As the World Cup finals draw nearer, we caught up with TV commentator Guy Mowbray for a couple of pints and a chat about the teams he thinks will do well this time around:
Guy, who do you expect to be the strongest teams in this tournament?
Guy: "I think personally that this is the strongest group of European qualifiers that we've ever had. When you look at the teams that have failed to come through, you see that the likes of Bulgaria, Norway, Scotland, Ireland and Belgium aren't there and they're teams that generally qualify. Denmark are another one, but although they might be semi-finalists in some sort of freak year, you know they're not going to do much."
"We can pretty much discount Portugal"
"So some of the weaker European sides that usually qualify aren't there. By contrast this year some of the teams that have qualified look very strong. Take Ukraine, for example. They're an unknown quantity and they could be good. They only lost one game in qualifying. Portugal, though, I think we can pretty much discount. Away from Portgual I don't think they'll be any great shakes. The Italians, however, haven't been talked about at all and that suggests that something good is happening with them."
Why do you think that?
Guy: " They've not been talked about at all, but I think the Italians are quite strong at the moment. We just don't see much Italian football any more. It's all stuck on digital satellite channels and we don't see it on Channel 4 like we used to. It used to be all the rage, and for some reason it's not right now. But Italy have got a good bunch of solid players at the moment. I think they'll do alright."
But they play in almost empty stadiums!
Guy: "That's the Italian domestic scene, I think the national scene is something different, I think it's very similar to the German situation four years ago. The Germans weren't talked about, totally understimated and look what happened - they get to the final... in Japan! That was something most people would not have expected at all. And I've just got a feeling for Italy. Normally I have a feeling for Spain, mind you and that never comes to anything, so the feeling for Italy will probably end up the same way, but I just have a little feeling this year."
"This is a very strong group of European teams"
"The Serbs are another team - they WILL be strong, they have some talented individuals and they beat Spain in qualifying, coming through unbeaten in their group. Then there's the Czechs... the Croatians, same reason, unbeaten in qualifying, and they've come through a very tough group actually, and to win that unbeaten is pretty good. So, I just get the feeling this is one of the strongest European group of teams you could have."
How do you rate Holland?
Guy: "Holland will be or there abouts. They are the second-ranked team in the world at the moment. If they get rid of the usual in-fighting ... the likes of Van Hooydonk have gone now, and Davids too, although he still wants to go, whether he will or not, I don't know. They'll be somewhere close, especially in Germany - just think back to 1974, we could have another sort of repeat."
And, what about England?
Guy: "I've left England out deliberately, we'll come back to them.
So how about the non-European teams, then?
Guy: "The only non-European team I can see winning it is Brazil, and I think they will win it. They're just - never mind defence, forget about defence - they're just terrific! They're absolutely tremendous. They have the best players, they're the best to watch - barring some disaster a la Ronaldo in '98, they're going to be somewhere close - I can't see anybody else as more likely winners."
"I think Brazil will win it"
"Brazil are definitely the favourites. They will certainly be in the last four - well, not certainly obviously - there are no certainties - but they will be there or there abouts come the last four. And I think they'll win it."
And if Brazil are going to win it, what about the rest of the last four?
Guy: "The rest of the last four I can see being exclusively from Europe, I don't think we'll have anything like Japan when South Korea got there."
Let's get to the nitty-gritty. Which teams do you tip for the last 8?
Guy: "The last 8? Right, I'm going for: Brazil, I'll go for Aregentina, that's 2. I'll go for England, Germany, Holland ... that's 5...the Ivory Coast..."
Why the Ivory Coast?
Guy: "Because they could well be the Cameroon of this tournament. They pipped Cameroon in qualifying... we don't know much about them, it's a total 'stick your neck out thing' that. We don't know much about them, but the fact that they've beaten Cameroon in qualifying, who are the most famous and successful African team of recent years at World Cups, says a lot, and I think with Drogba they've got a real match-winner. I rate him right up there. I saw him recently against Bolton and he destroyed them, he was absolutely magnificent."
"Ivory Coast could be the surprise package"
"So, I just think that Ivory Coast could be the surprise package. And they've got other good players, too - like Toure... people laugh at him sometimes in the Premiership but over the last two years he's come on leaps and bounds, so they're a team to keep an eye on."
So we're up to 6, you need two more!
Guy: "6? So it's two more from Europe. The USA are possibles, but I would say outside of America, no.... out of their own sort of comfort zone, no. I know they're top 7 in the world, but we know that those rankings count for very little. Umm, the other 2? I'll have to say France and Italy for the other 2.
Now let's look at the last 4. Who's going to get to the semi-finals?
Guy: "The last 4? For the last 4 I'm going to pick England, and I think we will do it, possibly not because of the manager, possibly in spite of the manager, this is the best squad - Jürgen Klinsmann said so recently - this is the best squad we've had since 1966. Klinsmann himself said that, and he's absolutely right."
"Holland are my fifth team for the final four!"
"England, Brazil, Holland ... the choice of Holland is always with the proviso that they don't fight and fall out... you just don't know who's going to turn up with them, so it's always with a proviso.... so I'm going to pick 5!"
You can't have five in the last 4!
Guy: "I can, I'm going to pick 5. I'm going to go: England and Brazil - they're the two definites - and then Holland as a sort of 5th wildcard ... so it's two from 3: Holland ... and I'm going to have to be really, really boring and say Italy and Germany.
And the final? England?
Guy: "You know what, I think they will!"
Guy: "No, no chance. They'll do well 'cos they're on home soil but I think it could be a Brazil vs England final, and what a final that'll be ... yes, I think it could be a Brazil - England final ... and once we get to that stage nothing would surprise me, nothing ..."
Copyright: Guy Mowbray & The World Cup in Germany.com