It’s the biggest sporting event on the planet and has led to wars, ceasefires, divorce and ecstasy. Here’s a glimpse of who’ll be there and where you can watch. The top two teams from each group advance. (Odds courtesy of William Hill, May 31)
Midfield maestro Michael Ballack has already warned the home crowd not to expect too much from this young team — fat chance. Finest Hour Hoisting World Cup as host in 1974. Darkest Hour Losing to Croatia 3-0 in ‘98. Ouch. Patron Saint “Der Kaiser,” Franz Beckenbauer, famously played with his arm in a sling. Prediction Quarter finals. Where to Watch Beer and wurst emporium Zum Schneider, 107 Ave C, 212-598-1098
Costa Rica (500/1)
Fun to watch on the attack — and a horror show on defense. Finest Hour Reaching the last 16 at Italia ‘90. Darkest Hour Losing a qualifier to minnows Barbados. Patron Saint The one and only Paolo Wanchope, who has 43 goals in 67 internationals. Prediction Wanchope will somehow help them out of a soft group. Where to Watch Dumbo’s Water Street Restaurant welcomes Costa Ricans and everyone. 66 Water St. 718-625-9352
Ordinary squad but includes Tomasz Frankowski and Maciej Zurawski who will give both defenses and commentators fits. Finest Hour Finishing third in 1974. Darkest Hour 2002 when they were bested by Portugal and South Korea. Patron Saint Bald legend Grzegorz Lato who starred in three World Cups. Prediction Will watch round two from Warsaw. Where to Watch Fans of the red and white will be at Polonia Sports Bar... plastered by 9am. 631 Manhattan Ave, 718-349-9169
Usually hopeless away from their high-altitude home, Agustín Delgado will provide fearsome headers. Finest Hour Beating Croatia in ‘98. Darkest Hour losing 12-0 to Argentina in ‘42. Patron Saint Delgado, the man they call “Tin.” Prediction Low altitude, low expectations. Where to Watch Head over to Chibcha, 7905 Roosevelt Avenue, 718-429-9033
The injury to wunderkind Wayne Rooney deflated a nation. But the underperforming English still have loads of talent — and some glaring weaknesses. Finest Hour Winning at home in ‘66. Darkest Hour Going out on penalties… twice. Patron Saint 1966 hero Geoff Hurst heads the list for his finals hat trick. Prediction Out in quarters… in regulation. Where to Watch Follow the red phone boxes and anxious pasty expressions to The Telephone Bar & Grill, 149 Second Ave, 212-529-5000
Notoriously stingy defensively, they’re tough to break down. Matinee-idol Roque Santa Cruz leads the attack. Finest Hour Narrowly losing 1-0 to eventual champs France in ‘98. Darkest Hour Losing 7-3 to France in ‘58. Patron Saint Mr. Entertainment, Jose-Luis Chilavert, the goal-seeking goalkeeper. Prediction Racked by injuries at press time, if healthy, Paraguay squeaks past the Swedes. Where to Watch Technically Colombian but in the right neighborhood, El Abuelo Goson, 7903 Roosevelt Ave, 718-424-2724
Trinidad and Tobago (1000/1)
First-timers who’ll labor to avoid embarrassment. Finest Hour Qualifying. Darkest Hour Losing 7-0 to Mexico in 2000. Patron Saint “Natural Killer” Dwight Yorke is a legend. Prediction Dutch taskmaster Leo Beenhaaker will keep things respectable.
Where to Watch Singh’s Roti Shop is the place to be. 118-06 Liberty Ave, Richmond Hill, 718-323-5990
Led by Frederik Ljunberg, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson, the Swedes are group co-favorites. Finest Hour Making the finals in ’58. Darkest Hour Losing all three games in 1990 (Scotland? Costa Rica? Yikes.) Patron Saint Kurt Hamrin was apparently big in ‘58. Prediction Look great on paper, but I foresee a surprise early exit.
