By: Justin Sullivan and Hunter McDowell
Part: 1 of 10: Profiling each group, the second round /quarters, semis / finals.
I am 23, and I have a bucket list. My God, I want to go to the World Cup. I’m desperate to do so, and if anyone would like to donate $10,000 to the cause, I will peacefully go away (however unlikely, there’s always hope for one generous soul). Obviously, I’m not going this time around, maybe in 2018 (USA bid to host). So what’s the next best thing: Telling you what’s going to happen during the 2010 tournament.
Before I begin, there are a few things you should know:
1) The World Cup is in South Africa (the first African nation to host)
2) There are 32 teams going to South Africa for the World Cup.
3) There are 8 groups of 4 (=32). Each team plays the three others in their group. Top two from each group move on to second round.
4) The USA is one of 32. So is Mexico (We hate Mexico, which is not new to most Americans).
5) THIS IS THE BIGGEST PARTY IN THE WORLD. FORGET CARNIVAL.
Now that you know, look below:
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Being the 81st ranked team in the world, it is ridiculous that South Africa is in the World Cup. Do you know why they are in, for the third, and possibly, last time ever? They host. They didn’t have any reason to host, except to encourage and acknowledge progress in a country that is known for apartheid more than football.
Now FIFA (soccer’s governing body), answer me this: Why are you screwing the 10th, 11th, and 13th ranked teams in the world to put the World Cup in South Africa (I know every team has to qualify, except the host, so make the host country a footballing nation, not a team that traditionally struggles to qualify)? Is the before-mentioned really the answer? We’ll see how that works out.
There’s a stereotype that precedes every African footballing team, and South Africa is a prime example of this: Free-flowing in attack a.k.a. a fun team to watch, super long and athletic, but poorly organized at the back and for the most part all over the field (defensively). Stereotype aside, South Africa as a footballing nation has actually exceeded my expectations. They showed well in the 2009 Confederations Cup (basically a World Cup warm-up, also hosted in South Africa) by making the semis. They accomplished this, their greatest footballing achievement, with a draw against Iraq (ranked 86) and a win against New Zealand (79). Congrats! Do they stand a chance in this group even with their home backing? No. They don’t. They’ll be extremely lucky to win a game.
South Africa has one shining light: Steven Pienaar. The Everton FC (England (same team Landon Donovan now plays for)) player is in great form (playing well at the moment). Pienaar and Donovan play on opposite sides from one another and cause havoc for their opponents. Pienaar is a quick, dynamic player, able to dribble and combine through defenses, but will need help from his teammates.
If you want more Steven Pienaar:
South African Player to Watch: Steven Pienaar
Final Group Standing: 4th
Mexico has a rich tradition as a footballing nation. One of the best footballing cultures never to have won the World Cup. But Mexico has had three coaches since its start of qualification for the 2010 World Cup. Reason: Mexicans are arrogant about their football. Their best players are worshiped like Gods, but most have a hard time finding first-team football outside of Mexico. For example, the current captain of the Mexican national team, Rafa Marquez, plays for FC Barcelona, the greatest club team in the world. Rafa is the 4th string center-back (you start with two usually), and a hack, for Barca. Bottom line: Rafa Marquez is second rate, and if he is leading Mexico, Mexico is second rate.
As you’ve guessed, Mexicans and the Americans don’t get along, so I hope the Mexicans don’t move on, but there is a good possibility they will in this weak group. Mexico has played through the group stage and into the second round in the last five World Cups they’ve participated in, and the Mexican’s have a couple things going for them. First, the Mexican national team is a small, quick, and dynamic side. When things are going well, they are a fun team to watch (they beat a USA C team 5-0 in the Gold Cup final in the summer of 2009). Despite their size, they have an outstanding work rate and are willing to sacrifice their bodies for the good of the team. A solid defensive work rate in a somewhat dynamic team can overcomes any lack of skill or athleticism a team might have. Playing South Africa first will also help. They should get a full three points and be able to figure a few things out in the process.
