Like a modern-day Nostradamus, albeit one that is a leading ambassador in the campaign against erectile dysfunction, Pele's World Cup predictions are now the stuff of tradition, legend and no little ridicule.
In 1977, the man who is arguably the game's greatest ever striker bravely predicted an African side would win the tournament by the turn of the century, but only Cameroon made it as far as the quarter-finals at Italia '90. In March 2002, he claimed China would advance to the second round. Their record? Played 3, lost 3, scored 0, conceded 9. Notoriously, Pele is also never shy to lavish praise on whatever country his inquisitor comes from, no doubt explaining his claim, made to the BBC, that Nicky Butt was the player of the tournament in 2002.
Put him on neutral ground, though, and it appears the man who scored over 1,000 goals in his career is a bit closer to the mark. "Spain is the best team in the world, as they proved last year," said the three-time World Cup winner, speaking in Colombia. "They have the strongest squad and are the favourites." Mind you, he did go on to hedge his bets somewhat. "Brazil has a great squad," Pele continued. "Brazil are in good form and will be a protagonist at the World Cup. They [Argentina] have a squad with great players. They have experience in the World Cup and are another one of the favourites."
But if you think he has learned from previous aberrations, just wait until the Honduran TV crews get hold of him and it will be "Maynor Figueroa this" and "Wilson Palacios is the new Nicky Butt" that.
FIFA HANDLE HENRY SITUATION
To the chagrin of Irishmen everywhere, Monday brought with it the news that FIFA would not punish Thierry Henry for his part in their country's World Cup downfall. That the Barcelona forward avoided any sanctions was no real surprise. Although the governing body was seemingly presented with the chance to make a real stand against foul play and cheating, FIFA had no legal basis on which to act, and no doubt feared opening the proverbial can of worms if they tried to do so. One strange detail emerged though. In FIFA's rule book, a handball that leads to a goal is not regarded a "serious infringement", but a handball used to prevent a goal is! With the scoreline swinging one goal in your favour either way, what exactly is the difference?
CARRY ON CAMP
At this juncture in a World Cup year, outsiders begin to sniff a chance at unlikely glory come the summer. Take Sergio Canales, the new darling of Spanish football, for example. Still just 18, the midfielder has scored five goals in his past four games to entrance a nation and generate speculation that he could be joining Real Madrid, Chelsea or Arsenal. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has even admitted he could make the finals. Then there is the curious case of Nottingham Forest 'keeper Lee Camp, who has been in fine form in the Championship. Responding to chants of "England's No.1 " from home supporters and praise from his own manager, Camp admitted: "Of course I want to play for England but you have to be realistic. Taking a rookie with no experience into that situation is a massive gamble we probably don't need to take." Probably not, but the words 'Theo Walcott', 'Sven Goran Eriksson' and 'what the hell were you thinking?' spring to mind.
PLAYER IN FOCUS: Ronaldinho
After starting the Serie A season in disappointing fashion, Ronaldinho has been imperious form in recent weeks. The 2002 World Cup winner has six goals in his last three games, including two goals against Juventus and then a hat-trick against Siena at the weekend, and is playing with that famous smile spread across his face once more. His upturn in form apparently comes courtesy of some off-field happiness, although we can only speculate as to what that might be. Ronaldinho last represented Brazil in a friendly against Italy in February 2009 and made only eight appearances in World Cup qualifying, but with the genius approaching something close to his brilliant best, a formidable case is being made for a recall.
WORLD CUP QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Humble North Korea coach Kim Jong-hun credits none other than the country's enigmatic leader Kim Jong-il for the success of the national team in reaching the World Cup finals. "I think it is the result of our Great Leader's care for our players," said the boss. "Asian players are not so tall, so we try to play to our strengths, to use our style of play which has served us very well in the qualifying campaign." For a full interview with Kim - the coach not the country's ruler, who has a penchant for platform shoes and Cognac, as well as football tactics apparently - take a read of this piece by my colleague Matthias Krug.