A sweepstake is just like a Secret Santa – a small device deployed to bring the excitement of a large event into a serious setting.

Secret Santas take Christmas to work and sweepstakes do the same for sporting events. The World Cup has begun. Many of you will have drawn teams. If you haven’t, don’t worry, it isn’t too late. The prizes only matter in the last round of games, so here is a sweepstake kit to get you underway, courtesy of the saviour of public transport – The Metro.

In my work sweepstake I have drawn out Switzerland, Chile and Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast, idiot). A lot of you may look at that as an awful draw, but a bit of background reading will inform you that those teams have been tipped as potential surprise packages. Ivory Coast are tenth favourites to win the tournament and Chile have even been described as ‘the most tactically exciting side’ at the World Cup.

Now, as there are positives to be found for those three sides, I thought I’d take it upon myself to help all of those who may think they’ve thrown their money away to the jammy git who drew Spain, for example. Below is one reason to be cheerful for drawing every team outside of the top ten favourites (according to William Hill) and one person that provides the strongest link to your ‘normal’ life.

Algeria – Beat Egypt in one of the most controversial grudge matches football has ever seen to get to this, their third, World Cup finals. If they can beat the African Cup of Nations Champions to get to the first World Cup ever to be hosted in Africa, surely they have a good chance of getting somewhere?

You may know… Nadir Belhadj. The Portsmouth wing-back that managed to churn out good performances in his club’s annus horribilis, making him a highly sought-after defender/midfielder.

Australia – Their performance at the 2006 World Cup made people sit up and take note of ‘The Socceroos’. None more so than Italy. The Azzurri converted a gift of a penalty in the dying moments of their second round clash to squeeze past Australia and eventually go on to win the tournament.

You may know… Harry Kewell. Yes, he is alive, and still kicking with that once beautiful left-foot. The 31-year-old forward has been sunning it up in Hell, Galatasaray’s home, where he now earns a luxurious living.

Cameroon – Since Roger Milla they have been seen as THE African team to fear. They have pace, power and experience in players like consecutive Champions League winner Samuel Eto’o. Wins against Japan and Denmark should mean that their last group match against the Dutch is a non-event. After that, anything can happen.

You may know… Alex Song. The Arsenal bruiser will have a key part to play as the Makelele of Cameroon’s midfield.

Chile – See link above.

You may know… Mark Gonzalez. One of many Liverpool flops but very quick and an integral part of Chile’s three-man attack.

Denmark – Have a very strong back five that includes Stoke ‘keeper Tomas Sorensen, Daniel Agger, the Liverpool defender with a thunderous left-foot, and solid Palermo centre-back Simon Kjaer. If Niklas Bendtner finally grows into the star centre-forward he is supposedly destined to be, the Danes could raise some eyebrows.

You may know… Niklas Bendtner. The aforementioned Arsenal frontman scored crucial goals to help Denmark through qualification, much to the surprise of everyone in England.

Ghana – ‘Pace and power’ is a cliché often used when talking about African sides – I’ve used it already – but Ghana have both by the bucket-load, even without the unit that is Michael Essien.

You may know… Sulley Ali Muntari. The stout midfielder that briefly graced the turf of Fratton Park before moving to Inter Milan. Helped Jose Mourinho’s side to the biggest prize in European club football last season.

Greece – Euro 2004 winners. Shouldn’t that be enough to make you feel better about their chances? I don’t care if it was six years ago.

You may know… Theofanis Gekas. You’ve heard of him haven’t you? No? Well he was the player that banged in the most goals in European qualifying, more than some ugly Rooney fella I keep hearing about.

Honduras – Supposed Real Madrid target, Wilson Palacios, was a highlight of the 2009/2010 Premier League season with his rock-solid performances for Spurs. Carlos Pavon, the leading scorer in Concacaf qualifying, should boost their chances too, despite being 36.

You may know… Georgie Welcome. Simply because he has the coolest name ever.

Japan – Asia’s greatest prospect at this World Cup. That may be like being the tallest dwarf, but…

You may know… Shunsuke Nakamura. He used to play for Celtic, for whom he often scored sexy free kicks.

Mexico – Looked tidy in their friendly against England, although their defence was weak. Have since beaten holders Italy 2-1 in another friendly game.

You may know… Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Don’t ask me how you pronounce his first name, but Blanco is the cheeky-chappy who did the ‘bunny-hop’ dribble back in 1998. Although 37 now, he still has a touch that most would kill for.

New Zealand – The side with nothing to lose. But, to punch a whole in that awful cliché, they have three massive games to lose. And, as much as I try to be positive, they probably will lose them. If I’d drawn them in a sweepstake I would stick a few episodes of Flight of the Conchords on to make myself feel better.

