The opening stage of the 2010 World Cup gets underway on Friday, June 11th in Johannesburg as the host nation, South Africa, will face off against Mexico in Group A action. The pressure will weigh heavily on South Africa, considering the history at stake: in eighty years of World Cup soccer, every host team has advanced past the group stage. For South Africa, it will be an uphill battle as a team bereft of World Cup experience will look to build on an impressive showing in last year’s Confederate Cup, a hard-fought semi-final loss to Brazil.
South Africa vs Mexico July 11th Odds:
Over 2.5 (+152)
Under 2.5 (-172)
The South African squad boasts talented players like Siphiwe Tshabalala and striker Katlego Mphela up the middle, but there is a distinct lack of depth along the wings at midfield, which has notoriously been a focal point of coach Carlos Parreira’s offense in the past. That’s not to say that South Africa will have trouble creating scoring opportunities- attacking midfielder Steve Pienaar of Everton is a versatile threat through whom the South Africa offense runs. Should the team affectionately known as Bafana Bafana (which apparently means ‘the boys’- get ready to hear about that roughly 3,762 times during the next few weeks) somehow go deep, look for Peinaar to become one of the tournaments’ breakout stars. Though South Africa will surely be the underdogs on June 11th, and may lack the talent and experience of Mexico, coach Parreira has been here before-he coached a Brazilian team that won it all in the ’94 World Cup in the United States.
This year’s Mexican squad has flown relatively under the radar thus far- a welcome change, I’m sure, for a team that lost in the first round of elimination play during each of the past four World Cup’s, despite a ton of hype heading in. Mexico will be lead by a core of young stars, like winger Giovani Dos Santos and much-lauded striker Javier Hernandez that should form the squad’s nucleus for years to come. Teamed with a group of wily veterans like Rafael Marquez, Mexico will cause opponents fits with their aggressive style of play. The biggest question mark heading into the tournament is the health of star midfielder Andres Guardado, who tore a knee ligament in January and was forced to miss the end of the La Liga season with an injured groin. If he’s anywhere close to 100%, I like Mexico to win this group.
As the tourney opener, all eyes will be on this game- the first World Cup event to take place in Africa- and based on the talent on both sides of the pitch, it will be well worth the wait.
Prediction: Despite feeding off of the emotion of the home crowd, nerves will play a major role as the young South Africans won’t be able to slow down Mexico’s relentless attack.3-1.
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