Brazil (1), Croatia (20), Australia (49), Japan (15)
Outlook: Had the U.S. made it past Group E in the draw, they would have landed in one of the easiest groups out there: F, G and H. Obviously, Brazil is the pick to walkover everyone in this group. The battle for second is pretty tight -- world rankings aside, these are three pretty evenly matched teams. (I think a lot of the Asian teams in the field are probably rated a bit higher than they should be.) Japan, to its credit, played Brazil well in the Confederations Cup. Croatia finished ahead of Sweden in qualifying, twice beating them thanks to Darijo Srna, a right-sided midfielder who has been linked with Liverpool. And Australia has a handful of decent Premiership players (Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell).
Upset Special: No one is beating Brazil. Not in this group. And no other result short of "giant birds carried off both teams" would qualify as surprise. Sorry, there's no upset here.
Best Game: June 22, Croatia-Australia. It's not exactly a marquee matchup, but it's going to determine who finishes second.
Man of the Group: Ronaldinho. Simply the best player in the world.
Who's Going Through: Brazil is the easy call. Japan doesn't have the home-field advantage this time around and Australia doesn't have the pedigree. Croatia claws its way through.
France (5), Togo (56), South Korea (29), Switzerland (36)
Outlook: The Group of Tedium. Even France, which used to be a joy to watch, has been dull of late. Its qualifying group was like the old NFC Central: a bunch of guys slogging about and hoping to win ugly. Switzerland was in the group, as well, and did its best to make every game in which it took part unwatchable. (I made the mistake of going to a bar to watch a Switzerland-Ireland qualifier. Any time you consume more beers than there are shots on target in the game you're watching -- on a Saturday morning, no less -- something is either wrong with you or the teams you're watching. Maybe both.) South Korea, like Japan, was impressive at home in 2002 -- but they're not in Seoul any more. That leaves Togo, which is looking like a really good bet to become 2006's "African team that comes out of nowhere."
Upset Special: Togo over South Korea. They could give the Swiss a run for their money, too. They've got a couple of pretty good Nigerian-born strikers, Emmanuel Adebayor (Monaco, with West Ham rumored to be looking to pounce) and Olufade Adekanmi, and should be fun to watch.
Best Game: Best is a term we're using loosely here. Switzerland and France played twice in qualifying and scored two goals between them. Let's call it the France-Togo game on June 23, but, really, that might be a good day to take a break from watching the Cup and read a book or something.
Man of the Group: Zinedine Zidane. Here's hoping the French maestro's return from international retirement will add some spark to a side -- and a group -- that sorely needs it.
Who's Going Through: France should get through without much problem, and Switzerland isn't going to be easy to beat. They'll scrape together the results they need. It won't be pretty, but it'll be effective.
Spain (6), Ukraine (40), Tunisia (28), Saudi Arabia (32)
Outlook: Not the most talented group, but it should be one of the most hotly contested ones. Spain has loads of talent, but it will -- as it always does -- find a way to play down to the level of its opponents. (The Spaniards are also fighting injuries. Raúl, the team's captain and top striker, is a question mark, and playmaker Xavi is most likely out. Both have knee ligament issues.) Tunisia nearly beat Argentina at the Confederations Cup before it humbled Australia. Ukraine has a pretty solid attack, which can become something special if Andriy Shevchenko is on. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is doing its best to prove my theory (mentioned above) that Asian teams are overrated. They made the World Cup in 2002 -- and let in eight against Germany.
Upset Special: Someone's going to beat the Spaniards, and it's probably going to be Ukraine, which plays them first. But don't count out Tunisia, which is coached by former French boss Roger Lemerre.
Best Game: June 14, Spain-Ukraine. If history counts for anything, know that they played twice in Euro 2004 qualifying, and there were a combined six second-half goals in the games.
Man of the Group: Fernando Torres. With the injuries to Raúl and Xavi, the young Spaniard went from intriguing complementary player to a guy who absolutely has to produce. If his form with Atlético Madrid is any indication, he will.
Who's Going Through: Despite its best efforts to flame out, Spain will advance. Tunisia could has an outside shot if it can draw with Spain and Ukraine or beat one of them. More likely, Ukraine gets through with two wins.
Round of 16
Germany beats Paraguay
Netherlands beats Mexico
Czech Republic beats Croatia
France beats Ukraine
Sweden beats Costa Rica
Argentina beats Portugal
Brazil beats U.S.A.
Spain beats Switzerland
Netherlands beats Germany
Czech Republic beats France
Sweden beats Argentina
Brazil beats Spain
Netherlands beat Czech Republic
Brazil beats Sweden
Brazil beats Netherlands