What the experts say: Groups G & H

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

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 G and H.

Group G

Nigel Reed: Can one man's absence change the nature of the Group of Death? The question mark over Didier Drogba's participation apparently leaves the field open for Brazil and Portugal.

Is there any way Brazil cannot win this section? Coach Dunga overlooked Ronaldinho and Pato who would walk into most World Cup squads. The Brazilians are stuffed with individual talent and psychologically beat most opponents before a ball is ever kicked.

Many believe the runner-up spot will effectively be decided by the outcome of Portugal's game against the Ivory Coast. Portugal reached the last four in 2006 and Cristiano Ronaldo has the ability to win games single handed if he's in the mood.

Drogba's absence is a huge blow for Les Elephants, but he's not a one man team. His Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou knows where the goal is and his link play with Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora will be of crucial importance.

The secretive North Koreans must be secretly quaking in their boots. Their return to the world stage for the first time in 44 years will be memorable — for all the wrong reasons. Brazil will tear them apart and expect both the Portuguese and the Ivorians to follow suit. 

Prediction: 1. Brazil 2. Portugal 3. Ivory Coast 4. North Korea

Jason de Vos: The so-called Group of Death might be a little less treacherous if Didier Drogba is ruled out for the Ivory Coast through injury.

Brazil should win this group, although it will be tested much earlier in the tournament than it would have liked. Kaka is fit again after a stop-start season for Real Madrid in which he failed to live up to his enormous price tag. With the midfield maestro fit and firing on all cylinders, Brazil will be a force to be reckoned with and will likely be one of the last, if not the last team standing.

Ivory Coast's chances hinge entirely on the fitness of Drogba. A broken arm suffered in the team's pre-tournament friendly with Japan has been surgically repaired, but it remains to be seen whether he will be fit in time for his team's important opening game against Portugal on June 15. The result of that match could decide which team progresses past the group stage along with Brazil.

North Korea won't be moving on after its three group games, but it could play the role of spoiler. The North Koreans are solid defensively, and don't expect them just to make up the numbers. Sometimes being the underdog is a great position to be in, and it would be naïve to suggest that the they will go home with nothing. If they can steal a point off one of the teams in this group, they will consider theirs a job well done.

Portugal is a frustrating team to watch, because rarely do team members fulfil their potential. That applies to no one more than Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player. A genius that is capable of producing the sublime, Ronaldo rarely delivers for his country. Whether that is the fault of Carlos Queiroz, Portugal's coach, or Ronaldo himself is open for debate. Regardless, now is the time for Ronaldo to live up to his lofty reputation.

Prediction: 1. Brazil 2. Portugal 3. Ivory Coast 4. North Korea

John F. Molinaro: The Brazilians enter the tournament as the No. 1 ranked team in the world. Fresh off their Confederations Cup victory and finishing first place in the gruelling South American qualifiers, the Selecao are in prime form and look a good bet to win a sixth World Cup. So anything less than winning this group would be a major shock.

Portugal's lack of an outright striker is a major problem, as is the fact that two key defenders, Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho, have both missed significant time this season due to injury problems. With Brazil assured of first place in Group G, Portugal will be battling it out for second with the Ivory Coast — no soft touch.

The Ivorians' fate lies squarely at the feet of Didier Drogba. If the Chelsea striker is fit and healthy, the Ivory Coast could edge out Portugal for second place. But if he's not, his team is going home early.

The North Koreans will be the whipping boys in Group G. Sure, they recorded 10 shutouts in 14 games in the qualifiers thanks to a miserly defence. But their defenders didn't have to stop players the calibre of Luis Fabiano, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo, which they will have to do in South Africa. If they score a goal, it will be a minor miracle. A fourth-place finish after three losses is in the cards.

Prediction: 1. Brazil 2. Portugal 3. Ivory Coast 4. North Korea

Group H

Reed: Spain is many fans' favourites to win the World Cup and it is therefore almost inconceivable to suggest any other team has a realistic chance of winning this Group. 

In terms of talent and depth, the Spaniards are far ahead of their rivals. Coach Vicente del Bosque could probably use his reserves and still finish top of the group. From front to back the cast list is highly impressive and the European champions have something to prove on the biggest stage of all.

There could be a real scrap for second place. The Chileans were hugely impressive in qualifying behind Brazil and this is one group of players for whom playing at altitude will not be a concern. Despite fitness doubts over top scorer Humberto Suazo, playing Spain last could be a distinct advantage.  

As one of Europe's less fashionable soccer nations, Switzerland is by no means a soft touch. Only a penalty shootout prevented the Swiss reaching the quarter-finals four years ago and coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is one of the most experienced and successful coaches in the game.

Honduras has never had it so good. A golden generation of players has been brought together to mark the long-awaited return to the World Cup. A trio of Hondurans play in the EPL and three more ply their trade in Italy. At this level, though, a single victory might be beyond them.

Prediction: 1. Spain 2. Chile 3. Switzerland 4. Honduras

De Vos: Chile could well be one of the dark horses of the 2010 World Cup. Second-place finishers in South America, just one point behind powerhouse Brazil, Chile boasts an array of talented players. Matias Fernandez and Humberto Suazo highlight their team's attack, although Suazo worryingly picked up a hamstring strain in the lead-up to the tournament and is not yet back to full fitness. 

Honduras last took part in the World Cup in 1982, and its inclusion in this year's tournament is the crowning glory for some veteran players, such as Amado Guevara and Carlos Pavon. The team has a few players competing at a high level in Europe, like Wilson Palacios, Maynor Figueroa and David Suazo, but an injury to Carlos Costly could prove to be just what his surname suggests.

Spain will win Group H, even if Fernando Torres fails to regain his sensational pre-injury form. Spain has probably the widest array of talent of any team in the World Cup, and David Villa, Torres, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are all capable of causing turmoil for opponents. Throw in the defensive strength of Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique and Iker Casillas in goal, and Spain has to be considered a favourite to win the tournament.

After a slow start in qualifying, Switzerland came to life and managed to top its group. While it was not the most difficult of qualifying groups, the Swiss still managed to get the job done, and players will be confident of carrying on that winning trend in South Africa. Alexandre Frei is the star man for them, and if he can keep firing in the goals, experienced head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld will be a happy man.

Prediction: 1. Spain 2. Chile 3. Switzerland 4. Honduras

Molinaro: Along with Brazil, Spain is the top favourite to win the World Cup. La Roja is arguably the best team in the world, and has been virtually unbeatable since winning the 2008 European Championship. This is a squad loaded with world-class players at every position. This is also the greatest generation of players Spain has ever produced, with all of them peaking at the same time of their respective careers.

With first place virtually assured to Spain, Chile is a good bet to finish second in Group H. The Chilean national team has been revitalized under coach Marcelo Bielsa and with a healthy roster of top stars, the South Americans are a lot of people's dark-horse pick at this year's World Cup.

Switzerland over-achieved four years ago by topping a group that included eventual finalists France to advance to the second round. Don't expect a repeat performance this time. The Swiss were far from impressive in the qualifiers, labouring through what was an easy group before eventually booking their trip to South Africa. Veteran striker Alexander Frei is past his due date and it's hard to imagine that Blaise Nkufo will be able to pick up the scoring slack.

If Honduras were in another group, the team would stand a much better chance of making it through to the second round. But Los Catrachos will be hard pressed to advance from Group H, especially with its first two games of the tournament against Chile (coming off a very successful qualifying campaign) and Spain (the reigning European champion).

Prediction: 1. Spain 2. Chile 3. Switzerland 4. Honduras