Where to Watch There are four kinds of herring at Good World Bar, 3 Orchard Street, 212 925-9975
Loaded with talent, starting with playmaker Juan Román Riquelme, Argentina’s only danger is implosion. Finest Hour Capturing the 1978 Cup in Buenos Aires. Darkest Hour Losing 6-1 to the Czechs in ‘58. Patron Saint Now a bloated embarrassment, Diego Maradona scored the goal of the century vs. England. Prediction With the pressure on champs Brazil and hosts Germany, look for them in the final four.
Where to Watch Argentine Pavilion has a $25 prix fixe lunch. 32 W 46th St, 212-921-0835
Ivory Coast (50/1)
For first-timers, they boast talent all over the pitch. Didier Drogba provides the goals in bunches. Finest Hour Qualifying. Darkest Hour Malawi once had their way with them 5-1… embarrassing. Patron Saint With little history it’s Drogba of Chelsea. Prediction Africa’s strongest candidate to advance but stuck in an unforgiving group.
Where to Watch Tchaloco Restaurant — to the chagrin of bitter Senegal supporters down the street, 172 E. 118th St, 212-423-2136
Serbia and Montenegro (100/1)
A “Group of Death” means this largely anonymous squad has a mountain to climb, despite Nikola Zigic —“ the world’s tallest player.” Finest Hour Had a record seven straight clean sheets in qualifying. Darkest Hour Voting to break up nascent republic in May 21 referendum. Patron Saint Current striker Meteja Kezman is the hero of the nation’s brief history. Prediction Fourth best in hellish group.
Where to Watch Apparently Serbs don’t gather in large groups. Central, 109 East 9th St, 212-529-533
Books have been written about the complex, often self-defeating Dutch footballing psyche. Many first-timers complement sniper Ruud van Nistelrooy. Finest Hour Introducing the world to “Total Football” and bright Orange jerseys. Darkest Hour A bickering 1990 squad failed to win a game. Patron Saint Coach Rinus Michaels whose free-flowing approach changed the game in the 70s. Prediction The maddeningly underperforming and ill-fortuned Dutch should make the last eight at least.
Where to Watch Dutch soccer central will be Tonic Bar, 727 Seventh Ave, 212-382-059
The FIFA rankings say they’re number four in the world, but don’t believe it. They have a knack for folding on the big stage, a habit Jared Borgetti hopes to break. Finest Hour Reaching quarterfinals in ‘86. Darkest Hour Losing 2-0 to bitter rivals USA in ’02. Patron Saint Legend Hugo Sanchez somersaulted through three World Cups Prediction A seemingly soft group but look out for Iran.
Where to Watch Mercadito has a $5 “Breakfast Botanos” menu. 179 Ave B, 212-529-6490
With four starters playing in Germany’s Bundesliga, they’re being called a home team. Ali Karimi was Asian Footballer of the Year. Finest Hour Beating the Great Satan, USA, 2-1 in ’98. Darkest Hour Being disqualified for refusal to play at neutral sites of infidels. Patron Saint Entire squad that beat US team. Prediction Potential spoiler — could supplant one of the two vulnerable frontrunners.
Where to Watch Persian Tea Room, worth the trek for the lunch special. 24938 Horace Harding Expy, Little Neck, 718-631-7676
One of four African debut countries, they are led by Fabric Okwa who’ll help the defense-minded club try to do the impossible — win a game. Finest Hour Qualifying at the expense of Nigeria. Darkest Hour Losing 6-0 to former colonial masters Portugal in 1989. Patron Saint Angolan Sportsman of the year Okwa. Prediction In the just-happy-to-be-there category, one or two points at best.
Where to Watch Portugal vs. Angola should be fun. Luzia’s, 429 Amsterdam Ave and 80th St, 212-595-2000
Expectations are high for this star-studded side which includes Cristiano Ronaldo, the step-over master. Finest Hour Making the semis in ‘66 Darkest Hour Losing to both Korea and USA last time. Patron Saint The one and only Eusebio who was as exciting as they come. Prediction “Big Phil” Scolari should get them to the last eight.
