The full list, plus my thoughts on possible winners/surprises is under the cut as I know there are a number of you fine folk that don't appreciate the fine sport like some of the rest of us do :p
Serbia & Montenegro
CONCACAF (North & Central America & The Caribbean)
Trinidad & Tobago
It's a really good mix of teams that have qualified this year. I very pleased Australia made it as I personally think one team from the Oceania group should automatically qualify for the tournament every year (currently the winner of the Oceania group has to play a knock-out game against the fifth placed team from South America)..
The African teams are a surprise as we don't have Nigeria, Cameroon or South Africa which you'd kind of expect to see included. Sadly though I don't think any of the African qualifiers will make it past the group stage in Germany. Out of those attending I'd be tempted to say Ivory Coast 'might' do, but I doubt it.
Australia may have a good chance of getting through to the second round depending on who they draw in the group phase. I'd like to see Australia do well as I feel this would strengthen the claim for an automatic Oceanian team. Still second round is all I feel Australia could manage on this outting.
From the Asian teams you could see good performances from Japan and South Korea again. Both teams played extremely well in the 2002 Cup which they jointly hosted and I would not be surprised to see them both qualify for the second round. Beyond that, completely depends on whom they draw but they have the possibility of going into the Quarter Finals. I'd be very surprised in South Korea could pull off another Semi-Final spot though.
From CONCACAF USA and Mexico should be almost guranateed entry into the second round and probably both for the Quarter Finals too. USA made the Quarters in 2002 only to be beaten by Germany (who were extremely lucky). As much as I hate to say it but the USA could feasibly make it into the Semi's but I don't think 2006 will be the year they make this next step. Mexico on the otehr hand are one of the teams to watch closely. They have been playing extremely well and have a lot of talent. I don't know what there odds are but I'd certainly be tempted to put a tenner on them reaching the Final itself in 2006. Otherwise expect to see them falter at the Quarter or Semi-Final stage. In any case Mexico will be one of the big threats of the tournament and I hope England don't face them until at least the Final!
From the South American qualifers Paraguay and Ecuador will fall at the first hurdle and Argentina and Brazil will progress into the Second Round and probably further. I don't think Argentina currently have what they need to get further than a Quarter Final slot and Brazil are always going to be one of the competitions favourites, not least because they are current holders. Will they make it a double? I don't think so, but I do think they'll feature in the Semi's and possibly the Final itself.
Which brings us lastly to the European teams. There are certainly more stronger European teams in the pot than any from any other continent but whether or not they can reclaim the Cup from South America is another matter. I'll leave my Cup contenders round-up for a moment though and concentrate on the teams themselves. Pretty much all of the European teams have very good chances of making it out of the Group Stage into the Second round. To be perfectly honest I think the teams that *may* struggle in the Group phase are Croatia, Spain, Italy, France and possibly hosts Germany depending on the final Group Drawings - but I think we'll see them through to Round 2. The teams that I'd most likely suspect to still see by the Quarter Finals stage would be from Holland, Portugal, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and hopefully England. I really (honestly and neutrally) don't think Germany are a very good team at present. Having seen several of their matches recently, and all through the last World and European Cups they seemed to stumble through. Now whilst this is great if you still managed to get the winner I don't think their luck will last - not even as the host nation. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see Germany fall as an early 'surprise' victim. I hope for their sake they make it to at least the Quarter Finals but certainly wouldn't put money on it. Spain, Italy and France may also be a few surprise early exits as none of them have really impressed me of late. Out of the three Italy and France could make the Quarters, possibly even the Semis but I'd say they would be a wild card ticket for me. Holland and the Czech Republic have real potential to be in the last four. Both are very good teams (even if Czech Republic had to get to Germany via the Play-offs) and both deserve to win a major competition. Portugal will fall in Round 2 or the Quarter Finals as will Switzerland, although saying that Switzerland are another 'wild-card' team to watch. They had a very, very good Under 21's team a few years ago several of which are now in the core team so they could surprise us. Which brings me to England. They can be an excellent team at times and a complete disaster at other points. I really wouldn't want to make any prediction concerning them, but I'll try. I think we'll certainly see England in the Quarter Finals, further than that it'll depend on who we draw. Do I think the team has the potential to win the World Cup? Yes. Do I think they will? No.
So, who might win the 2006 World Cup? My personal shorlist would be the following:
I certainly think one of the above will be going home clutching the Trophy. Who'll be in the Final against them, and in the Semi-Finals? We'll see, but I certainly think it'll be an interesting tournament.