The bigwigs at bigsoccer.com have asked me to re-post these Group overviews that have been part of the last few newsletters.
We start with Group A.
No host nation has ever been eliminated after group play in the history of the tournament, but that streak might be threatened by this year’s hosts. South Africa is the weakest host nation since the USA in 1994, and the draw did not help them much either. They will be pitted against teams that have almost 40 appearances among them: two are former champions and the other last failed to advance past the group stage over 30 years ago.
June 11 – 10:00 AM EDT South Africa -- Mexico // Johannesburg
June 11 -- 2:30 PM EDT Uruguay -- France // Cape Town
June 16 -- 2:30 PM EDT South Africa -- Uruguay // Pretoria
June 17 – 2:30 PM EDT France -- Mexico // Polokwane
June 22 – 10:00 AM EDT Mexico -- Uruguay // Rustenburg
June 22 – 10:00 AM EDT France – South Africa // Bloemfontein
World Cup Appearances: 3
Best Finish: Group Stage, 1998, 2002
Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira (Brazil)
World Cup Memories:
South Africa got its first World Cup win in the 2002 finals. A 1-0 defeat of Slovenia. Unfortunately, it was not enough to advance to the second round.
Player to watch:
With South Africa expected to take the field in a defensive posture, Steven Pinnear, the free kick specialist from Everton could provide a few surprises.
The Bafana Bafana has a tall mountain to climb. They fared well in last year’s Confederations Cup, but Uruguay and Mexico present much tougher challenges than New Zealand and Iraq. Even though a host nation has never failed to advance past the group stages in the World Cup, it has happened in other tournaments, most recently Euro-08. Will home field Vuvuzuelas give the Bafana Bafana the energy it needs to pull off the upsets?
South Africa made its World Cup debut against France in 1998. It was the second World Cup cycle for the Bafana Bafana after being reinstated by FIFA in 1992.
World Cup Appearances: 15
Best Finish: Quarterfinals, 1970, 1986
Coach: Javier Aguirre
Mexico finally made it to that elusive 5th game in 1986, thanks to Manuel Negrete’s scissor kick vs. Bulgaria.
Player to Watch:
All eyes will be on recent Manchester United signing, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Mexico has a history of scoring woes. That could all change if Hernandez can build on his torrid streak.
The last time Mexico was in the host nation’s group was 1966, where it was also grouped with France and Uruguay. Mexico has a handful of savvy veteran players, but Javier Aguirre will be relying more on youth than experience. Several players from 2005 U17 World Cup winning team will see plenty of action in South Africa. Mexico has always been a possession team, and this infusion of youth has added an element of speed that Mexico has never had.
“I am confident that Mexico can make it past the second round. Playing the opening match against South Africa will be key. Defeating the French, given their current form, would also not be out of the question. More than anything, however, I want Mexico to face Argentina in the round of sixteen.”
World Cup Appearances: 13
Best Finish: Champion, 1998
Coach: Raymond Domenech
France became the first host in 20 years to win the World Cup after their 3-0 defeat of Brazil. The victory set off celebrations that hadn’t been seen in France for 50 years.
It’s hard to believe considering the talent level, but France may have issues finding the net. Their opponents will have definitely have problems getting balls by their goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, and that could be difference in tiebreakers.
It has been very hard for the French in the post Zidane era. They were disgraced in Euro 2008 and survived a tense playoff with Ireland to make it to South Africa. As if the French needed another distraction, several players are embroiled in a prostitution scandal. To put it plainly, France is a mess. Their play lacks passion, and their coach lacks flexibility. Players themselves have second guessed Domenech’s tactics, but it’s those same players that can turn France’s fortunes around.
France has been in the host team’s group twice times before, and in each of those World Cups, France has failed to advance to the next round.
World Cup Appearances: 11
Best Finish: Champions, 1930 & 1950
Coach: Oscar Washington Tavares
Not long ago, the Charruas were the kings of the sport. Despite their lofty reputation, the Uruguayans were still underdogs to Brazil in the 1950 final at Rio’s new Maracana stadium. Uruguay prevailed 2-0, and the legend of the Maracanazo was born.
Teams who double Diego Forlan will do so at their own peril because Ajax’s Luis Suarez is more than capable of punishing teams who overload to stop Forlan.
Uruguay was once the preeminent world power. But that was more than 50 years ago. Lately they have been known for under-achieving and rough play. This collection of Charruas is different, though. They have the talent and the firepower to escape the group stage. No one questions Uruguay’s front line of Forlan and Suarez, but the rest of the team isn’t quite as formidable. La Celeste lacks a player who can link their defense to their attacking duo. They hope they may have found him in 20 year old Nicolas Lodeiro.
“I am fairly confident in this group and I think we play up to our opponents’ level, which means that having a tough group will play in our favor. My honest prediction: Quarterfinals.”