by Trevor Whenham - 06/02/2006
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As I see it, the World Cup field of 32 teams breaks into three groups when it comes to picking a winner. There are 11 teams at odds of 36-1 or lower. That's the group that the winner will most likely to come from. The bottom 11 teams, starting with Ghana and South Korea at 190-1 and going up from there, would need a bit of a miracle to hoist the trophy when it's all over. It's that middle group of 10 teams, however, that offers both a challenge and an opportunity.
Each team would need a near-perfect set of circumstances to make it work, but they have enough talent to beat any team if they are at their best. If you can isolate the teams that are putting it all together, and then get lucky, you could end up with a nifty little profit. Here's a look at five teams from that middle group that could rise up and cause some trouble:
Mexico (40/1) - Mexico got a huge break in the draw. They are in group D with Portugal, Iran and Angola. Unless something goes very wrong Mexico should be able to cruise into the second round without hardly breaking a sweat. Portugal is probably better than them, but the other two teams aren't even in the same class. Jared Borgetti is a very dangerous scorer who can hit a hot streak. If that streak comes at the right time, he could lead Mexico deep. It wouldn't exactly be a fluke, either. The FIFA rankings aren't without flaws, but Mexico has been a staple resident of the top ten for several years. Their second round draw would likely be either Argentina or the Netherlands, meaning that it's challenge no matter what. It's far from impossible, though.
Croatia (62/1) - Croatia's biggest advantage is that they are in group F, the same group as Brazil. That means that they will be protected from having to play the overwhelming favorites for a while in the elimination rounds. Their second round draw will be a team from group E, and any of those teams is beatable. The Croatians are a young and talented team with surprising depth. Dada Prso and Darijo Srna can explode offensively and could make names for themselves in Germany. Croatia is the kind of team that would quickly became worldwide darlings if they strung together a few wins.
Poland (80/1) - I'm not the only guy who likes this team. They started out at 95/1, but have fallen to 80/1 with all the action on them. They will have to play, and likely lose to, Germany. They also, however, have two very winnable games against Costa Rica and Ecuador. They don't play a lot of defense, but they can score a ton, and that works for them. They have the added advantage of living next door to Germany, so most of their games should be almost like home games. That's the kind of wave that they could ride a long way.
Switzerland (104/1) - The Swiss narrowly made it into the tournament, needing the away-goal rule to squeak past Turkey. Despite that, and though they haven't been in the World Cup since 1954, the team could be dangerous. They got a potentially soft draw. France will be a challenge, but they are better than both South Korea and Togo. Alexander Frei is a strong striker with a scoring touch and a solid leader. They could get lucky in the second round if they advance, too. If they can avoid Spain, their match-up would either be the Ukraine or Tunisia, and the Swiss could beat either team.
Paraguay (150/1) - I'm an only child, so I don't know what it's like to be the forgotten sibling. I suspect Paraguay could tell me, though. Brazil and Argentina are viewed as the teams to beat in South America, but Paraguay quietly keeps putting up impressive results. They have made the second round in the last two World Cups, which is something a lot of good teams can't say. Both times they lost to eventual finalists. They play impressive defense and they are led on offense by Roque Santa Cruz and Nelson Haedo Valdez. Both dangerous players are lighting up the Bundesliga, so playing well in Germany won't be new to them. Sooner or later Paraguay is going to break through at a major tournament. Could this be the year? At this kind of price it could be fun finding out.