals are likely to be shared among Higuain, Di Maria, Messi and Tevez. You need a dominant striker who will meet a terrible defence on their way to the latter stages. Wayne Rooney might strongly fancy his chances of tearing Algeria to shreds and Robin van Persie would think the same when Holland run into Japan in Durban.

Sometimes, the best striker in the world does end up with the Golden Boot. Ronaldo's displays for Brazil in 2002 is the case in point. Lionel Messi faces too much competition from his own strikers, Cristiano Ronaldo is part of a Portugal side that is in danger of not progressing to the knockout stages. It could be Rooney, it could even be Robinho, but much more likely it could and maybe should be Fernando Torres.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own