Tuesday, May 18, 2010

World Cup 2010 Group previews: Group A

This will start a very busy period for your intrepid blogger. As we get closer and closer to June 11th and the start of the 2010 World Cup, I'll be bringing you stories and opinions on the teams, players and countries involved in the biggest single sport tournament in the world.

For the next week I'll be previewing all 8 groups and predicting who will be going through to the knockout stages. Today I'll be looking at Group A which features the hosts South Africa, along with France, Mexico and Uruguay.

South Africa:
On June 11th history will be made as South Africa kicks off the 2010 World Cup for the first time on African soil against Mexico. This will no doubt be an extra boost in the South African players as they will want to impress in front of the home crowd. However this maybe a step too far for Bafana Bafana, who are massive underdogs for this tournament.
During the Confederations Cup last summer they struggled to score goals or create opportunities in the midfield. The team will rely heavily on Midfielder Steven Pienaar who will have to create much of the scoring opportunities for the forwards, he will lead a relatively inexperienced midfield against some of the best counterparts in Mexico, Uruguay and France.
At the back captain Aaron Mokoena will have to continue the strong late season form he showed at his club side Portsmouth in order to keep the goals from flooding into the South African net. With the large amount of turnover in personnel at the back, we could see a lot of unorganized defending as the player get use to playing with each other. At the same Confederations Cup, the back four were torn apart due to their inability to stay in line and play the offside trap. This is usually a sign of a lack of experience playing with each other.
As for upfront, the on again off again call up of West Ham forward Benni McCarthy could hinder a side without a true goal poacher. McCarthy could provide that, if he can put aside his sometimes massive ego.
Overall this will be a great experience for Bafana Bafana, however I cannot see this side getting out of the group stages.

For years they have been the dominate side in CONCACAF, almost never missing out on qualifying for the world cup tournament. This includes beating Canada on numerous occasions. Once Mexico begins the tournament however the results become a bit disappointing. For a team that produces great talented footballers it has not reached beyond the round of 16 since 1986, the last time the world cup was on home soil. There is little reason to think they will go any further this time around.
The Key to the Mexico side is a blend of young players making their first World Cup, and experienced players like Rafael Márquez, Israel Castro and Guillermo Franco. They will have to lead the young talented players coming onto the squad, and minimize the mistakes they may make during the opening round.
The key young players on this year's squad will be Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Guillermo Ochoa and Javier Hernández. These players will have to step up in order for Mexico to make a challenge for a top two finish in the group. Aside from South Africa this will be a close group with each of the three teams being each others equal based on recent form.
Mexico's strength is in it forwards and goalkeeping and both will have to be at their very best to continue its run of four straight round of 16 appearances.

The original masters of the World Cup, the two time winners in 1930 and 1950 are looking regain its stance in this tournament after establishing itself as a South American powerhouse. After an impressive qualifying campaign many have the Olympic Sky Blue as a potential darkhorse team to go far in the tournament. The team itself is strong in all areas, however this team will have to be carried by the the forward duo of Diego Forlán and Luis Suárez. If these two cannot find the back of the net then Uruguay will be in trouble as it is hard to see where else the goals will come from.
The back four is strong on its day but can be prone to mental lapses, and it was these mental lapses that dropped them from 2nd in South American qualifying to 5th and into a sudden death playoff with Costa Rica just to make it in. Overall this will be a squad that will live and die on its forward play. If they can unlock the opponents defence and score goals Uruguay could be looking at a Round of 16 birth, if not it could be a very short tournament for the two time champions.

On paper France is clearly the strongest team in the group, and in most years would be an automatic pick to move on to the knockout stages. Unfortunately for Les Bleus the game is not played on paper. After a mediocre European qualifying campaign which saw them struggle to score goals, they were forced into a playoff with the Republic Of Ireland and got through in very controversial fashion. Thierry Henry's second coming of the "hand of god" goal may have book France's ticket to South Africa but it also highlighted may of the squad's issues.
This squad is blessed with many options in attack, the above mentioned Henry, André-Pierre Gignac, Nicolas Anelka and Franck Ribéry. However this team has struggled to score goals. Many in the world football press have been quick to blame France manager Raymond Domenech's tactics or lack there of, plus his team selections but the problem lies deeper than that. It looks at times that this team does not play for each other and that there maybe a disconnect between the stars on the team. It also shows that the team still misses former captain and legend Zinedine Zidane, as it was he who rallied France to the 2006 World Cup final when the team was in a similar state.
With all that said though this team still has a very strong midfield and back four, which at times has carried the team when they have had issues scoring goals. It would be foolish to rule them out of the tournament given its history, and It would be very much like them to defy the odds and make it back to the final on July 11th.

So my overall verdict on this group is that points will be at a premium and it could be one of the weaker groups to watch. My prediction: France and Mexico make it to the round of 16. Uruguay show well but just miss out, and well it'll be fun to see South Africa play in front of their home crowds but it's three and out for Bafana Bafana.

Next up Group B!


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