World Cup Group A
South Africa +12500
Not only is South Africa carrying the weight of hosting the first World Cup on African soil, the Bafana Bafana will feel the pressure to qualify for the round of 16, as no host nation has ever failed to advance past the opening round. South Africa has failed to make it beyond the group stages in both of their previous FIFA World Cup appearances. Their first appearance was in France 1998, and despite a 3-0 loss to the host nation, posted draws with Denmark and Saudi Arabia. Their next appearance was in 2002 where they were bumped out after the group stage; despite beating Slovenia 1-0 for their first-ever FIFA World Cup win. Newly appointed boss, Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, will be at the helm as he searches to regain the respect he has lost after coaching Brazil to a World Cup victory in 1994. Much of the side’s success will depend on the efforts both captain Aaron Mokoena, a physical defender, and talented midfield maestro Steven Pienaar of Everton. The team will also rely heavily on the unsung heroics of versatile, hard working and resilient back Siboniso Gaxa, and Tsepho Masilela, a winger who strikes fear into opponents with his rampaging forays down the left-hand side.
Most likely to advance out of the group is Mexico, who has reached an impressive 14th World Cup finals appearance–the most in CONCACAF history. Now Los Tricolores will be searching for a fifth trip to the second round. The side will be looking to former Atletico Madrid boss Javier Aguirre to get the job done. El Vasco (The Basque), as he is known, has put together a side comprising of bright young talents and established stars. El Tri finished in second place in the final six-team qualification group in the CONCACAF Zone, winning five games, drawing one and losing just the one. Their most impressive performance of all came in the Gold Cup final in July when, after being level at nil-nil with the USA at half time, rallied for five in the second half crushing the Americans 5-0. They are led by 36-years center midfielder veteran, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who is surrounded by a host of promising youngsters such as Guillermo Ochoa, Efrain Juarez, Andres Guardado, Arsenal’s Carlos Vela and Tottenham striker Giovani dos Santos. Along with skipper Rafael Marquez, this side should lift Mexico beyond the Round of 16, where they have been knocked out at the last four FIFA World Cup finals.
The dark horse of the group will be Uruguay. After having made just two appearances in the last five FIFA World Cup finals, La Celeste are far removed from their best years as a world football power having failed to advance beyond the last 16 since the 1970 tournament in Mexico. But the Uruguayans have a renewed hope as 62-year old boss Oscar Tabarez, who is know as El Maestro in his homeland, certainly has the resources to advance beyond the group phase and into the knockout rounds for the first time in two decades. Uruguay finished fifth in the ten-team qualifying group, collecting 24 points and scoring 28 goals, the third highest behind Brazil and Chile. The side out together with a balance of youth as well as veteran standouts and are led by Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan. Forlan won the Pichichi award for top scorer in La Liga last season, as well the European Golden Shoe. Forlan will be paired with forward Luis Suarez from Ajax Amsterdam fame and captain and central defender Diego Lugano who likes to combine his defensive duties with often-profitable forays into the opposing penalty box.
Finally, the group’s favorite to finish on top is France. Les Bleus have appeared in 12 final tournaments, winning on home soil in 1998. The French did not score a lot of goals in qualifying, but did play stingy defense finishing in second place, one point behind Serbia in UEFA Group 7. Boss Raymond ” Dom Dom” Domenech will have an excellent squad at his disposal with the likes of captain Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, and Real Madrid youngster Karim Benzema. They are supported nicely in the midfield by Bordeaux’s Yoann Gourcuff, left winger Florent Malouda of Chelsea fame, and Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery, who’s arguably the most talented of all France’s attacking options. Finally veteran defender William Gallas leads the back.
France will start out in a winnable group A and should be the favorites to finish first. They will have to play smart for a win in their first match against Uruguay, and will need a least a draw against Mexico. That combination alone should get them through with their last game being against a weaker South Africa. Uruguay probably has the most fearsome strikers, but will need a solid outing against France and will need to win against South Africa with Mexico posing the greatest threat to La Celeste. El Tri have advanced out of the group stage in the last four World Cups and have the talent to do it again, but will need to start with a win over South Africa who will have a very tough time of advancing out of this group. But there is a first time for everything and there can be no greater motivation than representing their country in a FIFA World Cup on home soil. The one intangible advantage is that they will have the support of the home crowd.
Advancing: France, Mexico
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