Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
June 11, 2010
After months of waiting, days of contemplating and hours of craving, 11th of June is finally here. Africa’s first World Cup ever opens with a clash between the home nation South Africa, and Mexico.
Mexico’s fortunes are on an upswing. They put a pair of disappointing results against England and the Netherlands behind them, with a demolition of Gambia, and followed it up with a creditable warm-up victory over world champions, Italy. On the other hand, South Africa are on an unbeaten run of thirteen matches and have made a habit of grinding out results.
It’s no time to joke! The battle begins..
Under the aegis of Carlos Alberto Parreira, the home side will look to maximize their home advantage to the hilt. The Bafana Bafana will rely on their captain Aaron Mokoena to rally the defense, under what could be a punishing Mexican attack, with Javier Aguirre opting to unleash Man United-elect Javier Hernandez.
Starting off in the first game of the tournament in a foreign land against the hosts, will certainly not play easy on the nerves of the Mexicans. Alberto Parreira would look to shackle the lone striker Hernandez, and crowd out the midfield to deny the Mexicans any chance of playing a free-flowing game.
South Africa would rely on their destroyer-in-chief Katlego Mphela to implement a counter-attacking strategy against the El Tri. Their creative spark will come from Everton’s Steven Pienaar, who is expected to be well marshaled throughout the game by Mexico’s holding midfielder Rafael Marquez.
With the Vuvuzelas blaring, the Johannesburg crowd will look to play on the early nerves of the visitors and try to transform the stadium into a cauldron. While Mexico go in as slight favourites, who would bet against them being overturned by a buoyant team looking to make a dream start on their own turf?
(1) No host nation has tasted defeat in their opening match in any World Cup.
(2) Mexico have played in the opening game of the World Cup four times, failing to win any of them.
(3) Head-to-head record: Mexico leads 2-1.
(4) South Africa are on an unbeaten run of 13 games.
(5) South Africa are yet to win a match in a World Cup.
Player To Watch Out For: Javier Hernandez (Mexico)
If Sir Alex Ferguson has seen something in this individual, he must be special. The 22-year old Mexican lone striker has enough pace and skill to light up the opening match of World Cup. He could be the difference between the two sides.
Green Point Stadium, Cape Town
June 11, 2010
Of the four teams kicking into high gear on the first day, none will take the field with greater self-doubt than the French side. On paper, the talented Les Bleus should sweep past Uruguay, almost by default. However, it was not too long ago, when the French minus their talisman crashed to an opening day defeat to lowly Senegal. This time they don’t have a talisman, to speak of.
Franck Ribery is coming off a terrible scandal, that saw him lose his mind to the extent of getting red-carded in his very next game after the scandal broke out. William Gallas isn’t doing the dressing room atmosphere any favors and Yoann Gourcuff, once hailed by an easily-excited French media as the next Zizou, doesn’t have too many fans among his teammates. The fracas among the teammates showed in the result, when France managed to lose to a weak Chinese side in the run-up to the World Cup.
How long will the French affair last?
With Lassana Diarra out, Raymond Domenech has nobody of note to hold fort in the midfield. With Thierry Henry’s star on the descent and Nicolas Anelka unable to find his club form after donning the national team colors, France is incredibly suspect both in defense and in attack.
Eric Abidal is clearly not relishing being played in the center of defense, while newly-appointed French captain Evra is now the first choice for left back. With Laurent Blanc expected to waltz in to the coach’s position after the tournament, Domenech may not even have pride to play for.
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez will be wringing his hands in glee at the trouble brewing in the rival camp. Uruguay are, as Tabarez misses no opportunity to point out, a calm and confident side. Their decorated history as erstwhile kings of Latin America, has long ceased to be a burden and the South American side will go into this clash, the more relaxed of the two sides.
Uruguay will be mightily disappointed if they do not find themselves at least once on the score-sheet. With Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez up-front, there is no reason to doubt their potency. On current form, the Uruguayan forwards should fare much better than their French counterparts.
With seemingly nothing to lose, the South American side could play their traditionally liberated game and go on to spring a surprise on a heavily-burdened French side.
The latter will even have to fight massive global unpopularity, brought on by Henry’s handball against the Irish. Last year’s finalists they may be, but the French have never been convincing under coach Domenech. Eight years ago, the French had a series of valid excuses but this time around they might only have a scapegoat…
(1) Uruguay have only won 1 out of the their last 16 matches at the World Cup.
(2) France have failed to score in the opening games of their previous two World Cup campaigns.
(3) Last WC meeting: 0-0 at Korea-Japan’02.
(4) Head-to-Head: Tied at one win each, with two draws.
Player To Watch Out For: Florent Malouda (France)
Though he was part of the team in the last World Cup, Malouda is a completely different player now. His newly found self-belief and confidence has transformed him into one of the best left wingers in the world. If he can repeat his Chelsea form, Uruguay’s right flank have a lot of trouble ahead.