World Cup 2010, Group F
Coach: Marcello Lippi
Preferred formation: 4-2-3-1
Key man: Alberto Gilardino
Wildcard: Antonio Di Natale
Weak spot: Aging squad may have lost its edge
It's hard to provide any evidence to suggest the Azzurri have taken strides forward since their World Cup triumph four years ago and the critics argue their reluctance to embrace fresh talent will be their undoing this time around.
Coach Lippi would argue that the need to dispense with his proven world champions before they have had the chance to defend the crown would be foolish and there is little doubt that the experienced troops he is bringing to South Africa are still capable of competing with the very best.
Aging they may be, but a back line featuring 2006 World Cup hero Fabio Cannavaro, AC Milan full-back Gianluca Zambrotta and the robust Giorgio Chiellini should do the job. With the always brilliant Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon backing them up between the sticks, they shouldn't have too many worries at the back.
However, all four defensive starters have shown signs of wear and tear of late. Zambrotta, in particular, has not been at his best this season and Chiellini looked less than assured as the Juventus defence suffered in their disappointing Serie A campaign. Lippi has been accused of favouring Juve players in the past and this has not been the best of seasons for him to follow such a policy.
Roma's Daniele Di Rossi and AC Milan's Andrea Pirlo, Lippi's two holding midfielders, also fall into the tried and tested category, with the later always useful to have around when free-kick opportunities arise around the box. Di Rossi's job is to win the ball and supply the attacking talent with their ammunition and he is brilliant at doing it.
Despite a concerted media push, Lippi declined the opportunity to recall Roma icon Francesco Totti for this World Cup, so he will again turn to an old favourite in Alberto Gilardino to take the lone striker role. Rugged and direct, the Fiorentina hit-man will do the job just fine.
One face to watch out for could be the Serie A top scorer, Antonio Di Natale, as the defending champions go in search of what many observers suggest is an unlikely repeat triumph.
However, few believed the Azzurri would succeed in Germany last time, so only a fool would write off this team of champions.
Coach: Ricki Herbert
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Chris Killen
Wildcard: Winston Reid
Weak spot: Lack of quality
Heading into a World Cup with the most modest of expectations is never a bad policy as any minor success can then be hailed as a glorious triumph, but the truth is New Zealand cannot expect much more than the honour of taking part this summer.
Beating Bahrain to qualify for this World Cup does little to suggest Ricki Herbert's underdogs will be any kind of a threat to the sides who will cross their path in South Africa and it may be that the 4-4-2 formation he favours will have to be closer to a 5-3-2 if they are to emerge unscathed.
Finding a reason why the Kiwis will succeed this summer is tough, with their band of locally based players combined with a few 'star' names who play for lower league clubs in England. It's hardly a recipe that suggests the New Zealand fairytale will have any longevity.
Middlesbrough's Chris Killen is among those they will pin their hopes on. The striker started the season at Celtic but linked up with his former boss Gordon Strachan in the North East of England in January, though his lack of pace means he is not a player who will strike fear into many World Cup defences.
Strike partner Rory Fallon is another 'big name' in New Zealand football, but the hero of the qualification process is currently signed to Plymouth Argyle, a club that have just been relegated to the third tier of English league football. Fallon may have scored the goal that secured the Kiwis' place in this World Cup, but he faces a massive leap in class if he is to make his mark this summer.
The one proven performer is at the heart of the back line, where Ryan Nelsen will be charged with holding together a defensive line that will be tested to the full. The team captain, he has been in decent form for Premier League side Blackburn this season and is a vital man for coach Herbert.
New Zealand's recruitment of Danish Under-21 star Winston Reid is viewed as vital to their defensive setup, but there is little evidence to suggest the Wellington Phoenix duo of Ben Sigmund and Tony Lochhead have the class to shine on the World Cup stage. Ipswich defender Tommy Smith will be expected to step up to the plate.
Leo Bertos in one to watch in the attacking third, while West Bromwich Albion youngster Chris Wood offers a useful option on the bench in a summer when New Zealand will need all the luck they can find to avoid an early World Cup exit.
