Group A, far from boring

France
Mexico
South Africa
Uruguay

The first of my World Cup group series is obviously Group A. This is actually a very interesting group to keep track of, and I am extremely intrigued to see who makes it through to the knockout stage. I’ll give a little background on each squad and then what my predictions are.

First we’ve got France. One of the names synonymous with international football, and in recent years, the World Cup. Most of us, even non soccer fans, remember Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final that could easily be seen as the deciding factor in France’s loss during the penalty shootout. (Zidane was one of the world’s best penalty takers, and his red card put him out of being able to take a kick) France also won the 1998 World Cup, the aforementioned Zidane scoring 2 goals in their 3-0 destruction of giants Brazil. As far as 2010, France still has a very strong squad but their villainy (yet again, it seems), this time due to Thierry Henry’s handball that allowed France to squeak through the continental playoff, as well as glaring omissions, could set France back this summer.

If anything is going to be France’s greatest downfall, however, it’s going to be manager Raymond Domenech. Reviled by all of France, this man seems to be taking France on a crash course into South Africa. The main omissions from the prelim squad are Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, Striker) and Patrick Vieira (Manchester City, Defensive Midfielder), Benzema being a very promising young talent that was bought by Real Madrid in their second galacticos (superstars) era. In my opinion, he’s much better than Djibril Cisse, who is a waste of space. However, France has some amazing players that could make the difference in South Africa. Franck Ribery, whose pace and touch are second to none in the world as a left winger, can destroy defenders without a second thought. Next, Yoann Gourcuff, probably one of the best player in France right now, has a beautiful shot and genius passing ability that could contribute greatly to France’s run. Other key players are Nicolas Anelka, as well as the numerous defenders that France has playing all over the world–Bacary Sagna, Eric Abidal, William Gallas, Patrice Evra. Don’t expect a lot of goals to be scored against France with a back four like that. France’s main problem will be creativity; Domenech’s tactics are way too creative to allow his main creative players like Ribery, Gourcuff, Florent Malouda, the space and options to build beautiful attacks. Because of his insecurity and fear, Domenech plays with two defensive mids very often, in a 4-2-3-1 situation, which puts too few players upfield to attack with. This limits the play of the wingers and stifles service to Anelka or Henry up front.

Alright, now we have Mexico. Another team that suffers from what America has in the past as well as what many pundits (Simon Kuper one of them) say is England’s problem–they don’t have enough players playing abroad. Exactly half of Mexico’s provisional squad currently plays in Mexico, limiting their ability to play players of a high caliber in European leagues that they’ll be facing at the World Cup. Many of the players that do play in Europe either play in places like the Netherlands or Turkey. Key players are Carlos Vela, who plays for Arsenal in England, and Rafael Marquez who is making a name for himself at Barcelona. One exception to the abroad rule is likely Cuauhtemoc Blanco, a playmaker who has been a pain in CONCACAF teams’ side for years. He may be getting old, but he still has brilliant vision and skill that will provide creativity and international experience to his team.

South Africa. Bafana bafana. It’s unfortunate, but this side would probably not have made it to the World Cup if it weren’t for the mere fact that they are the hosts. Don’t get me wrong, they have some strong players, including Steven Pienaar (strong player for the blue team from Liverpool, Everton) as well as aging striker Benni McCarthy who still plays well for West Ham United in England. The sad truth is yet again that this squad has mostly little to no experience on the level of the World Cup, and two somewhat above-average players can’t stand up to the likes of France and even Mexico. I sadly predict that, without some crazy luck or home advantage, South Africa will lose every group game. The only chance they have is to draw with maybe Mexico or Uruguay if they can successfully ‘park the bus’ while being cheered on by their home fans. Unfortunately I fear their defense isn’t even strong enough to hold up against an onslaught of attack from any of the other four teams in the group.

Finally, we have Uruguay. A historical powerhouse that has won two World Cups, albeit the last one was 60 years ago. This was one of the first powerful footballing countries in South America, bringing the continent to prominence that has been carried over by Brazil and Argentina in years since. Uruguay had a tough qualification for this World Cup, finishing in 5th place, leaving them to play off with CONCACAF for the final spot from both Americas. Nevertheless, Uruguay has a fairly strong squad, with their only superstar being Diego Forlan, currently with Atletico Madrid and one of the most prolific strikers in Europe over the past couple years. His partnership with Ajax’s Luis Suarez has proved valuable in qualification, and could be the turning point in how this group pans out. The rest of the squad, while lacking in superstars, still holds a sea of talented players from clubs literally all over Europe. This will most likely be the turning point for their ability to pip Mexico especially out of the group.

Some pundits have quoted that Uruguay will be leading this group, mainly because of the aforementioned dynamic duo of Forlan and Suarez. However, my only way of seeing this is if Domenech completely mishandles France tactically. This is obviously a distinct possibility, and unfortunately for Domenech the France v Uruguay game is going to be the most interesting game of the group and one of the most interesting from the whole group stage. What Domenech will likely do is play too defensively, and I can see why. He will want to have 2 holding midfielders to help counter the strikers, but that is a little too foolhardy in my opinion. One holding midfielder, Jeremy Toulalan or Lassana Diarra are best, should be playing in the middle zone from the penalty spot to the halfway line, marking Forlan as best he can, he’ll be playing the farthest forward. Whichever side Suarez plays on should be covered by one of the French centre backs, Gallas or Abidal maybe, with the other centre back covering the middle for wingers cutting inside. This way France has three midfielders in attack mode (though Gourcuff has the speed and tackling ability to play defensively on whichever side is weakest) and two strikers (I vote Anelka with Henry playing deep) ready to attack with shape and strength.

My predictions:

1. France- 7
2. Uruguay- 6
3. Mexico- 4
4. South Africa- 0

Most exciting match: France v Uruguay (predicted score: 2-1)
Most goals: Diego Forlan- 3

Also see: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/world-cup/story/_/page/worldcup101-03262010/ce/us/best-striker-duos?cc=5901&ver=us

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~ by spenserdavis on May 19, 2010.

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