After two years and 848 qualification matches, the World Cup is almost ready to start. Host South Africa will kick off the month long tournament when they take on Mexico June 11. Later that night, Raymond Domenech's French team will entertain Uruguay as the competition begins in earnest.
Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
South Africa (83) were the first team out of the hat, as hosts they were awarded a first seed ranking and will play their opening match in the 94,700 Soccer City stadium.
As one of the lowest seeds in the tournament, 83rd, Bafana Bafana were hoping for an easy draw. However, even before the groups were made, bookmakers had made South Africa favourites to be eliminated whichever group they ended up with.
Currently, Carlos Parreira's men are unbeaten in 11 games and head towards the World Cup on something of a high. It must be noted that none of their good results have come against what would be regarded as good teams though.
Initially, the draw was kind to the home nation, Mexico and Uruguay are there for the taking, but with France coming out of the bowl last, the group has taken on a very stiff task. Most depressing for Parreira was Benni McCarthy's decision to show up having put on a ton of extra weight since the end of the season. As a result, the West Ham striker was sent packing and South Africa's best striker went home.
Carlos Alberto Parreira has the unenviable task of getting South Africa through to the knockout stages. The Brazilian will have to use every trick in his wide repertoire to achieve this unlikely task. The end result is most likely to be the hosts exiting the tournament after 11 days and England picking up a lot of extra fans.
Javier Aguirre was the man who picked up the pieces in Mexico (17) following Sven Goran-Erikkson's disastrous reign. And they may have found the right group, some of their matches will be played in high altitude, something that favours the Mexicans and their flamboyant playing style.
Recent in-fighting over Aguirre's decision to axe Barcelona youth Jonatan Dos Santos has caused some consternation, mostly to his brother, Giovani. But when all is said and done, El Tri have a team that could easily qualify from this group.
Uruguay (16) were the last team to qualify from South America after a tight play-off victory over Costa Rica. Gone are the stars of yesteryear, and the over-reliance on the Ajax star Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan makes them very one dimensional. Midfield and defence are traditional strong points for La Celeste Olímpica but Oscar Tabarez does not the same quality of players at his disposal as previous managers.
Having qualified through the most controversial way possible, France (8) will be thanking their lucky stars for such a favourable draw, especially when you consider that they were unseeded.
Despite the good draw, Domenech has refused to include the likes of Samir Nasri, Patrick Vieira, Lassana Diarra, and most amazingly Real Madrid's Karim Benzema.
Before the final squad announcement last week rumours began to flow that he was going to leave Thierry Henry at home, only for the Barcelona star to talk his mentor around and now it would seem as if the striker will play the part of a "super-sub."
Raymond Domenech will continue to scupper Les Bleus' chances, and it will be interesting to see if he ever gets around to playing his best team, one that could conceivably win the tournament. Judging by his poor recent history, expect France to qualify and then crumble when they are questioned.
Runners Up: Mexico
Group A Fixtures:
Match (01) June 11- South Africa vs. Mexico (Soccer City, 94,700)
Match (02) June 11- France vs. Uruguay (Cape Town Stadium, 69,070)
Match (17) June 16- South Africa vs. Uruguay (Loftus Versfield Stadium, 51,762)
Match (20) June 17- France vs. Mexico (Peter Mokaba Stadium, 46,000)
Match (33) June 22- Mexico vs. Uruguay (Royal Bafokeng Stadium, 44,530)
Match (34) June 22- France vs. South Africa (Free State Stadium, 48,000)
Players to Watch:
Steven Pienaar (RSA), Cuauhtemoc Blanco (MEX), Franck Ribery (FRA), Luis Suarez (URU)
Mexico has played more World Cup Qualifiers than any other team, 141 in total between 1930 and 2010.
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This article was first published on Tiger Beer Football where Willie Gannon is the featured blogger.