Group A is one of the most interesting groups in the tournament, including both the hosts and 2006 World Cup Finalists and previous World Cup Winners, France. The other teams making up the group include Mexico and Uruguay.
Ordinarily one would expect France to qualify relatively comfortably from this group, but such is their lack of consistency at times that this is not guaranteed. The argument over whether they should actually be participating in the World Cup is sure to rumble on. Raymond Domenech continues to be questioned in some quarters, as well as the age of the squad, which in 2006, seemed to work in France’s favour. Much will depend on the performances of the younger players and those currently in top form, including the likes of Samir Nasri, Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery. They will certainly not want a repeat of 2002, when they exited the competition in the group stages.
The hosts South Africa, will be enjoying only their third World Cup in the history of the Finals. The tournaments in 1998 and 2002 resulted in first round exits and the team didn’t enjoy a particularly good Confederations Cup last summer in the warm up to the tournament. Coached by former Brazil manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, they do possess some quality and experience however. Much of their hopes will rest on their most recognisable and skilful player, Steven Pienaar. The host nation does historically do well in the tournament. Even South Korea in 2002, admittedly due to some questionable refereeing decisions, as well as their play, made the semi-finals. It does make for a more exciting tournament if the host nation can stay in for as long as possible.
Uruguay, after finishing 5th in their South American qualifying group, only made the Finals after coming through a play-off against Costa Rica. Although not the strongest South American team to have to face, Uruguay do still possess some highly talented individuals, capable of winning matches. As a South American team, they will be technically gifted and with strikers including Diego Forlan and Luiz Suarez in the squad, two players in fantastic form, the team are certainly capable of scoring goals. Much will depend on the performance of the team in defence. In what many expect to be a closely fought group, goal difference may become a crucial factor in the final reckoning. This will be only their second World Cup Finals in twenty years, the last being Italia 90.
For Mexico, on the other hand, this will be their fifth World Cup Finals in a row. After making the last 16 in each of the previous four, it will be quite an achievement for Mexico to break through the barrier into the quarterfinals. Players in the squad we will be familiar with include Rafael Marquez at Barcelona, Giovani dos Santos at Spurs, Guillermo Franco at West Ham United and Carlos Vela from Arsenal. Also included in the squad is the new Manchester United signing Javier Hernandez. Most of the squad play for clubs within Mexico and it is certainly a mix of youth and experience. In what appears such a closely fought group between themselves, Uruguay and South Africa, Mexico’s worthy efforts from previous tournaments may just falter this time.
Predicting the outcome of this group is very difficult indeed, owing much to the fact that France are particularly unpredictable and the hosts South Africa are involved also. In another World Cup, staged in another country, it would be difficult to see South Africa progressing but backed by vociferous home support as the first African country to host the tournament, this may just see them sneak through.
If the real France arrive at the World Cup then they should progress through this group relatively comfortably with South Africa a distant second but the runner-up all the same. The second position could very likely be decided on goal difference such is the small difference between them. My prediction for South Africa is admittedly one more out of hope than expectation. If they were able to advance past the group stage it would give the country a huge lift. If South Africa are to fall however, my money would be on Uruguay to take their place in the second round.