So what makes Group A tick?
Is it the fact that the hosts are considered massive underdogs, even if historically the hosts have always gotten out of the group stage?
Is it the complete lunacy of the French squad? A team that’s been out riding bikes, hiking, a weird 30-man squad selection and a lame duck coach is not exactly a recipe for success.
Perhaps it is the Western hemisphere duo of Uruguay and Mexico? Uruguay features a roster that maybe, with a little luck, you might have heard of two players from. Mexico, of course, is in the news for a lot of non-football news but might be one you should be paying attention to for completely different reasons.
What’s a little talk amongst friends, then? Knowing your stuff can make you look a little bit brighter amongst your peers and this handy-dandy list of people and information will make you the go-to guru of your local World Cup group.
Here’s some things you’ll need to know before June 11th.
For a group that contains a traditional power from three other confederations, South Africa might just fancy itself to get out of the group, just like every other host nation has ever done. That said, they could just as easily be the first to not get out. The Confederations’ Cup gave them hope that they can advance, but they don’t get to play New Zealand and Iraq in this group.
Even though they were eventually knocked out by Brazil, they gave a spirited showing. That’s something they will be expected to give against all three competitors, even if they may be completely outmatched in all three affairs.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Aaron Mokoena
Fated to be at Portsmouth this season, Mokoena is a defender at heart for Bafana Bafana. He’s the biggest link of a back four that will expect to be attacked relentlessly by the other members of the group. Mokoena plays a physical style coupled with good ball control that makes him adaptable either in the center of defense or slightly forward in a defensive midfielder role. The flexibility to do either is something that may come in handy
The Man: Steven Pienaar
Having been a smash hit at Everton, the little man with the huge motor will need to be at his tip-top best to keep the hosts moving. Given the Toffees’ values of hard work, never standing still and teamwork, Pienaar will need to be the link up man between midfield and the forwards when he’s not taking the game to opponents. Will need to get several touches in early to get going, as he does have a tendency to get lost in the shuffle when he’s not involved in the beginning of contests.
Others to Watch: Katlego Mphela, Kagisho Dikgacoi
Mphela has burst on to the scene in South Africa this term with Mamelodi Sundowns. 18 goals in 33 contests has certainly grabbed the attention of boss Carlos Alberto Perreira, and the managers faith has been repaid in friendlies by the forward. Dikgacoi, meanwhile, will add some steel to the midfield. He’s certainly not afraid to get in anyone’s face, though his temper could use a little working on.
Some might see Les Blues in the group and assume that they will breeze through. Then again, they were supposed to win Group 7 in UEFA qualifying, too. Not to mention blow away the Republic of Ireland in the play-off. Yeah, about those….
The whirlwind surrounding this team is the closest thing to derailing England in terms of weird publicity at inopportune times, including the oddball training camp. That said, they still have the talent to blow the doors off of the other three contestants, if they can put it altogether, something that have utterly failed to do in the pre-Cup friendlies. Easier things have been done in the past, like the building of the pyramids, perhaps.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Thierry Henry
Perhaps you’ve heard about this Henry fellow? If you’re of the descent of a certain nationality, please do not break your monitor reading about him. While boasting Anelka as his foil up front, Henry will have a major part in the success or failure of the French, seeing as Karim Benzema will be watching from his pad. France’s all time leading scorer will probably need to add a goal or four to his tally to ensure getting out of the group stage alive, even if he has to do that from the subs’ bench.
The Man: Franck Ribery
A dejected Ribery will be hyperactively looking to redeem himself after missing out on the Champions League final. The winger can play either side, has pace to spare and can make a move or three on anyone trying to defend him one on one. With a complementary winger, such as Malouda opposite him, his effect is multiplied that much more. An unplayable Ribery is a major obstacle for anyone trying to knock them off.
Others to Watch: Hugo Lloris, Patrice Evra/Bacaray Sagna, Alou Diarra
Lloris, Lyon’s #1 keeper, has won the #1 jersey from Domenech and will now prove to a worldwide audience what many already know in Europe: he’s one of the best keepers on the planet. The fullback combo of Evra and Sagna gives France extra firepower going down the wings in case things aren’t going well up front. The duo are also two of the best defenders in the Premier League, something that doesn’t get thrown around without being able to bring it on a game-in game-out basis. Alou Diarra will have to fill the shoes of namesake Lassana Diarra after the later was diagnosed a variant of sickle-cell anemia. Having both Diarras would be an imposing prospect, but Alou, the steam-engine for Bordeaux, can mix in good offensive vision with his defensive duties.
The original World Cup winners, the Celeste have the unenviable task of living up to those early heroes of yore. It’s certainly not out of reach for this side to make it out of this group with the playmakers leading the front line. They will need to take the contest to the other three countries because a lackluster outing at anytime is just around the corner. The mind-boggling loss to Peru jumps to the forefront here.
