In my group preview before the first game was played I suggested any of the four teams in Group A could win the group while any of the four could equally finish last. Nothing from the first round of games suggests any different.
South Africa and Mexico have a slight edge in terms of goals scored but that will likely matter little when the group is done.
First up on Wednesday is South Africa and Uruguay in Pretoria. South Africa's performance surprised many but not those who had seen their last few warm up games or had been following the training camps. Once they shook off their nerves in the opening half hour they showed they can easily match any team in the group and but for a criminally negligent defensive lapse could have walked away with all three points.
There is talent aplenty on the team particularly in their strongest area, the midfield. They were full of running, a testament to coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's emphasis on fitness. Once they found their rhythm, the passing game was crisp and accurate while through balls creating headaches for the Mexican defense including Siphiwe Tshabalala's brilliant goal. Tshabalala and Teko Modise showed off some skills, overemphasised in their domestic league, leaving defenders in their wake.
On the minus side they created too few scoring opportunities which is an ongoing problem. The defense was solid for the most but too negligent at times. On reviewing Mexico's goal I saw that at least three defenders forgot the basics of defense that every schoolboy knows - mark your man.
Uruguay either played great defense or France were virtually impotent in their 0-0 draw. I lean towards the latter although the Uruguayan defence held firm, made few mistakes and allowed France no clear cut scoring opportunities.
How their defense will fare against South Africa is unclear. South Africa's speed and passing might not give their defensive stance that luxury if they cede the midfield. This could create a dilemma for Uruguay's coach, Oscar Tabarez.
Uruguay's biggest threat is Diego Forlan. Containing him is difficult. His technique and his nose for openings is such that he will create goalscoring opportunities against any defense and mistakes by South Africa will be punished. Luiz Suarez, his forward partner had a quiet game belying his excellent credentials. No doubt Itumeleng Khune, the goalie will be called up to make some acrobatic saves.
The altitude (4,500 ft) and South Africa's fitness and energy could prove troublesome for Uruguay whose first game was at sea level. The ball flies further in the lighter air and a few days practice might not be enough to master using a slightly lighter touch on lofted balls.
Fan support and their newly found confidence should prevail as long as the defense can limit the opportunities they give Forlan. Bafana for the win, made more comfortable by their fitness over the last 20 minutes of the game.
Additional Note: Many wrote off South Africa's chances based on their low FIFA ranking. FIFA rankings are determined by 4 years of results with the current year weighing as much as the three previous years combined. Thus a rapid improvement or decline will not accurately be reflected in the ranking. Witness Greece which is currently ranked 13th.
France - Mexico to follow.
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