World Cup 2010 — Group A
What is there to say about hosts the Bafana Bafana, except that they will get well and truly tonked by their Group A brethren. They DO have a World Cup winner in the squad though! That’ld be coach of the 1994 Brazil squad Carlos Alberto Parreira (the last man to lead mighty Fluminense to a Brasilerão title [1984!]…but a distinctly unimpressive journeyman/mercenary at the international level these last 15 or so years). Parreira is know for conservative tactics and organizational prowess, useful qualities when raw talent is lacking. But let’s not get too patronizing with the host nation. Cornrowed playmaker Steven Pienaar will surely be the most likely source of aesthetically pleasing hijinks in attack, and striker Katlego Mphela has a not-scoff-at-able international strike rate (15 goals in 31 appearances, including a brace against Spain in last summer’s Confederations Cup) and scored the winner against the Danes in their last friendly. Player most likely to deliver the unexpected? Well that would have to be second-striker Surprise Moriri, •GONG•!!! Perhaps their fans’ enthusiasm and the atmospheric hum of vuvuzelas can lift the Bafana Bafana…but I’d say there is absolutely no chance they’ll qualify ahead of Uruguay, Mexico, or even the French.
After a shambolic qualifying campaign and the misguided appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson as coach, El Tri is finally getting its casa en orden. The man chosen to undo the damage of the culturally at-sea Svelte Swede is Javier Aguirre, the former Atlético Madrid skipper taking his second crack at managing the national team. After losing to El Salvador in his first game back in charge, he’s been undefeated at the helm of the Selección Mexicana.
El Tri are propped up by some increasingly creaky workhorses—centerback and captain Rafa Marquez has begun to fall out of favor at Barcelona due to his lack of pace, Cuahtemoc Blanco is 37 but still offers creative flair, and longtime holding midfielder Pavel Pardo is 33. However, there is undoubtedly una infusión fresca of young attacking talent. Former Barça/Spurs whippersnapper Gio Dos Santos has begun to progress since playing regularly at Galatasaray, as has Arsenal bit-player Carlos Vela. Most intriguing, however, is 22 y/o striker Javier “El Chicharito” Hernandez. His goal-scoring prowess at hometown club Chivas de Guadalajara recently earned him a move to Manchester United, as well as a call-up to the national squad—he’s speedy and scores a LOT of headed goals, despite the the fact that he’s just 5’7″. Mexico has long lacked ruthlessness in front of goal, but if Vela or Hernandez click into gear they should have no problem getting out of their admittedly tricky group.
The Albiceleste have won the World Cup twice, let us not forget!!! Sure, it’s been 62 years since they last hoisted the cup…only 16 years less than England, who people (The Sun & attendant delusional pasty Englishmen) still take somewhat seriously! What’s undeniable is that Uruguay have the most well-defined set of abdominals in the Cup (Ronaldo be damned!) in the form of frequently-shirtless sensation Diego Forlan. He’s scored 50 goals in the last 2 seasons at Atlético Madrid, and will be joined in attack by young Ajax starlet Luis Suárez. After scoring 35 goals in the ’09-10 season (2 gols in 4 appearances for Uruguay since breaking into the starting XI) he has a host of clubs swarming to sign him. Another Ajax youngster (formerly of Nacional), Nicolás Lodeiro, threads the needle as a speedy attacking midfielder with excellent close control. Coming off the bench is Sebastian “El Loco” Abreu, the leading scorer at club level in this World Cup with 305 career goals (just nudging out Thierry Henry)—though 33 he’s experienced a mild revival since moving to Botafogo last year. Defensive affairs are managed at the back by captain Diego Lugano, a poetic embodiment of the stereotypical Uruguayo hardman.
It’s an odd World Cup for Les Bleus, with the post-tournament exit of astrologer-coach Raymond Domenech already confirmed. Despite France’s fortuitous run to the 2006 final, RD has been a long-running joke for his semi-inept formational thinking, with total devotion to a 4-2-3-1 system despite the circumstances yielding sparkling results, such as their 0-0 draw with Romania at Euro 2008 (which earned them their sole point of that tournament). There’s also the total lack of respect he commands among the players, who rightly recognize and mock his eccentricities. His final squad of 23 surprised some with its exclusion of Karim Benzema (admittedly a sulky bastard coming off a crap season at Real Falangista), Jean-Alain Boumsong, and tiny midfield craftsman Samir Nasri. The current configuation of Les Bleus marks the end of a generational era, with midfield stalwart Patrick Vieira out of the squad and Thierry Henry relegated to the bench (a position he’s occupied with aplomb in the second half of Barcelona’s campaign!).
Domenech has started to mix things up a bit in the last several friendlies, introducing a 4-3-3 system just in time to confuse his talented squad and sow general disorder! France weren’t exactly delivering flowing football in their 2-1 victory over Costa Rica and have looked rickety in the last week, drawing 1-1 to Tunisia and losing 1-0 to China. France’s greatest hope perhaps lies in Player Power, as the talent at Domenech’s disposal is unquestionable—if only he knew what to do with it. Should the players channel their passions and break their tactical chains, the attacking talents of fullbacks Patrica Evra and Gael Clichy, silky midfielders Toulalan and Gourcuff, and incisive wingers Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda would be indeed difficult for opponents to negotiate. This humble editor doesn’t see it happening however—the only points they’re likely to see are against South Africa.