South Africa is the host nation. For the last four years South Africans wondered if they would get to host the World Cup with the delays in building the stadiums, the workers strike and the fear of crime. The time has arrived for them to show the world they can produce a great World Cup!
Unfortunately, South Africa may be the first host nation not to make it out of the group round. This was said in 1994 about the US and in 2002 about both Japan and South Korea so; we can’t underestimate the home countries home field advantage.
South Africa did not have to qualify for the World Cup since they are the host. They did participate in the African World Cup qualifying section because it is also used for qualification to the African Nations Cup. The South Africans did not qualify for the Nations Cup. They have also been subpar in recent friendlies against top teams. One bright spot was the Confederations Cup, but that was almost a year ago. Every single player that steps on the field will need to have the performance of their lives in all three matches to advance.
South Africa’s top player is Steven Pienaar who plays for Everton in the English Premier League. He brings a lot of energy and has a tremendous work rate. If his teammates can follow his lead South Africa may surprise everyone.
The coach of South Africa is Carlos Alberto Parreira who led Brazil to their 4th World Cup in 1994.
Uruguay was the first country to host and win the World Cup way back in 1930. They were the last team to qualify for this year’s edition. Uruguay had to beat Costa Rica in a playoff to qualify after losing the last CONMEBOL qualifying match to Argentina. Due to this last minute qualification expectation are not very high for Uruguay to advance out of the group stage.
Luis Suarez – Plays for legendary Ajax Amsterdam and was made the captain within two years of joining the club. Luis made the most appearances for his country through qualifying. He is a creative player who will inspire his teammates.
Oscar Tabarez – This is his 2nd time coaching Uruguay in the World Cup. He led Uruguay to the 2nd round in 1990. He will have to work a minor miracle to get Uruguay into the 2nd round this year.
France reached the World Cup the hard way with a playoff against Ireland. There was also great controversy in their qualification playoff against the Irish. While not the “Hand of God”, Thierry Henry’s hand ball assist led to calls for FIFA to disqualify them. This World Cup will be France’s fourth successive finals, which is first for this soccer rich country.
Thierry Henry – Yes, he is still a top player for France at 32. He is the captain and has proven ability and experience that will be vital to France advancing out of the group. This will be his fourth World Cup.
Franck Ribery – A tremendously talented attacking midfielder. Ribery’s play will be key to the success of France’s chances. Zinedine Zidane calls him “the jewel of French Football”.
Raymond Domenech – Universally disliked in France, but led them to the Final in 2006 where they lost in a penalty shootout.
Mexico has been a traditional powerhouse in the CONCACAF region. The last time Mexico missed the World Cup was in 1990 because of suspension for age related problems in the youth system. They almost missed this edition because of poor play on the field. Former England skipper Sven-Goran Eriksson took the helm of Mexico and it was thought he would leave Mexico to an easy qualification. After loses to the United States and Honduras he was shown the door. The Mexican Federation brought back Javier Aguirre who coached Mexico in the 2002 World Cup where Mexico was eliminated by the United States. His first match in charge Mexico lost, but had an unbeaten run of five matches that put them a last minute US goal, by Jonathan Borstein against Costa Rica, from winning the CONCACAF group.
Key Players for Mexico:
Andres Guardado – Plays for Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga. He was player of the year for the club in the 2007-2008 season. He has tons of potential and could be a key piece for Mexico’s chances at the World Cup. This will be his 2nd World Cup and he is only 23!
Rafael Marquez – Plays for Barcelona in La Liga. He is a supremely gifted defender and leader. Rafael tends to be injury prone and without him on the field the Mexican defense is average at best.
Giovani dos Santos – Has failed to live up to his potential on the club level, but shines for Mexico. A solid World Cup could give him a confidence boost and change his status at the club level. Let’s hope that the rumors are not true of him quitting the team because his brother was cut earlier this week.
Cuauhtemoc Blanco – Left off the 2006 World Cup squad Blanco was brought in immediately upon the return of Aguirre. Blanco started the first match he was called in for and turned Mexico’s qualifying campaign around. While he is currently playing club soccer in Mexico, Blanco can thank MLS and the Chicago Fire for helping him to show he can still play at a high level.
FRANCE 7 pts
MEXICO 5 pts
URUGUAY 4 pts
SOUTH AFRICA 0 pts