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2006 World Cup champion Italy is back to defend their trophy. What are their chances for back-to-back titles? Guest blogger Michael Cree wades in. For more coverage of the World Cup, go to BBC.com/sport. – KW
Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia
World Cup holders Italy defied the odds four years ago to win in Germany, but they will face an uphill task to repeat the feat this time around. While this year they are without their central defender, Fabio Cannavaro, much of the Italian team remains the same – only older. They do, however, possess undoubted quality and in Juventus’ Gigi Buffon, arguably the best goalkeeper in the game. And, for Italy, qualification from the group is definite.
For the remaining three teams in the group, however, it is not. New Zealand present the weakest challenge, an unknown quantity at this level. Without any great players, they will likely struggle. Paraguay will rely on Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz to score their goals, much as they did in South American qualification.
Roque Santa Cruz
Slovakia is a surprise inclusion at the World Cup, having performed brilliantly during qualification. Like many smaller nations, they have no star players, but they do have a very solid, industrious team who will fight for every ball and contest every challenge. They could be the surprise package of the group.
4. New Zealand
See more posts by Kevin Wicks
Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.