When the World Cup gets under way in Germany next month, the odds-on favorite - Brazil - faces Croatia, Australia and Japan in the first round. The Brazilians should have an easy time making it out of group play and is considered the team to beat in Germany.
Brazil is synonymous with what is called "The Beautiful Game," a style of football that features precise passing, dazzling footwork, and amazing goal scoring.
Brazil lost only twice in 18 games on its way to the World Cup, and has captured the coveted trophy five times. Brazil is also the reigning champion, having defeated Germany, 2-0, in the final four years ago. International football expert commentator Derek Rae from Scotland says even if Brazil suffered a first-round setback this year, the South Americans are the team to beat.
"For me they are the overwhelming favorites to win the World Cup," Rae says. "You never know in a World Cup what is going to happen because they can run into one game - one nightmare game - such as the great Brazilian side of 1982 did against Italy - and all of a sudden the dream was over. But I do not see that game coming in the Group phase and even if it does, Brazil ought to be good enough to go through."
The Brazilians open their World Cup campaign against Croatia June 13 in Berlin. Australia and Japan are also in Group F.
Australia qualified for only its second World Cup with a nail biting penalty shoot-out win over Uruguay in a two-legged playoff. Croatia had an easier time winning its qualifying group.
Australia's fan base could be somewhat divided. There are a number of ethnic Croatians who live in Australia, and Derek Rae says divided loyalties could make life interesting for the so-called "Socceroos." Rae points out one of the players as an example.
"Josip Simunic is an interesting character in this game because he's a key member of the Croatian side who is Australian-born and bred and then decided he wanted to play for Croatia, the country of his parents," notes Rae. "That was very controversial in Australia a few years ago because he had gone through the Australian developmental system, which is funded by the Australian taxpayers."
The Croatians finished third in the World Cup in 1998 but failed to qualify in 2002. Derek Rae says while Croatia should be favored to advance, Australia or Japan could also join Brazil in the second round.
"On experience you would probably say Croatia are the favorites. Again, the World Cup being in Europe is going to help them greatly. They are going to have plenty of support in Germany, there is little doubt about that," he says. "But there are one or two doubts in my mind about this particular Croatian side as to whether they have the quality that we saw from the Croatians back in 1998. But, Croatia, Australia, Japan, take your pick."
Japan finished atop its Asian qualifying group, but had to score last-minute wins over Oman and North Korea to get to Germany. The Japanese team qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 1998 and had an automatic berth in 2002 because it was the co-host.