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World Cup Opening Match: Mexico Vs. South Africa

Friday, June 11th is the day that the dreams of 32 nations begin.  The 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off, with our southern neighbor and greatest rival, Mexico, taking on World Cup host South Africa at 9:00 am CDT. 

This game is huge for both teams.  For Mexico, President Felipe Calderon will travel to Johannesburg to cheer on ‘El Tri.’  Mexican head coach Javier Aguirre, who righted the floundering Mexican squad during World Cup qualifying, will be looking not only for three points but to establish his team as a real threat to go deep in the tournament.  For South Africa, as host country, so much prestige is on the line, not only for the play of their national team but to show the world that their nation is capable of hosting a well-organized World Cup.  South Africa Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who returned to take the reins for South Africa after his wife’s illness, is a veteran of five previous World Cups and will get the most out of his technically talented, if less than well-known squad.  What a great opening match.

The Mexican squad is a mix of many seasoned veterans with some exciting, if relatively inexperienced, youth.  In goal, young veteran Club America keeper Guillermo Ochoa, with 37 national team caps seems to be the choice of sportswriters, although 37-year-old Oscar Perez, with 52 caps, may be Coach Aguirre’s choice.   The back four is not written in stone, but PSV veteran Carlos Salcido seems to be a unanimous choice, along with a combination of PSV teammate Javier “Maza” Rodgriguez, who as the tallest player on the Mexican squad seems essential for defending set pieces and is quite in form; Ricardo Osorio, who saw little playing time last season for Stuttgart but is a veteran presence;  youngsters Hector Moreno of AZ Alkmaar and Paul Aguilar of Pachuca (who only have 10 caps apiece); and Barcelona veteran Rafael Marquez and Efrain Juarez of UNAM, although both are more likely to feature in the Mexican midfield along with longtime national team starter Gerardo Torrado in Coach Aguirre;s 4-3-3 setup.  Torrado has 114 caps.  Up front, it seems the three forward combination of dynamic youngsters Carlos Vela, Giovani Dos Santos and Javier “El Chicharito” Hernandez may get the starting nod, although as a group the trio has less than 25 caps, are under age 22 and Santos and Vela have not truly established themselves at the club level in England.  Hernandez moves to Manchester United from Chivas after the World Cup.  Iconic Mexican veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Alberto Medina, recently injured Guillermo Franco and Adolfo “Bofo” Bautista provide attacking depth, while midfielders Pablo Barrera, Andres Guardado and Israel Castro are experienced national team players who can help off the bench.  Jonny Magallon and youngster Jorge Torres Nilo will be on call in the back, and Luis Ernesto Michel of Chivas is the third goalkeeper.  Franco, the former West Ham player, may start ahead of Hernandez or Vela if he fully recovers from his recent foot injury.

Although South Africa can boast the number one rated cricket team and the current rugby World Cup champions, their national soccer team isn’t as highly regarded.  Coach Parreira will have to weave considerable magic and bank on the inspired, vuvuzela tooting fans to lift the Bafana Bafana.  Sixteen players on South Africa’s 23 man roster currently play their club ball in the South African Premiership.  With EPL veteran Benni McCarthy not chosen to the squad, its most widely recognized player is midfielder Steven Pienaar of Everton, who played in the Bundesliga and Eredvisie prior to moving to the EPL.  Some consider Kaiser Chiefs’ midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala to be the Bafana Bafana’s best player, which is a huge compliment considering the high regard for Steven Pienaar.  Forward Bernard Parker plays for Eredivisie championship team FC Twente, although he may have lost a starting position as a withdrawn striker to Katlego Mphela, and defender Aaron Mokoena has played in over 100 EPL games with Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth and has over 100 national team caps.  Itemelung Khune, also of the Kaiser Chiefs, will most likely start in goal.  The South Africans play a 4-4-1-1 formation under Parreira, and central midfield play is a strength with Pienaar, although the tendency of outside players is to drift towards the center of the field burdens the attack with a lack of width.  South Africa has not shown that it can consistently score goals in recent years.

This should be an outstanding beginning for the 2010 World Cup, as both teams play in a tough Group A with a very talented if unpredictable French team and a solid Uruguayan squad.  Mexico is one of only four teams (the others being Brazil, Italy and Germany) to advance to the round of 16 in the last four World Cups.  Conversely, Mexico has lost each time at that stage. El Tri have played numerous warm-up friendlies this year, and are poised for a successful run in the tournament.  But South Africa has home field advantage, a factor that has benefited every World Cup host country in getting through the first round.  Loud home crowds can also translate into favorable refereeing decisions  — don’t kid yourself, it happens.  With Parreira’s wealth of World Cup coaching experience and success in capturing the trophy with Brazil, South Africa will be ready to give their nation something to cheer about.   Mexico should prevail,  as talent and experience wise, they are the better team.  And they have a lethal weapon off the bench that South Africa cannot match:  the slow but still effective Senor Blanco, whose skill and gamesmanship can turn a close contest into a victory for El Tri.

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One Response

  1. It is reported that 91 year-old Nelson Mandela will appear for 10-15 minutes prior to the Mexico-South Africa match to greet fans and players before returning home to watch the game on TV. The former South African President and leader in human rights is in frail but good health and it was not certain whether he would be able to make an appearance at the game.

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