Mexico has a trio of promising, young, attacking talent playing oversees: Gio Dos Santos, another FC Barcelona starlet, got shipped to Turkey after a failed experience in England with Tottenham FC , and will have the most to prove. If Dos Santos has a good tournament, Mexico shouldn’t have a problem moving on. If he struggles, Mexico will too. Andres Guardado, a highly rated playmaker for Deportivo La Coruna in Spain, is currently the best of the three, but potentially is behind. And Carlos Vela, a youngster in the highly rated Arsenal youth system in England, is the player with the most to gain, but will have to fight for playing time in an experienced forward line. In order to progress, Mexico will need outstanding performances from the likes of these three, and if Marquez can keep things organized defensively, the Mexicans can get through in this relatively weak group.
Take a look at Giovanni Dos Santos:
Mexican Player to Watch: Gio Dos Santos
Final Group Standing: 2nd
I’m a soccer coach by trade, so I deal with a bunch of ignorant American kids who have no soccer culture. Positively, the USA is building something worth while, but that’s beside the point. During my time working a particular camp for a local college, we had a chance to test the knowledge of some adolescent s, “There are three South American countries that have won a World Cup… Brazil (duh), Argentina (duh), and… ? Whoever answers the questions first gets to eat first.” The high school teams who were less than poised for this difficult question had a hard time naming another South American country, let alone knowing the answer: Two-time World Cup Champion, Uruguay. There were three high-school teams there, and no one ate.
That means two things:
1) Ambassadors of this game need to do a better job educating the youth that play.
2) Where has Uruguay been for 60 years?
Uruguay won the inaugural World Cup in 1930 (they hosted), and won again in their next World Cup appearance 20 years later in 1950. Of course they bounce around from appearance to appearance, but out of every team that has won a World Cup, they are the least likely to do so again. Uruguay has become a beating boy by their bordering countries, Brazil and Argentina, and had to qualify for the World Cup by beating lowly Costa Rica. Does this bode well for South Africa? No, of course not, but the Uruguayans have a few things to look forward to.
Uruguay is the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens to this year’s World Cup. They are organized defensively, and almost more importantly more willing than any other South American country to physically dominate their opponent. Also like the Ravens, Uruguay poses a one-dimensional and thus less than threatening attack. Diego Forlan is far and away the countries best player and best attacking weapon. Once a threat for Manchester United in England, the current Athletico Madrid forward will have to carry a majority of the scoring load for the once world’s best to be considered anywhere close to that again.
Uruguay will open the tournament with a loss against fellow past World Cup champion, France, but will gain points in their next two matches with a win (3 points) against the host, South Africa, and a scoring draw (1) in a must win against Mexico. Four points will not be enough to go through here, but it will leave this former champion satisfied, at least this time around.
Check out Diego Forlan:
Uruguayan Player to Watch: Diego Forlan
Final Group Standing: 3rd
Controversial France shouldn’t have qualified for the tournament. Thierry Henry’s handball, leading directly to the winning goal in a play-in match against Ireland is now the second most infamous handball in international footballing history.
Take a look:
Controversy aside, France is down from its recent past, 2006 World Cup runners-up, 2000 Euro Cup Champions, 1998 World Cup Champions. Are they a top 32 side in the world? No question. They have some of the best players in the world, most notably, Bayern Munich star, Franck Ribery and the before-mentioned Henry. Does this make them group favorite? Yes it does, but making the return to the finals is a dramatic stretch. France lost the world’s best player of his generation when Zinedine Zidane hung up his boots after his infamous head-butt. Zindane was the more important to France than Kobe is to the Lakers or Syd the Kid is to the Penguins. He was a master, and without him, France had trouble qualifying, but since they have a rich recent past, they get put in a group with no relative equal, and will win the group.
France’s success has always hinged on a Zidane- like star; Michel Platini in the 1980s, Eric Cantona in the late 80s and forgettable early 1990s, and Zidane in the Golden Years (1998-2006). France brought the best out of these three, but does little for Henry, who has failed to make as big of an impact on the international scene as he has with his club, where his lethal goal-scoring rate while in England with Arsenal FC made him one of the world’s best. Now with FC Barcelona, Henry has contributed, but not at the same rate as in his past. The playmaking torch, thus skips Henry and gets placed in the hands of little, scar-faced Franck Ribery. Ribery is no doubt world-class, but has much to prove on the biggest stage, about $120,000,000 worth of proving (that figure is the price tag on Ribery, and yes, like a slave). France, like it always has, needs to play through its best player to have success. If Ribery doesn’t show that he’s capable of greatness, the magic of
France’s recent past will have disappeared, and France will ultimately be disappointing.
Group A Table