Time to start my World Cup 2010 Group Previews. There probably won't be tons of pertinent information here, just mostly random thoughts, which this blog excels at. The player to watch will usually be someone entertaining and maybe off the radar.
Mexico – Mexico failed to impress throughout much of their CONCACAF qualifying campaign, but have been consistent upon the return of manager Javier Aguirre. An impressive run-in schedule featuring England, Netherlands, Italy, (and Gambia) will definitely help the Mexicans. They have a solid side, and have a great chance to make it to the next round, but lack the playmakers to real challenge for anything more than the quarters.
Player to Watch – Carlos Vela – Exciting down the wing or up top, Vela is one of the more dangerous players for Mexico and one of the few that can break down opposing defenses by himself.
South Africa – The host nation has never failed to qualify for the second round. Will this be the first time? It is a possibility. South Africa's world ranking is poor, but that will be balanced by the home crowd advantage. The Bafana Bafana have a number of dangerous, skilled individual players, but lack strength in team and depth, especially on defense. The first game against Mexico will be hugely important. If South Africa can get even a point, the momentum will be huge.
Player to Watch - Siphiwe Tshabalala - He has a great name even though I don't know how to pronounce it, but I do remember him from last summer's Confederations Cup. He is a little guy with great speed and ball skills and should work well on the opposite wing of Everton's Steven Pienaar.
France – Runners-up last World Cup, France had a difficult qualification run to SA 2010. They were lucky to make it this far, and lost their place as one of the 8 seeded teams, but there draw into South Africa's group makes things very interesting. France's inconsistent play as of late makes them one of the bigger wild cards of the tournament. With world class players like Ribery, Henry, and Gallas leading the squad, it will be hard to see them not progress past the first round.
Player of Watch – Andre-Pierre Gignac – France will need this striker to be on his game. He's an ideal target man for Henry or Anelka, but will need to chip in some goals as well, with neither of his strike partners in top form. Gypsy.
Uruguay – I don't really know much about Uruguay. They are a solid side, but didn’t perform overly well in qualifying, having to win the play-off against Costa Rica. They are a trendy pick to win the group, but I don't see it. Forlan is world class up top, but will the midfield be strong enough?
Player to Watch – Luis Suarez – The Ajax youngster could be an interesting strike partner for Forlan and Uruguay will need to score goals to advance. Young player on the rise, linked with big clubs.
Predictions: This is one of the most even groups. I will not be surprised if any of the four teams moves on or fails to move on to the next round. South Africa is the wildcard and will make things interesting. Their attacking style will be fun to watch, but I don't see them winning more than one game. South Africa/Uruguay should be the most interesting match and I think Uruguay/Mexico will be the most important match, deciding who goes through and who does not. Look for everything to still be in the balance for all four teams on that last day. 1st and 2nd should be huge here, though, as the 2nd place team will most likely face off against Argentina in round two and the winner of Group A will play Greece, Nigeria, or South Korea. A fun group to watch.
South Africa 3