With the biggest show on the planet around the corner, TheHardTackle brings to you a special series that provides you with group-wise capsules of information on each nation. No more hiding away from discussions and debates, we promise to make you a World Cup scholar before the showcase event begins. The world is getting ready, are you?
South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay and France
FIFA ranking: 90
Best performance: Group Stages – 1998, 2002
Coach : Carlos Albert Parreira
South African football has had a roller coaster ride, fraught with racial tension and internal political trouble, inviting the wrath of FIFA, which barred the nation for over two decades. For a nation that only managed to spring back to action in the nineties, the green and yellow brigade managed to do quite well for a while.
In a continent teeming with talent, South Africa managed to make it to the group stages in both the 1998 and 2002 World Cup editions. In 1998, having been pooled along with the hosts and eventual winners France and European powerhouse Denmark, South Africa lost only one game and drew two. They ultimately ended up third in the group, one spot ahead of Saudi Arabia and one below Denmark.
The ‘Rainbow’ nation put in a comparatively improved performance four years later, beating Slovenia, drawing Paraguay and giving Spain a run for their money before eventually losing 3-2. Once again they exited the tournament in the group stage, but merely by virtue of having scored one goal lesser than Paraguay did.
For a team that promised so much, the Bafana Bafana went into a tailspin soon after. Scoreless in the entire tournament, they crashed out of the African Nations Cup 2006 in dismal fashion. Failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup meant that South Africa were well and truly in crisis. Constant instability at the helm also made matters worse, with Sven Goran Eriksson allegedly turning down an offer to coach the team, and Carlos Parreira resigning after just one year into the job.
The world cup is coming home!
The South Africans have however managed to spark a mini-renaissance of sorts under Joel Santana, coming a creditable fourth after being beaten by Brazil in the semi-finals and tournament favorites Spain in the third-place play off at the Confederations cup last year. Carlos returned soon after, and now is in his second stint as coach of the hosts.
As hosts, they did not require to qualify.
The recent run of successes and the home advantage should play heavily in the favor of the Bafana Bafana.
A lack of belief and poor mental toughness has seen them lose their way in games after promising starts. Being the host nation, they did not go through qualifying and thus, might lack the competitive edge in comparison to other teams.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out:
Benni McCarthy, who plys his trade with West Ham United and who is South Africa’s only striker of note, will have to play out of his skin if his country is to stand any chance of breaking past the group stage barrier. Goals will come in handy, and Benni will need to be at his sharpest.
FIFA Ranking : 17
Best Performance : Quarterfinalists – 1970, 1986
Coach : Javier Aguirre
The Mexicans are North American powerhouses, and like the United States are capable of upsetting the biggest sides on their day. The constant peaks and troughs make El Tri a tough bet. Their record in the World Cup has been poor in comparison to their exploits in the regional tournaments like the CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. However, their run of exhibition matches up to this year’s FIFA World Cup has been more than satisfactory. While the opposition in these friendlies leave much to be desired, Mexico has done well to concede only a solitary goal in 8 games. At the time of this write-up, Mexico still had to be tested by the likes of England, The Netherlands and Italy.
Mexico just about made it to the final round of qualifying after finishing one place behind Honduras and level on points with Jamaica. But in the final round, Mexico finished second to USA by just a single point, and also finished above Honduras. Beating USA at home was the highlight of their campaign.
Mexico will be looking to better their record of always making into the quarter finals in the past four World Cups. It’s a case of ‘been there, done that’ as far as Mexico’s performances in the World Cup are concerned. They will certainly not be finding themselves out of place when the World Cup begins.
For a team that does have quite a few players in competitive foreign leagues, Mexico lacks a couple of big names in its ranks. While their reliance on their team effort should stand them in good stead, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few names to call upon in tough times.
Mexico can upset anyone on their day
TheHardTackle’s Players to Watch Out:
Rafael Marquez(Center back) &
Rafael Marquez is the biggest star in their ranks, and his contributions to Barcelona FC, whenever he was free of injury, have been splendid. His versatility and ability to play in a host of positions, and an uncanny ability to find the back of the net make him the cornerstone of Mexico’s campaign this summer. Javier Hernandez will be making his way to Manchester United in the summer, and it will be worth watching him to see what exactly he’ll bring to the side.
Best Performance : Winners – 1930, 1950
Coach: Oscar Tabarez
Uruguay were once the most powerful force in world football. They were the originators of the quick passing style of flamboyant play that has earned Latin football so many fans the world over. However, their form over the past half-a-century or so has seen them become poor cousins to the more decorated Argentinian and Brazilian sides. After going through a period of uncertainty, having qualified only twice in the last two decades, Uruguay will be hoping that this summer signals a turning point in their fortunes.
Tabarez to revive Uruguay?
