Another way to parse the field for South Africa 2010:
By World Cup experience.
For some of these countries, a finals appearance is tantamount to a national birthright. For others, it is a rare and precious treat.
Let's go down the list of the 32, from the old hands to the (as the British would say) debutantes.
Nation, appearances (notes)
Brazil, 19 (all of them; the only country with that distinction)
Germany, 17 (didn't attempt to appear in the other two)
Italy, 17 (missed in only one attempt, 1958)
Argentina, 15 (only one qualifying failure, 1970)
Mexico, 14 (three failed attempts; banned from 1990)
England, 13 (three failed attempts for putative "masters of the game")
France, 13 (and four straight; thanks Thierry Henry)
Spain, 13 (maybe it's time to win one?)
Uruguay, 11 (though only two of last five)
Serbia, 10 (counting Yugoslavia days)
Netherlands, 9 (yes, a bit erratic, even with that talent)
Slovakia, 9 (counting Czechoslovakia days)
Switzerland, 9 (good success for a little country)
United States, 9 (and six straight for the "non-soccer-playing" USA)
Chile, 8 (but first since 1998)
South Korea, 8 (and seven straight)
Paraguay, 8 (and four consecutive; good for another little country)
Cameroon, 6 (from last eight attempts; all-time African qualifying leaders)
Portugal, 5 (yes, they used to struggle to get here)
Denmark, 4 (and all since 1986)
Japan, 4 (the last four, too)
Nigeria, 4 (missed only 2006, of last five)
Algeria, 3 (and first since 1986)
Australia, 3 (including last two)
South Africa, 3 (hosts made it twice on their own, 1998, 2002)
Cote d'Ivoire, 2 (consecutive)
Ghana, 2 (see above)
Greece, 2 (first since 1994)
Honduras, 2 (first since 1982)
North Korea, 2 (first since 1966, the stunning quarterfinals appearance)
New Zealand, 2 (first since 1986)
Slovenia, 2 (in three tries as independent nation)
--Some consider Serbia and Slovakia to be first-timers, and they are under those names. As mentioned above, players from what is now these two independent countries played in previous World Cups.
--Seventy-six nations have qualified for at least one World Cup.
--Nations with the most appearances who are not in South Africa 2010: Belgium (11), Sweden 11), Czech Republic (9), Hungary (9), Russia (9).
--Nations/countries with longest drought (and at least one appearance): Cuba and Indonesia (1938); next, Wales (1958).
Check this wikipedia entry, for more information on this.