Only one certainty before the draw was made for the 2010 World Cup finals in
Cape Town and that was that South Africa would find themselves in Group A. They
were joined by Mexico, Uruguay and France but Bafana Bafana seemingly have their
work cut out to qualify for the last 16.
The host country virtually without exception exceeds pre-tournament expectations
at the quadrennial jamboree that is the World Cup and I expect South Africa to
be no different.
Whether or not that will be good enough to see them reach the latter stages is
another matter, the draw hasn’t been kind to them, but their efforts in defeat
to Brazil and Spain on home soil in the past year offer hope.
Plenty have already written off the chances of the host nation before a ball has
been kicked but Carlos Alberto Parreira’s side showed at the 2009 Confederations
Cup that recent progress has been made and, while they clearly lack the
individual talent of their Group A rivals, South Africa won’t be found lacking
in spirit or support.
South Africa will once again look to all-time leading scorer Benni McCarthy for
goals, the Blackburn striker has 32 to his name for his country, but will also
have to rely upon a number of home based players and I’m not sure even the
backing of their passionate fans will be sufficient to see them advance.
Captain Aaron Mokoena commands well from the back while the wonderfully named
MacBeth Sibaya will hope to put his recent Champions League experience with
Russian side Rubin Kazan to good use in midfield. However, the majority of their
teammates won’t have sampled anything like this before and it will be
fascinating to see how they react.
Young striker Bernard Parker, just 23 years of age, has the potential to become
a national sporting hero if he can make an early impact but South Africa look up
against it and a fast start is imperative. They kick off proceedings with an
opening day clash against Mexico and avoiding defeat is a must if they are to
extend their stay in the tournament.
South Africa are 12/5 with Victor Chandler to advance to the last 16 and 8/1
with 888sport to do so by topping Group A.
Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson’s short reign as Mexico boss was
ended abruptly when “El Tri’s” poor start to qualifying put them in danger of
missing out on South Africa 2010 altogether but new coach Javier Aguirre turned
things around in an instant and eventually they made it with something to spare.
Very few of the 32 finalists can compete with Mexico in terms of experience and
while their key men are certainly entering the twilight of their careers one
last hurrah is not out of the question. Mexico have reached the second round at
each of the last four World Cups and they are odds on, 4/5 with Paddy Power, to
do so once again.
Crucially for the new man at the helm the spine of the Mexico side has stayed in
tact and in Rafael Marquez, Gerardo Torrado and Cuauhtemoc Blanco have a trio
that can help them mount a decent challenge.
The likes of Arsenal forward Carlos Vela and the talented Deportivo La Coruna
playmaker Andres Guardado compliment the older brigade nicely and Mexico have
developed a winning mentality in recent months, the importance of which should
never be underestimated.
Aguirre has tasted defeat in just two of 18 matches in charge, triumphing 11
times, and their robust style of play should be suited to Group A battles ahead.
Not for the first time in recent years the 1930 and 1950 World Cup winners made
it to the finals via the back door of the playoffs but Oscar Tabarez and his men
will be dreaming of the knockout stages once more.
Having narrowly denied Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela in South American
qualifying before getting the better of Costa Rica over two legs, Uruguay still
have plenty to prove ahead of next summer but they shouldn’t be lacking goals
with a powerful looking forward line in their armoury and I expect them to take
games to their opponents.
While rivals Chile are this World Cup’s South American ‘talking team’, everybody
seems to be tipping them up, Uruguay will arrive fairly unheralded and that
might just suit them. Huge expectations won’t burden Diego Forlan and his men
this time around and I expect the Atletico Madrid star to combine well with the
likes of Ajax striker Luis Suarez and the prolific Sebastian Abreu in attack.
Uruguay’s chances must rest on whether or not their often suspect looking
defence can hold it together under the most extreme pressure but they won’t be
overly frightened by what the French have to offer in attack, nor Mexico or
South Africa, and I’m sure they will fancy their chances of progressing. Uruguay
are 4/1 to win Group A with Paddy Power and plenty will be willing to take a
chance at that price.
Whether or not France and Thierry Henry merit their place at the 2010 World Cup
is for debating elsewhere but I can’t see any fairytale for boss Raymond
Domenech and his players regardless and I’m happy to take on Les Bleus at any
France stumbled into the playoffs behind Serbia and wouldn’t have fancied their
chances up against a well-drilled Ireland side over two legs. Henry’s handball
ultimately saved the day but they were outplayed in both ties against Giovanni
Trapattoni’s men and can count themselves extremely fortunate, in more ways than
one, to be here at all.
Domenech clearly has issues with any number of his playing staff and while he
can still call upon the likes of Henry, William Gallas and Nicolas Anelka the
younger generation seem to fall short of the required standard. Franck Ribery’s
fitness is also a worry, I’m not that big a fan of the Bayern Munich winger
anyhow, and they could exit with a whimper.
France, given their pedigree and personnel, are quite rightly favourites to
emerge on top in Group A, you’ll get no better than the 6/5 on offer at
Ladbrokes about them doing so, but scoring goals looks a massive worry for the
1998 winners and Domenech seemingly still has no clue about just what is his
best starting XI.
With Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema apparently in the international
wilderness it has fallen upon young Toulouse forward Andre-Pierre Gignac to find
the net but he’s certainly not top class and for me Henry is a shadow of his
former self also.
France’s attacking support from midfield is virtually non-existent and while an
Arsenal defensive trio of Gallas, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy should ensure
conceding goals is kept to a minimum I’ve no idea where they will come from at
the other end.
UPATE: France omitted Patrick Vieira and Karim Benzema from their 30 man squad for the 2010 World Cup.