Yet another fifth place finish, yet another play-off – a hat-trick for Uruguay. They went to Korea and Japan after beating Australia, but missed out on Germany after losing to Australia. This time around they faced Costa Rica in the play-offs beating them 2-1 over two legs. They were beaten home and away by both Brazil and Argentina.
Uruguay have former national team manager and former AC Milan gaffer Oscar Tabarez at the helm this time around. Having got them to the round of 16 two decades ago, Oscar brings with him the know-how and the experience needed to break past the mould of also-rans.
Again, like Mexico, Uruguay lacks big name stars in their side, with the exception of Diego Forlan, who has been splendid for Atletico Madrid. Moments of brilliance will be hard to come by, and Tabarez would do well to instill a sense of workman-like ethic in his side.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out:
Diego Forlan, fresh off a Europa league victory, will be looking to carry his prolific club form into the World Cup as well. The ex-Manchester United striker could very well end up cutting a forlorn figure, if he doesn’t receive enough support from his lesser accomplished teammates.
Best Performance: Winners – 1998
Coach : Raymond Domenech
Make no mistake about it – Les Bleus are a team in disarray. This is not the team that progressed through the rounds in the 2006 World Cup with an air of quiet confidence and solidity. For a team bursting at the seams with big stars and footballing icons, they can only look at reaching the quarter finals on current form. The team is badly rife with internal dissent, and coach Raymond Domenech does not enjoy the confidence of his team and is reviled by the French national media. The team has come to rely on two strikers aged above 30 – Nicolas Anelka, who has had a good season with Chelsea, and Thierry Henry, who is seemingly well past his prime. The decision to leave out Vieira at the last minute, after talking up his chances all along, might come back to haunt Domenech.
The famous five!
France’s only bright spots will be the midfield, which despite the surprise exclusion of Samir Nasri can call upon the incredibly talented Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda on the flanks. Youann Gourcuff will have to mature well beyond expectations, if he is to fulfill the aspirations of a nation longing for a successor to Zidane’s role as an attacking midfielder and team nucleus.
The defence looks reasonably resolute, with the likes of Clichy, Abidal, Gallas and Evra who can be called upon to deliver. Hugo Lloris, manning the posts, will be a calming influence on an unsettled side, despite his young years.
Don’t be surprised if the words ‘cheat’, ‘unfair’ etc are thrown around when France start their World Cup campaign. Thierry Henry’s famous double-handball is the reason they have a ticket to South Africa after beating Republic Of Ireland in the play-offs. They finished second to Serbia, after struggling throughout the campaign. Despite losing only one game, unconvincing draws against Romania and Serbia meant that France had to settle for a play-off.
France has an incredible array of individual talents, that it can call upon at any point in the tournament. With a line-up that is the envy of most nations, France should expect to move past the group stages, even with a couple of hiccups on the way. Should the side gel together and the stars come good at the right time, France could steam past the post-group stage opposition and find itself vying for a spot in the finals.
Raymond Domenech has done his best to ruin France’s high flying ambitions, with questionable tactics and poor squad selection. His reliance on aged strikers may prove disastrous, if France’s defense turns incredibly porous. The sex scandal that rocked the team recently isn’t helping matters either.
TheHardTackle’s Players to Watch Out:
Florent Malouda(Midfielder) &
Franck Ribery, should put his recent personal troubles aside, if France are to expect anything substantial from their talisman. His vulnerability to pacy defenders was severely exposed in Bayern Munich’s clash with Manchester United. Anything short of a clear head, and Ribery could be a liability.
Florent Malouda is clearly the most improved member of the national side in the past few years, and is an assest on the left flank. His pace can terrorize the sturdiest defensive lineups in the world, and much of France’s attacks will be channeled through him.
Hugo Lloris, as France’s custodian, comes highly recommended and will have a chance to prove he is not merely a figment of media-fuelled hype.
|Match||Date – Time||Venue|
|Johannesburg – JSC||South Africa||v||Mexico|
|Mangaung / Bloemfontein||France||v||South Africa|
The world will be watching when South Africa kicks-off the opening match against Mexico, and it is a great opportunity for either side to show what the possess in their arsenal. South Africa need to go into the final match against France not needing a win from the contest.
France’s early test comes from a stubborn Uruguay and it will show us how much last time’s runners-up have progressed in four years.
2. South Africa
We’re going for bit of a surprise here. Never rule out the home ground advantage! The Bafana Bafana can be expected to over-achieve and progress past the group stages. France, despite all the problems that beset the team, should still make it to the top of the group barring a disaster.
Mexico and Uruguay both have it in their sides, to take second spot but have not exactly set the stage alight for us to rate them any higher. It might be blasphemous to expect former winners Uruguay to not even make it past the group stages, but there’s a pretty good chance the Bafana Bafana will have the last laugh…