Certainly they are battle tested, having been through the ringer in CONMEBOL’s qualifiers. They’ve got plenty of scorers in the squad. The bigger question is whether or not they can hold it together on the big stage: having not qualified for last year’s competition, their last win in the World Cup was back in 1990 and before that 1970, the last time they made any headway in the tournament. They’ll need to up the ante within a tight group to go forward.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Diego Lugano
A member of the Fenerbache rearguard, his European experiences give him a leg up on many of his compatriots. Never afraid to get into a tangle or two, he’s also prolific in the penalty box, having grabbed 16 goals over the last two terms, four of which coming during the qualifying campaign, including the massive goal at the San Saprissa during the first leg of the play-off against Costa Rica. He’ll need to keep the backline unified as they have been prone to given up goals en mass when the going gets tough. He is card prone, however, and any time lost is a big mark against Uruguay in the big matches.
The Man: Diego Forlan
The Atletico Madrid hitman is as lethal as they come, as evidenced by his double against Fulham in the Europa League final. While not as prolific as last term, he’s got deadly accuracy when given the time and has plenty of backup heading to South Africa. He will be the focal point of the squad and needs to keep his fantastic end-of-season scoring streak going to keep spirits from sinking. He is a big game player and there aren’t many bigger than the World Cup.
Others to Watch: Luis Suarez, Diego Perez, Sebastian Abreu
Suarez and Abreu are a scary complimentary battery to Forlan. Abreu in particular has a reputation for goals in the national team colors and added in the goal that got Uruguay past Costa Rica in the playoff. His size can be complimented by Suarez when they are out at the same time. Perez will have a large burden on his shoulders as midfield, outside of whoever is given the nod at keeper, is sometimes uninspiring at best. The Monaco man must be able to link defense and attack for Uruguay, a side who is desperate for consistency.
Family is an important thing in Mexico. Jonathon dos Santos, younger brother of Giovanni, was left off the squad as has threatened to quit the national team all together and briefly had Giovanni looking at pulling out of the team as well. Conversely, the father of Javier Hernandez quit his spot on the Chivas’ reserve squad…just to watch his son in the World Cup, as Chivas denied him time off to go. To see that level of dedication to El Tri explains a lot of why expectations are always so high.
If defense was not a massive concern, this side has enough attacking talent to be an absolute threat to anyone in the competition. The formation deployed by the Mexicans is an offshoot of a 4-2-4 where the fullbacks often drift up into the midfield while one of the central midfielders stays back slightly to cover the central defenders. Everyone else is full-bore attack minded, keeping the ball for long stretches while looking either to exploit the space on the wings or slide in a cutting ball to unravel the defense.
Players to Know
The Skipper: Rafael Marquez
He’s become something of a fringe player of late for Barcelona, which is more to do with the fact that Gerard Pique has undone him from that spot than anything else, which is not something to be ashamed of. That said, he’s become something of a flex defender for Mexico, being something of a central defensive midfielder to shield off the center backs because of his lack of speed and his error-prone decision making. Still, his experience in keeping things organized at the national level is invaluable in the here and now.
The Man: Guillermo Ochoa
While attacking is the name of the El Tri game, Ochoa has the distinct responsibility of holding down a usually vacant fort. He has to be able to make several stops on breakaways and be able to show the ability to deal with crosses, something that was exposed to violent effect by England when Perez was AWOL in such situations. A very good Ochoa means a confident Mexico grows in that department and goes forward with more bravado.
Others to Watch: Giovani dos Santos, Ricardo Osorio/Carlos Salcido, Gerardo Torrado, Javier Hernandez
dos Santos the elder is a wing player that can go to either side and be destructive. On-loan to Galatasaray from Tottenham, his speed is one of the most attractive parts to his attack and if allowed to get into a rhythm, can exploit shaky defending on a whim. The wing combo of Osorio and Salcido is one of the bigger questions for the side, not necessarily from the attack standpoint, but whether or not repeated forays will make them lax their defensive responsibilities. Teams that utilize the wings for their own attacking purposes leave the defense in a bit of a bind if the duo do not track back when out of possession. Torrado is the link man for the front of the attack and keeping slightly back to make sure that Marquez doesn’t space out or go on an adventure. Hernandez, soon to be at Manchester United, has burst on to the scene as of late, but certainly has one of the best strike rates on the squad. If he can hit some of the shots that Carlos Vela didn’t in qualifying this team has a chance to break past the second round for the first time since 1986, when the event was at Mexico.
South Africa v. Mexico
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
10:00 AM EST
Uruguay v. France
Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
2:30 PM EST
South Africa v. Uruguay
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
2:30 PM EST
France v. Mexico
Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane
2:30 PM EST
France v. South Africa
Free State Stadium (Vodacom Park), Bloemfontein
10:00 AM EST
Mexico v. Uruguay
Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace, Phokeng
10:00 AM EST
Tags: France, Soccer, World Cup 2010