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by Michael Cree
The World Cup kicks off this Friday in South Africa, and guest blogger/soccer diehard Michael Cree will be here Monday through Thursday to give you an exclusive preview of the tournament’s biggest match-ups. Today, he provides his insights on two of the most tantalizing groups of the draw. – KW
So, the biggest sporting event in the world is back once again. Four years ago, it was reported that 1 in 3 people across the globe watched at least part of Italy’s defeat of France in the World Cup Final hosted in Germany. And South Africa 2010 is set to be even bigger. ESPN certainly believes so – the network has spent more money on its marketing campaign for this summer’s tournament than any other sporting event in its history.
But when you strip away all the “hoo-ha,” it’s about 32 teams desperate to win soccer’s grand prize. And 32 sets of fans who want it even more. So who’s going to prevail on July 11? Can Italy hold on to the trophy? On home soil, can an African team win for the first time ever? And just how far can the United States go? We at BBC America take a look at the chances of all 32 teams vying for superstardom.
South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, and France
As hosts, South Africa has a lot of pressure to deal with. But the “Bafana-Bafana” will also have fanatical homefield support behind them, a massive advantage in any international tournament. And they’ll need it. Much like in previous tournaments, the team will rely on an English-based hero to carry them through. Steven Pienaar, a tricky winger with Everton, will be charged with scoring more goals than his team’s notoriously leaky defense concedes.
Despite making it through to the tournament as a result of an incredible piece of cheating from striker Thierry Henry in a play-off game against the Republic of Ireland, France will have no problem in this group and should finish at the top quite easily. Perhaps the easiest of all 8 groups on paper, they have strength and quality throughout the team, especially in attack, with Bordeaux’s Yoann Gourcuff, Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka, and Barcelona’s (perhaps soon to be New York Red Bulls’) Henry all capable of magic.
But there is a weakness. Coach Raymond Domenech, who is derided in his homeland, doesn’t inspire confidence and only serves to hamper his team’s ability with strange tactical decision-making. Unlike four years ago, they have no chance of making the Final this time around.
Fighting for second spot in the group with South Africa will be Uruguay and Mexico. The former, like France, had a tough time qualifying from their admittedly grueling South American pool. But it is to their considerable credit that they did. Two-time World Cup winners (yes, really), Uruguayan soccer is typified by neat skill and individual quality, two attributes that former Manchester United and current Atletico Madrid No. 9, Diego Forlan, has in abundance. Frustrating at times, Forlan has had a wonderful season in Spain and enters the tournament in excellent form.
Unlike Uruguay, Mexico has no superstar to rely on. They have some very skillful players, namely Carlos Vela of Arsenal and Giovani Dos Santos of London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, but it remains to be seen if the team can “do the business” against established soccer nations. It must be noted that the most difficult team Mexico had to play to qualify for the tournament was the United States, who have a far superior head-to-head record. Against South Africa, Uruguay, and France, they face a tall order to advance beyond the group stages.
3. South Africa
For more news and in-depth coverage of the World Cup, go to BBC.com.
See more posts by Kevin Wicks
Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.