Post Ranking: 2
World Cup History: 16th appearance, champion in 1934, 1938 and 1982; runner-up in 1970 and 1994
Top Player: MF-F Francesco Totti
Lowdown: The Azzurri is rounding into form under former Juventus coach Marcello Lippi, fielding a typically disciplined defensive side and an increasingly dangerous attack sparked by Totti. He likely will feed forwards such as Alberto Gilardino and Luca Toni, who carried Italy to a relatively easy qualification and seem ready to supplant Fs Christian Vieri and Alessandro del Piero.
Post Ranking: 26
World Cup History:
Top Player: MF Michael Essien
Lowdown: Ghana's absence from the World Cup finals has always been puzzling. The Black Stars have traditionally been one of Africa's strongest teams, winning the African Cup of Nations four times and the under-17 world championship twice. Essien (Chelsea), MF Stephen Appiah (Fenerbache) and F Sulley Ali Montari (Udinese) gained valuable experience playing in the Champions League this year.
Post Ranking: 13
Region: North/Central America and Caribbean
World Cup History: Eighth appearance, made 1930 semifinals and 2002 quarterfinals
Top Player: MF-F Landon Donovan
Lowdown: Was 2002 an aberration? Or a signal to the rest of the world that American soccer has joined the elite? The 2006 tournament will be a good indicator because many of the American players are well known in international circles. Although the core of the team will be the European-based players -- Kasey Keller, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley and Brian McBride -- the Americans' success will depend heavily on Donovan, who scored twice in 2002 and was the most influential U.S. player during the recent qualifying campaign. Donovan played at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany last winter, but quickly returned to the comforts of MLS.
Post Ranking: 9
World Cup History: Ninth appearance (previous eight as Czechoslovakia), runner-up in 1934 and 1962
Top Player: MF Pavel Nedved
Lowdown: After finishing second to the Dutch in their qualifying group, the Czechs used a pair of 1-0 victories over Norway to secure the berth. They actually began building momentum for the World Cup in the summer of 2004, when, in an attractive display of attacking soccer, they claimed a semifinal spot at the European Championship. Nedved, a gifted wing from Juventus, came out of retirement to boost their qualifying aspirations.
Francesco Totti of Italy