Where to Watch (see Angola)
A national betting scandal and Roman Francesco Totti’s injury are worries but Luca Toni should fill the net. Finest Hour Beating Brazil 3-2 en route to ‘82 Cup. Darkest Hour Losing to (gulp) South Korea last time. Patron Saint Paolo Rossi, who scored a hat trick in that Brazil match. Prediction Can win it all or falter in first round — their depth of attack should see them to final eight.
Where to Watch Head to Fortunato Brothers Bakery for cannolis, coffee and mad gesticulating. 289 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, 718-387-2281
Kind of a wild card. After midfield superstar Michael Essien, the squad gets thin in a hurry. Finest Hour Qualification, at last. Darkest Hour 1-0 loss to Burkina Faso in qualifying. Patron Saint $43 Million Man Essien. Prediction Anything better than bottom would be a surprise.
Where to Watch Fans of the Black Stars will be at In God We Trust African Restaurant, 441 E. 153rd St, 718-401-3595
Efficient, sound if unexciting, the US team will be led by Claudio Reyna, but got screwed with this tough group. Finest Hour The famous 1-0 defeat of England. Darkest Hour (see Iran: Finest Hour) Patron Saint Entire 1950 team that beat England. Prediction This squad looks as good as the one who surprised the world in ‘02 — will they have as much luck? I doubt it.
Where To Watch Chant U-S-A, U-S-A at ESPN Zone 1472 Broadway, 212-921-3776
Czech Republic (34/1)
As talented as any side in the world with Milan Baros and Pavel Nedved but will expectations prove too weighty? Finest Hour 1962 finals. Darkest Hour Going out against Northern Ireland (snicker) in ‘58. Patron Saint Midfielder Josef Masopust was the ’62 hero. Prediction Final four, unless they encounter Brazil first.
Where to Watch Drunk Slavs are good company at Bohemian Beer Garden 29-19 24th Ave, Astoria, 718-274-4925
The gold-shirted gold standard, the Brazilians are as formidable as ever. Ronaldhino, probably the world’s best, will shimmy his way around defenses. Finest Hour The 1970 club — one of four champions — is legendary. Darkest Hour Stumbling in the first round in ‘66. Patron Saint Football God Pelé, who debuted at 17 and is the most famous player ever. Prediction Everyone’s favorites to win — but only one non-European team has ever won on the continent… Brazil.
Where To Watch Brazilians will party win, lose or draw at Baraza, 133 Ave C, 212-539-0811
Making the semis in ‘98 created self-belief, but despite Dado Prso up front they’ll be hard pressed to repeat. Finest Hour Summer of ‘98. Darkest Hour Losing 1-0 to Ecuador in 2002. Patron Saint Golden Boot winner Davor Suker. Prediction Second in the group is expected… but watch out for them Aussies.
Where to Watch Scorpio Cafe & Bar is where their supporters will noisily gather. 3515 Broadway, between 35th and 36th, Astoria, 718-956-8233
After many near-misses the Socceroos are back in the WC. Harry Kewell and his marauding runs will be key. Finest Hour Beating Uruguay on penalty kicks to qualify. Darkest Hour Losing on PKs four years ago. Patron Saint Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer for his penalty kick heroics. Prediction If any man can take them out of this group it’s Guus Hiddink who guided South Korea four years ago.
Where To Watch East Villagers and Aussie lovers will be at The Sunburnt Cow, 137 Ave C, 212-529-0005
Playing at home they made it to the second round, but star Hidetoshi Nakata may be right in thinking they’re going nowhere. Finest Hour Beating Russia 1-0 in ‘02. Darkest Hour A 15-2 loss vs the Philippines… in 1917. Patron Saint Current coach, Brazilian legend Zico. Prediction Without home advantage don’t expect much from a team that struggled against Oman and North Korea.
