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Football: There's more to this World Cup than Rooney's foot, thank God.

Byline: IAIN CAMPBELL

LET'S hope that Sven Goran Eriksson's plea to "forget about" Wayne Rooney - until he has his next scan a week tomorrow - does not fall on deafears.

While there has been a lot of fun to be had with the whole "will he, won't he?" debate over the England striker, spending so much time on him is like overdosing on pakora when the full bhoona is waiting.

Our neighbours south of the border won't see it - and to be fair, we would be far more blinkered if Scotland had actually made it to Germany - but the World Cup is like a massive buffet waiting to be devoured.

While Brazil undoubtedly remain the most appealing dish on the menu, there are delicacies from all over the globe on offer.

There may well be as many as 10 genuine contenders for the trophy this time round.

Apart from Brazil, who could rule out France, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Holland, Spain, the Czech Republic, the USA and - dare we say it - England?

And, as Walter Smith pointed out the other day, that may be a little unfair on the Ukraine, who have the deadly Andriy Shevchenko up front. Portugal would also be annoyed at being dropped off the list.

Other countries, such as African new boys Ivory Coast, Sweden, Mexico and Poland are also capable of making an impact, although few but their staunchest supporters would believe they can actually win the thing.

Then again, after Greece's Euro 2004 success, who would discount any side that emerges from the group stage?

As it happens, I fall into the camp which believes - hopes even - that Brazil's spectacular football succeeds.

The odds of 9/4, though, are more than a little stingy for all sorts of reasons.

One, is the often quoted argument that teams rarely win away from their own continent - although the South Americans have pulled off that feat twice, in Sweden in 1958 and Korea/Japan last time out.

There are, though, other reasons for questioning the assumption that it will be a coronation for Ronaldinho and co.

Firstly, most of their players - Ronny himself, Kaka, Adriano, Ronaldo, Cafu, Roberto Carlos - have endured long, hard seasons with their clubs.

Secondly, just as in 1982, if there is a weakness in the side, it is in defence. Keeper Dida had an indifferent season with AC Milan, while Cafu and Roberto Carlos are both now well into their 30s. Brazil look solid enough in the centre of defence with Bundesliga pair Lucio and Juan, but' any side with the courage to go at Brazil on the flanks might find some joy.

Of course, before they can do that, the opposition will have to get the ball off Brazil's fabulous front four - the Quadrado Magico - and that is the problem any pretender faces. For all their superb individual skill, Carlos Alberto Parreira's side play as a solid unit and breaking them down is not easy. But who are the sides who might challenge the Samba stars?

The ageing French side which dominated around the turn of the century is now under-achieving.

Italy look solid, if predictable, at the back and midfield but have discovered real threats in Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino up front.

Pavel Nedved's Czech Republic could finally achieve everything they've promised since 1998, while Germany's will-power and overwhelming home support, may well carry them a long way.

LET'S hope though, that dodgy refereeing decisions don't have the sort of major impact they had in 2002.

Italy and Spain were eliminated by shocking decisions given to hosts South Korea and we don't need any sort of repeat.

With the great Raul apparently in decline, Spanish hopes have rarely been lower. But if Xavi is at full fitness and Fernando Torres fulfils his potential, then the great under-achievers should have a great chance of coming out of a weak group. Argentina are another side which needs to improve on recent disappointing performances and Holland will have to find their best side if they are to even escape from the "Group of Death", which includes the Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Riquelme and company.

While only a couple of Mexico's players - Rafael Marquez and Jared Borgetti - play in Europe, they are solid and well organised, not to mention good to watch.

They showed no signs of travel sickness in Germany in the Confederation Cup last summer where they defeated the Brazilians.

Never mind the Mexican waves which will swamp Germany's magnificent stadiums. What about the Mex New Wave?

CAPTION(S):

WORLD AT HIS FEET: Samba star Ronaldinho will be hoping for a repeat of the triumph in Japan. Rooney, inset, is just hoping to be fit
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 31, 2006
Words:786
Previous Article:Cricket: England's jabs for the boys.
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