You may know… Ryan Nelson. Blackburn centre-back with a chest the size of, um, something really big. He’s a big bloke, okay?

Nigeria – Back at the finals after missing out on qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Have a lot of pace and power. Oh, I said that was a cliché didn’t I? Know what? I don’t care. Clichés are clichés because they’re overused, and they’re only overused because they hit the nail on the head. Nigeria have a lot of pace and power and that is a reason to be cheerful.

You may know…Mikel John Obi. The Chelsea fouler and whiner that rubs teams up the wrong way – the exact way they should be rubbed by the opposition. In England he is known better as John Obi Mikel, for some reason.

North Korea – While we’re busting out the clichés that teeter on the edge of racism, let’s throw in ‘industrious’ for the North Koreans. They’re also well organised. Some people say they will be tough to beat at the World Cup, but some people say that the holocaust didn’t happen. Make your own mind up.

You may know… none of them. Honestly, none of their names will ring a bell. After the World Cup that could be a completely different story.

Paraguay – Have the tendency to display Latino flair when the moment takes them and also have a pinch of European efficiency.

You my know… Roque Santa Cruz. Striker that used to be able to score goals in a Blackburn shirt until Man City wafted over the scent of money to his greedy nose.

Serbia – They have been tipped to shine by none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, and he’s probably forgotten more about football than the combined knowledge of all of us mere fans.

You may know… Nemanja Vidic. The hardest defender on the planet failed to capture his best form last season, but he should perform well for his country.

Slovakia – The only team at the finals never to have appeared at one before. They would gladly operate in the shadows to get out of their group, and feasible victories against Paraguay and New Zealand could ensure that does happen.

You may know… Marek Hamsik. The Napoli midfielder is a talisman if ever there was one. At just 22, he has top European sides clamouring for his signature.

Slovenia – Although the days of Zlatko Zahovic’s wizardry are long gone, Slovenia’s discipline and organisation could see them grab a spot in the second round. They play a tight 4-4-2 that all English people can appreciate.

You may know… Valter Birsa. Tricky left-winger that enjoys the old Pires-cut-in. Put in a good performance against England when Slovenia lost 2-1 at Wembley.

South Africa – The hosts of Africa’s first World Cup. That honour plus their vuvuzela weilding fans should spur them on past the group stages at the very least. They also have talented players.

You may know… Steven Pienaar. The Everton man carries the hopes of the home nation on his shoulders. The way he jinks about though, they should fall off soon and he’ll then be able to impress.

South Korea – The second tallest dwarf at the competition (calm down, that isn’t a racist slur about the height of South Korean people, just an anaphoric reference to what I said about Japan). Have a dogged determination to upset the big guys, much like their northerly neighbours. With the smarts of Monaco frontman, Park Chu-young, in attack, this little dwarf could swing high and land a punch in the nuts.

You may know… Park Ji-sung. The Duracell Bunny that works harder than a cart horse and is cunning like a fox – sounds a bit like Ferguson’s Monster.

Switzerland – Well organised and therefore hard to beat. Have a strong midfield and experience upfront in Alexander Frei, the 30-year-old striker who averages more than a goal every other game for his country.

You may know… Philippe Senderos. Fulham’s latest signing has failed to prove himself as a centre-back so far, both with Arsenal and during a loan spell with AC Milan.

United States of America – Are steadily becomoming a force to be reckoned with. Expected to advance from Group C with ease and can definitely go further. Beat favourites Spain at the Confederation Cup in South Africa last year. The most likely team to cause an upset. Beware England.

You may know… Clint Dempsey. Had a great season with Fulham, including scoring a beautiful winner in their Europa Cup quarter-final against Juventus.

Uruguay – Have class and creativity in Ajax pair, Nicolas Lodeiro and Luis Suarez, plus a deadly striker in Diego Forlan. Will probably score at least one amazing goal. If you ask for more than that, you’re just greedy.

You may know… Diego Forlan. Has eradicated memories of his piss-poor performances for Man U by banging in goals for fun in Spain. One question though: who doesn’t score goals for fun? Bloody clichés, who needs ’em?

So there you have it folks. Thank you for wading through all of those clichés and all the mentions of the word cliché. I hope this blog makes you feel a bit better about the no-hopers you were unlucky enough to draw out.

We all know none of them will win it, but it is often the lesser sides that make the World Cup magical – just look at Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 and Senegal in 2002.

Here’s to the underdogs.


2 thoughts on “Reasons to be cheerful

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