Where To Watch West Village hot spot Sushi Samba is the place to be for Brazil/Japan. 87 Seventh Ave, 212-691-7885
There’s dissension in the French ranks and a goalkeeping controversy. Zinedine Zidane faces a huge task making them champs again. Finest Hour Could it get better than winning at home? Non. Darkest Hour Not scoring a goal in defense of their crown last time. Patron Saint Leader of the dazzling 1980s teams, Michel Platini is still revered. Prediction This group is a gift that keeps giving but France will be lucky to go beyond the quarters.
Where to Watch Go where former star Yuri Djorkaeff hangs. Opia, 130 E. 57th St, 212 688-3939
They qualified at the expense of Turkey thanks to Alexander Frei but are too inexperienced to be a serious threat. Finest Hour Beating Italy 3-1 as hosts in ’54. Darkest Hour Blowing 3-0 lead and losing 7-5 (!) to Austria. Patron Saint 54’ star Joseph Huegi scored six goals — three in one game. Prediction Even money for second round.
Where to Watch Fondue and football at Swizz in Hell’s Kitchen. 310 W 53rd St, 212-810-4444
South Korea (200/1)
Expectations are unnaturally high following 2002. Man U’s Park Ji-Sung will do his best to appease Korea’s frighteningly devoted fans. Finest Hour Semi-freaking-finals in ’02! Darkest Hour Losing 9-0 and 7-0 at World Cup debut in 1954. Patron Saint Must be Guus Hiddink, the Dutch coach who led them to glory. Prediction Fear of failure will propel them past the Swiss.
Where to Watch Go to Players for their big screens. 25 W 32nd St, 212 868-2029, or Kunjip for home cooking, 9 W 32nd St, 212-216-9487
An unknown entity, they’re an obscure squad exept for Emmanuel Adebayor from Arsenal. Finest Hour Qualifying, natch. Darkest Hour Firing Stepehen Keshi the week he was named Coach of the Year. Patron Saint Search me. Prediction Those unfortunate “Togo to go home” puns will prove accurate.
Where to Watch Home to all the world’s fans. Nevada Smiths, 74 Third Ave, 212-982-2591
If there was a World Cup of Underachieving, they’d be champs. Raul will be counted on to prove evereyone wrong. Finest Hour Quarters at USA ’94. Darkest Hour Having three (!) goals disallowed in loss to South Korea. Patron Saint Keeper Andoni Zubizaretta played in four WC’s from ‘86 to ‘98. Prediction Under diminished expectations they’ll make the last eight.
Where to Watch Tapas and football? Heaven. Xunta, 174 First Ave, 212-614-0620
They’ve looked spotty of late and 2004 European Player of the Year Andriy Shevchenko’s injury is a worry. Finest Hour Being first team to qualify. Darkest Hour Shevchenko’s injury. Patron Saint Coach Oleg Blokhin was a fearsome presence for the old CCCP. Prediction Ukraine should progress from this group then stall.
Where to Watch Blue & Gold Tavern is where Borscht-swilling fans will be. 79 E 7th St. 212-473-8918
Tunisia grind out results that ain’t pretty. Riadh Bouazizi is their resident hard man. Finest Hour Beating Mexico 3-1 in their first WC game. Darkest Hour Every game since then. Patron Saint Trust me when I say it’s Tarak Dhiab of the ’78 side. Prediction They’ll clog the midfield and bore us to tears.
Where to Watch Fashionistas and North Africans will gather at L’Orange Bleue in Soho. 430 Broome St, 212-226-4999
Saudi Arabia (750/1)
Legend Sami Al Jaber will hope they buck the odds and make the knockout stage. Finest Hour Making the second round in the blazing heat of USA ’94. Darkest Hour Being pummelled 8-0 by the Germans four years ago. Patron Saint Has to be Al Jaber who’s been representing since age 17. Prediction No humiliations, but players with little experience will mean an early exit.
Where to Watch Try The Soho House where LSE educated sons of sheiks are sure to be. Members only. 29-35 Ninth Avenue, 212-627-9800