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THE METROSTARS CONNECTION

IF YOU TOOK a poll on which club would boast the most former coaches in a World Cup, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and A.C. Milan probably would get the most votes . The winner, however, goes to the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, now called the New York Red Bulls (Major League Soccer):

Carlos Queiroz (1996) guides Portugal, which barely qualified through Europe. (The entertaining Cristiano Ronaldo is the player to watch on this team.)

Carlos Alberto Parreira (1997), who directed Brazil to the World Cup title at USA ’94, will try to ensure that South Africa doesn’t become the first host to fail to reach the second round. It is a daunting task for a struggling team.

Bob Bradley (2003–’05) will attempt to become the fourth coach to guide the U.S. into the second round. The Americans, who have qualified for six consecutive World Cups, are led by Landon Donovan and finished a surprising second to Brazil at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009.

DON’T NECESSARILY BET THE FARM

WHEN THEY QUALIFIED in 2006 for the first time since Germany ’74, Australia did not get much respect. But they ended up surprising everyone with an impressive run that was eventually brought to an end when a controversial penalty kick was awarded to Italy. All this is to say that even with Ghana and Serbia in Group D, this year Australia shouldn’t be taken lightly. The last time Greece participated in the World Cup was USA ’94, where it finished last among 24 teams; that shouldn’t happen again. Outside of Sweden reaching the 1958 finals and the 1994 semifinals, the Scandinavian teams haven’t gone deep. Yet, they have fared well early on. Denmark will battle Cameroon for the other spot in Group E behind Holland. Chile fared better than expected, finishing second in the South American qualifying round. But the team’s quest has been complicated by the February earthquake that devastated its country. Uruguay, an ordinary team, relies on physical play.

OUT OF AFRICA

WITH THIS BEING the first Cup on their continent, the African teams have a chance to reach the semifinals for the first time (although three of their nations have won Olympic soccer medals).

Probably the best African side is Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), which boasts striker Didier Drogba. The team faces a difficult road because Brazil and Portugal are in its group. After a disappointing quarterfinal finish in the 2008 CAF African Cup of Nations, Ivory Coast fired its coach. Ghana, which eliminated the U.S. from the World Cup in Germany in 2006, faces an uphill challenge of proving the experts wrong in Group D. Any team with the great Samuel Eto’o must be taken seriously, but Cameroon faces a challenge getting out of Group E with Holland and Denmark in its way. And the Nigerian team is breaking in new Swedish coach Lars Lagerback, who replaced Shuaibu Amodu after he was fired for losing to Ghana in the 2010 CAF Cup of Nations semifinals.

EUROPEAN TEAMS THAT BEGIN WITH THE LETTER S

TEAMS MAKING THEIR debuts at the World Cup don’t usually fare well, but Slovakia could earn points versus New Zealand in Group F. The Eastern European team could be a surprise, given that it qualified ahead of Slovenia (Group C) and the Czech Republic. Participating in its second World Cup, Slovenia has its work cut out for it against Group C favorites England and the U.S.; however the Slovenians did manage to knock out Russia in the qualifiers. Switzerland supposedly has a talented generation of players, but it was eliminated in the first round of Euro 2008, despite being a co-host.

IT’S BEEN A LONG, LONG TIME

THE LAST TIME Honduras reached the World Cup was in 1982. Its captain and most dynamic player — Amado Guevara — has had trouble sticking in Major League Soccer. New Zealand, also class of ’82, showed nothing at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and is expected to struggle. The last time Algeria advanced to the World stage was in 1986. After surviving a life-and-death struggle with its archrival, Egypt, getting a point from Group C would be considered a victory. And the last time mysterious North Korea took on the world was 1966, when it shocked Italy with a 1-0 victory. Few experts know how good this team is.