Group A: South Africa, France, Mexico, Uruguay
Flip a coin. Seriously, any one of these teams could advance or crash and burn. South Africa isn't good, but they're about where we were in 1994 when we hosted the Cup - and we advanced. They have a true world-class star in Everton's Steven Pienaar and, oh yeah, home field advantage. They won't be driven nuts by those beehive-sounding vuvuzelas at least. Thierry Henry, er, handed France their qualification, but they still have a pretty talented team (and a crazy coach who uses astrology to choose his team. You think I'm kidding). Uruguay's an odd team - Nate Silver ranks them ninth while FIFA puts them at 16th. Diego Forlan can score, and they have a solid defense. Mexico's fun to watch, and fun to hate, and also kinda young (Cuauhtemoc Blanco notwithstanding). They had some hiccups in qualifying but went on a tear towards the end. I'll pick Uruguay and South Africa for the hell of it, but I really have no idea.
Group B: Argentina, Greece, Nigeria, South Korea
I don't think the madness of Maradona is enough to keep a completely loaded Argentina team from reaching the knockout stages, especially against this motley group of contenders, so they're in. As far as the others are concerned? You can never count out Greece, but I don't think you're getting out of this group unless you score some goals and Greece just doesn't like doing that. South Korea is Greece's polar opposite - 10 men in front of the ball? - but you have to play defense too and they're just too vulnerable on the counter. So that leaves gloriously inconsistent Nigeria as my second choice.
Group C: England, USA, Slovenia, Algeria
You're not going to find a group more clear-cut than this one. England and USA both have legitimate teams, while Slovenia and Algeria are both deeply flawed. That having been said, both the US and England have histories of crapping the bed when it matters most, so if one of them goes wonky Slovenia could make some waves. But I'll be safe and pick the obvious advancers here: USA and England.
Group D: Germany, Australia, Ghana, Serbia
Ah, another flip-a-coin group. Serbia's got a hell of a back line, but I have no idea who's going to be scoring the goals. Ghana just lost Michael Essien, which is a huge loss for them and puts a giant hole in their midfield. The Socceroos don't have a lot of scoring threats either outside of Tim Cahill, so they'll need to defend well - and the Americans just tore huge holes in their defense in a friendly. So that leaves a questionable but talented Germany team as the likely leader, but who goes after? I'll go with the surprise here: Australia gets just enough from Cahill to advance from an offensively challenged group.
Group E: Cameroon, Denmark, Netherlands, Japan
Even without Arjen Robben, the Dutch have enough firepower to run roughshod over this group. Remember, they don't usually crap out until the knockout stages. By then the mutual loathing between Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie will boil over, and if there's any karma in the world leg-breaking fucker Nigel de Jong will be laid up in a Johannesburg hospital. While I shouldn't count out Nicklas Bendtner and the Danes, I think the tear Samuel Eto'o has been on the last few years will give Cameroon just enough to advance. (Don't discount Alexander Song's contribution either.) I doubt Japan will do much here.
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
I would have picked the creaking, offense-challenged Italian grass-diving squad to lose in a first-round upset if I could find a team in their group that could beat them. Sadly, they're up against offense-challenged Paraguay, the weakest team in the tournament in New Zealand (who I half expect to say "fuck it" halfway through Match 2 and pick up the ball and start playing rugby), and the half of the former Czechoslovakia that no one knows anything about. Paraguay performed well enough in South American qualifying to make me a believer, but look for a surprise showing from Slovakia who qualified well in Europe.
Group G: Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal, North Korea
Poor North Korea. Ok, no, not really. But you really do have to wonder how their national media are gonna spin getting stuck with teams ranked first (Brazil), seventh (Portugal), and 14th (Cote d'Ivoire), and likely getting their asses kicked in all three matches. Brazil doesn't play the joga bonito anymore, opting for a rough counterattacking style, but they're still really good and have enough going forward between Kaka and Luis Fabiano to beat anyone. Portugal and Ivory Coast are both dealing with injuries - Portugal to midfielder Nani, Ivory Coast to striker and national savior Didier Drogba. Drogba's going to try to be a badass and come back from his injury in time to play, so I'll pick Ivory Coast in a surprise over Portugal. If Drogba doesn't come back - or comes back and is ineffective - forget I wrote this.
Group H: Spain, Chile, Honduras, Switzerland
This group is pretty clear cut.
So that's all I got. I'll be back after group play to predict a winner.
Just for fun, an oldie but goodie: