Thursday, June 3, 2010

World Cup 2010: Group A Preview

World Cup Group A features the hosts, South Africa, along with Mexico, and former champs France and Uruguay. Any of the four sides could conceivably reach the knockout round; France are the weakest of the group favorites, and while South Africa are long shots, home field advantage has inspired past underdogs. Here's a closer look at the group.

The tournament's opening game should tell how much fight we'll see from the hosts. While many think South Africa will become the first home standing nation to be eliminated in the opening round, they've shown improvement in recent matches under veteran coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. They'll need a result in the curtain raiser against Mexico to have a shot of advancing and their top player, Everton's Steven Pienaar will need to lead the charge.

Mexico have been a consistent bet to escape the group stages at recent World Cups, and this version of El Tri is positioned to do the same. Their 2-1 friendly win over Italy this week showed Javier Aguirre's troops are poised for a deep run. The Mexican side blends the youthful talents of Giovani Dos Santos with the veteran savvy of Rafael Marquez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

Depending on your perspective, France's roster is either loaded with veteran stars or filled with guys well past their prime. An inconsistent qualifying run under lame duck head coach Raymond Domenech leaves Les Bleus ripe for an upset. When Franck Ribery isn't busy sleeping with underage prostitutes, he's France's top all-around player and if he can connect with aging strikes Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka, France should advance from the group.

Uruguay hasn't tasted World Cup success since winning their second title in 1950. More recently they've won just one of 14 tournament matches. Europa League hero Diego Forlan and striking partner Luis Suarez give the team a potent attack, but questions surround the midfield and goaltending. Their final match against Mexico could be a battle for a knockout round berth.

Prediction: Mexico tops the group, followed by France. Uruguay and South Africa head home.

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