What the experts say: Groups C & D

CBC Sports commentators Nigel Reed and Jason de Vos, and CBCSports.ca soccer reporter John F. Molinaro offer their analysis and predictions for Groups C and D.

CBC Sports commentators Nigel Reed and Jason de Vos, and CBCSports.ca soccer reporter John F. Molinaro offer their analysis and predictions for the 2010 World Cup, focusing on Groups C and D.

Group C

Nigel Reed: As always, England expects — but don't tell the Americans. Fabio Capello has been forced to change his captain three times but the Italian's influence will be the telling factor.

Despite the transatlantic rhetoric, the fact remains England is better than the U.S. in every department with the possible exception of goalkeeping. They key to the group is the opening game between the two, and if England can kick off happy and glorious, Wayne Rooney and company will top the section.

The Americans are better — arguably much better — than their predecessors. Landon Donovan has a chance to be one of the stars of the World Cup and, with the benefit of a successful Confederations Cup run behind them, I believe Bob Bradley's team has the talent to make progress.

The Slovenians are no slouches. They are regarded as outsiders, but their qualifying campaign suggests they are a tough nut to crack. Their playoff win over Russia was as deserved as it was unexpected, but their collective lack of World Cup experience may prove costly.

Algeria has already enjoyed its moment of celebration. Merely qualifying — in a tense playoff against Egypt — was cause for national rejoicing, but this former French colony is now the weak link. Algeria has never gone beyond the group stages. Don't expect that to change in South Africa. 

Prediction: 1. England 2. USA 3. Slovenia 4. Algeria

Jason de Vos: Algeria triumphed in a fiery playoff with Egypt to reach the World Cup, after both teams finished tied in their African qualifying group. Since then, they have shown little to suggest that they will be a contender in Group C, and I don't expect them to trouble group favourite England. They could, however, have an impact on the final standings in Group C, as the U.S. and Slovenia will be fighting for second place.

England is the clear favourite, although there are question marks in key areas for Fabio Capello's men. Injury has ruled out skipper Rio Ferdinand, but I expect Ledley King to be able to cover the hole left in the centre of defence by Ferdinand's misfortune. Of greater concern for Capello is who to play in goal, as England does not possess a world-class goalkeeper. Still, I expect the English to march to top spot in Group C.

After finishing second in a tough qualifying group that included Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, Slovenia eliminated the favoured Russians in a playoff to reach the World Cup. It would be foolish to write off their chances in this group, given their progress thus far. They are very strong defensively, with Samir Handanovic in goal, and they have Milivoje Novakovic up front, who is their main offensive threat.

The United States go into South Africa having been there before. They finished second to Brazil at last year's Confederations Cup, taking a 2-0 halftime lead before being pegged back by a score of 3-2. Along the way, they beat world No. 1 Spain, which served notice that the Americans mean business. They are well-coached, well-organized and have some very talented players at their disposal: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard to name a few.

Prediction: 1. England 2. USA 3. Slovenia 4. Algeria

John F. Molinaro: England is the class of this group despite lacking a world-class goalkeeper and having issues in defence — Ledley King is hobbled by injury and John Terry is coming off a poor season.

The presence of Wayne Rooney should be more than enough to lift the Three Lions to first place in the group.

The U.S. is riding high under coach Bob Bradley, having reached the finals of last year's Confederations Cup and Gold Cup, and finishing first in the CONCACAF qualifiers. Landon Donovan is poised to have a breakout tournament and with Tim Howard in goal, the Americans look a safe bet to finish second in this group.

Slovenia will battle the U.S. for that second spot and give them a good fight. Samir Handanovic is one of the world's most underrated goalkeepers and the team proved in the qualifiers that it is a serious contender. The U.S. better beware.

Algeria did well to upset Egypt in order to qualify for the World Cup, but they've used up all of their magic. They're going home after the first round.

Prediction: 1. England 2. USA 3. Slovenia 4. Algeria

Group D

Reed: Is this the new Group of Death? Germany stands out as clear favourite, but injuries to key players could make the perennial contenders vulnerable in the early stages.

The loss of captain and midfield general Michael Ballack is a major setback for the Germans while none of their goalkeepers have much international experience. But what they may lack in personnel, Germany makes up for in organization, efficiency and a strong winning mentality.

The Serbians fall into that hard-to-beat category. They demonstrated the trait in qualifying — winning their group and condemning France to a controversial playoff. A strong spine consisting of Vidic, Stankovic and Jovanovic should serve the Serbs well.  

Fans of Ghana will be hoping a Serb can upset his homeland. Black Stars' coach Milovan Rajevac has had to deal with the key loss of playmaker Michael Essien, which could be the difference between success and failure. Fellow midfielders Muntari and Appiah are simply not in the same class. 

Australia emerged from their group four years ago but I cannot see the Aussies repeating the feat. Relying on an aging Harry Kewell to prove his fitness is a worrying sign, and though Tim Cahill is the star of the show, the supporting cast doesn't inspire confidence. 

Prediction: 1. Germany 2. Serbia 3. Ghana 4. Australia

De Vos: The Aussies have been dealt a poor hand, as they would have a much better chance of progressing to the knockout stage if they were drawn into another group. As it is, I think they will have a very tough time advancing from Group D. Tim Cahill needs to be a dominant force in midfield for them, and if he can pop up with the odd goal or two, like he does so effectively for his English club side, Everton, that will certainly improve their chances.

Germany was dealt a massive blow with the loss of skipper Michael Ballack through injury. The responsibility for filling his role will likely fall to Bastian Schweinsteiger, and the Bayern Munich man will be relishing the task. Head coach Joachim Low has chosen a number of young players in his squad, and I am looking forward to seeing the contributions of Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber in particular.

Ghana lost arguably the best midfielder in the world when skipper Michael Essien failed to overcome a knee injury in time for the World Cup. Again, it is a massive blow to suffer, and it will have a negative effect on Ghana's overall capabilities. However, one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity, and Ghana's U-20 World Cup winning captain Andre Ayew could grab that chance with both hands. I still expect the African country to be in contention to move on to the knockout stage, despite the loss of Essien.

Serbia is another team in this group that will be in a confident mood, after finishing top of their group ahead of France in qualifying. Nemanja Vidic and Neven Subotic will anchor their defence, while the experienced Dejan Stankovic will pull the strings for them offensively. The Serbs are a talented bunch, and they should be considered one of the dark horses in this tournament.

Prediction: 1. Germany 2. Serbia 3. Ghana 4. Australia

Molinaro: Serbia is one of my dark horse picks for this tournament.

The Serbs are well-organized and have a solid defensive spine, but they also have a bit of midfield creativity. Dejan Stankovic is a talented playmaker and he'll rip apart opposing defences with his pinpoint passes and strong shot from distance.

Conventional wisdom suggests you never write off the Germans because they always find a way to win. But Joachim Low's team has several issues to deal with, including the loss of influential captain Michael Ballack and several other key players through injury.

And speaking of injury problems, does Ghana stand any chance without the injured Michael Essien? I don't think so. The Chelsea star is one of the best midfielders in the world and the Black Stars simply don't have another player that can match his quality.

Australia breezed through the Asian qualifiers, but they will find the going much tougher in this group. Coach Pim Verbeek has already said his team won't win the World Cup. That's stating the obvious, but if he were being completely truthful, he would have admitted the Socceroos would not emerge from this group.

Prediction: 1. Serbia 2. Germany 3. Ghana 4. Australia