Predicting the winner of the World Cup is simultaneously both easy and difficult. It is easy in so far as that to this day only *cough* seven  nations have ever won the eighteen tournaments, and half of the wins have been achieved by six nations, Brazil and Italy. On the other hand, however, the pre-tournament favourites do have a tendency to not lift the trophy. The history of the World Cup final is, however, littered with the remains of great teams that managed to fail somehow or other, only to see another nation take the title and the accompanying glory.

I am not going to claim to have an overriding knowledge of all of the teams that are taking part in South Africa this summer. However, it is not unreasonable to argue that comparing and contrasting the players in each squad isn’t the all-truthful panacea that the rest of the media may make it out to be. There are other ways of analysing what may or may not happen at the 2010 World Cup finals, and our predictions will be looking at other factors as well. It has been said that those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and this applies as much to crumpled up betting slips as anything else.

For the purposes of these predictions, I will be looking for four teams. The first teams are those that, all things being equal, are the teams that I think is going to win the World Cup and the team that I simply do not believe will or can match the predictions of the press and even the bookmakers. Next is the team that I believe offer what gamblers might call the best “value” – a team that isn’t amongst the absolute favourtites that could well go all the way and win the trophy. Then come the outsiders that could go to the latter stages.  From these three categories, we will try to offer a different perspective on who may (or may not) win the 2010 World Cup.

There is one team that stands out, head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to precedent in the World Cup, and it isn’t the favourites. Spain remain the favourites to win the World Cup, but Brazil are my tip to win the tournament. There are several reasons for this, and the most significant comes in terms of what we already know about the 2010 World Cup. There are two types of World Cup finals. There are World Cup finals in which the host nations are genuine contenders and those in which the hosts are given little chance of winning. We might call these “neutral” World Cups. Since 1950, there have been fifteen World Cup tournaments, of which seven could be classified as “neutral”. Of these, Brazil have won five and the only two that they didn’t win were in 1954, when they were beaten by Hungary, who were probably the best team in the world at the time, and 1986, when they were beaten on penalty kicks by France.

This could be considered a historical anomaly were it not for the fact that Brazilian players are the most exported in the world. There aren’t many senior leagues in the world that don’t have a Brazilian or two knocking about. It’s part of the football culture there – they are the wandering minstrels, the troubadours and the missionaries of the football world. Indeed, since no European nation has won the World Cup outside of Europe, it is hardly unreasonable to suggest that Europeans that are the players that don’t travel well. Meanwhile, Brazilians seldom get over-concerned about whether it is too hot or too cold, and if their players get injured, they wheel out a replacement that is just as good. It always feel like a surprise when Brazil get knocked out of the World Cup finals. This year feels like their year. Yet again.

Meanwhile, the favourites to avoid are… England. Expectations at home are low compared to normal and seem to be plummeting by the day, but the question of how they have come to be the fourth favourites to win the tournament is one of the biggest mysteries of the year. In their favour, they have a coach that should be able to make the most of his limited resources and they have one of the best strikers in the world. History, however, doesn’t favour them – they have only once gone past the quarter-finals outside of their own country. Their are also structural weaknesses in the team (particularly in defence), and they start with an exceptionally difficult match against the United States of America, a match that they could easily fail to win. Their price has lengthened slightly since the injury to Rio Ferdinand, and only the patriotic vote would consider them likely to win the World Cup this year.

Here’s a thought. Is it really twice as likely that England will win this year’s World Cup, compared to Germany? Because that is what the betting suggests. The last couple of decades haven’t been the most successful for the German team (and have certainly been less than some believed they may be after the reunification of 1990. Still, though, they have managed to European Championship finals (winning one of them) and one World Cup final since then, so maybe it’s a question of relativity. The post-war rise of German football was the great success story of the story of world football in the second half of the twentieth century, not least because they weren’t remotely successful before the 1954 “Miracle Of Berne”. Since 195o, they have won three World Cups and three European Championships, and have been the runners-up in a further three World Cups. “You can never discount the Germans” has long since become a cliché, but there is a good reason for it.

Of the outsiders, one name stands out amongst the rest, but not necessarily for historical reasons. The United States Of America started last year’s Confederations Cup slowly, but beat Spain in the semi-finals and might even have beaten Brazil in the final. They did all of this in this year’s World Cup finals dress rehearsal. Meanwhile, Clint Dempsey had an outstanding season in midfield for Fulham and Landon Donovan, who finally got the opportunity to try his luck in the Premier League with Everton and looked very impressive indeed. Moreover, the American team give the distinct impression of being exactly that – a team, rather than a collection of individuals. They are also helped by being in the weaker half of the draw for the competition. The Americans will almost certainly come of age at a World Cup finals one of these days, and whilst winning this year’s competition may be beyond them for now, they have an excellent chance of progressing to the latter stages.

And that’s it for me for the time being. I’ll be back later on to post up the Official Twohundredpercent World Cup Song™, but other than that, I am away for a few days, and you will be in the more than capable hands of the Mark, Rob, Gavin and Ed. We’ll have reports on every match, the predictions of everybody on the site (including one from me that completely contradicts something that I have said above), a new cartoon series for the World Cup and plenty, plenty more. I’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy the weekend!