Coach: Gerardo Martino
Preferred formation: 4-4-2/4-3-3
Key man: Roque Santa Cruz
Wildcard: Oscar Cardozo
Weak spot: Attacking tactics could backfire
It was a tragedy when Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino confirmed there would be no place for the recovering Salvador Cabanas in his World Cup party, with the prolific striker losing his battle to make the South Africa trip after he was shot in the head last January.
A star of the 2010 qualifying push, Cabanas claims he is all but recovered from the horrific incident that took place in Mexico City, but Martino is a realist and he has opted to put his scoring faith in Manchester City's Roque Santa Cruz, Borussia Dortmund's Nelson Haedo Valdez and Benfica's Oscar Cardozo.
All three forwards offer great potential in this World Cup, with Santa Cruz desperate to prove his worth after a season of bench warming at City and Valdez heading into this tournament on the back of a successful 2010 qualifying record.
One decision coach Martino needs to make is whether to start some games with three forwards and that is where Cardozo comes into play, with his magnificent form in Benfica colours this season suggesting his place in the side should be assured. Offering power in the front line, he notched goals aplenty in Portugal this year and Paraguay will be hoping he takes that form with him to South Africa.
Newly nationalised Argentine Lucas Barrios is another interesting addition to the Paraguay attacking line-up, with his qualification for the World Cup only confirmed recently. The towering Borussia Dortmund forward qualifies through his mother and he may be a useful option to have on the bench.
Paraguay's most effective players tend to be in the attacking third, yet midfielder Carlos Bonet is an interesting attacking option in his role as a makeshift right back. Sunderland's Paulo da Silva takes a centre-back berth alongside Atletico Mineiro's Julio Cesar Caceres, with Ecuadorian-based midfielder Enrique Vera a threat bursting down the right flank.
Given their favourable draw and the firepower at their disposal, there is no reason why Paraguay cannot emerge as one of the dark horses to make progress in this World Cup. Dealing with the rising expectations developing around them may be their biggest problem and the cool temperatures in South Africa will not be easy for them, but the side who beat the mighty Brazil in the 2010 qualifiers have every right to dream of glory.
Coach: Vladimir Weiss
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Marek Hamsik
Wildcard: Miroslav Stoch
Weak spot: Lacking star quality
After being accused of sneaking into the World Cup finals thanks to a modest group of opponents who helped their cause, Slovakia found themselves on the end of another decent draw as they were thrown into Group F for this summer's football festival in South Africa.
In truth, Vladimir Weiss and his men needed to avoid the big guns if they were to have any chance of making progress and they have managed to do just that, with Italy the solitary super-power blocking the path of this tight unit who should not be under-estimated.
Most of their hopes will be placed on a well-drilled and disciplined defensive line, with Liverpool's Martin Skrtel the kingpin who will be expected to keep the back door locked. A quality operator, injuries have blighted his progress in England and he has been struggling with a foot problem in the run up to this World Cup.
His central defensive partner will be Hannover 96's Jan Durica, who is another rock-solid performer who was on top form throughout the qualifiers. Throw in reliable 'keeper Jan Mucha (Legia Warsaw) and you have a trio who should ensure Slovakia will avoid any embarrassment in this World Cup at the very least.
Coach Weiss will pick his son Vladimir to fill the left midfield role and his determination to show off his skills is often done at the expense of the team interest. The Manchester City talent has all the raw ability to sparkle in this World Cup, but he needs to channel it in the right direction.
The same is true of Chelsea star Miroslav Stoch, who has impressed during his loan spell with newly-crowned Dutch champions FC Twente. He has benefited from the first-team exposure that came his way in the season just gone and should be ready to prove he has the maturity to shine on the biggest of stages.
Robert Vittek carries the weight of the goal burden for Slovakia, though he has not enjoyed the best of seasons at club level and opted to move to Turkey on a temporary basis as he struggled to make a mark at Lille. Stanislav Sestak should have a touch more confidence alongside him after he impressed during the 2010 qualifiers and saw plenty of first-team action with Bochum in Germany this season.
Slovakia will have every chance of making progress if their midfield talisman Marek Hamsik shines, and so long as his team-mates respond to the World Cup challenge alongside him, the free-scoring Napoli midfielder has the class to emerge as a real star in South Africa.