Countdown to Africa World Cup begins
Posted: 10 June 2010 Time: 2:13 pm
The curtain rises on Friday on the first World Cup staged by Africa with Group A rivals South Africa, Mexico, France and Uruguay in action on the opening day of the month-long tournament.
Bafana Bafana face Mexico at the 90,000-seat Soccer City Stadium while France and Uruguay clash later at Cape Town Stadium in the other Group A fixture. France, Uruguay and Mexico rank among the top 20 football nations in the world with South Africa lagging behind in 83rd place, but they have tradition on their side with no host nation failing to reach the second round. South Africa are banking on huge home support from a crowd blowing deafening vuvuzelas and maybe the presence of world political icon Nelson Mandela to inspire Aaron Mokoena and his team. Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar apart, South Africa lack high-profile footballers but training camps in Brazil, Germany and South Africa have reaped reward with the national team unbeaten in 12 warm-up matches. Mexico boast a mix of youth and experience led by Barcelona veteran Rafael Marquez and would be hot favourites to triumph were the opening match anywhere but South Africa. Spectators, who will watch an opening ceremony two hours before the 14h00 GMT kick-off, would not complain if they get a repeat of the 2006 opener goal feast that ended with a 4-2 victory for Germany over Costa Rica. Germany, given little hope then despite an impressive World Cup pedigree, went on to finish third behind Italy and France, but that seems an unrealistic target for Bafana. While President Jacob Zuma hopes to hand the trophy to Mokoena on July 11, many South Africans believe surviving the first round would be a wonderful achievement and a quarter-finals place miraculous. France, who have appeared in two of the last three finals and won one, face Uruguay amid a salvo of criticism, with nothing but victory enough to satisfy the sceptics. Raymond Domenech's team have been in underwhelming form, losing 1-0 to China in a warm-up last week, following a 2-1 win over Costa Rica and a 1-1 draw with Tunisia. Since arriving in South Africa, they have adopted a siege-like mentality at a luxury resort to focus on the job in hand, training mostly behind closed doors. This has not gone down well with an irate French media, while Sports Minister Rama Yade caused a stir when she said the team should have shown some "decency" during hard economic times by not using such swanky accommodation. The World Cup offers another chance for Uruguay to relive their glory days. They collected the 1930 World Cup and repeated the feat in 1950, but have rarely made an impact at the global showpiece since. This time round expectations at home are not high and coach Oscar Tabarez is keen to ignore the past. Instead, he wants to focus on getting the best out of a talented, maturing squad who trounced Switzerland and Israel 3-1 and 4-1 respectively in recent friendlies. Tabarez has already named his team to face the French with defender Mauricio Victorino and midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios surprise choices. Victorino, who plays in Chile with Universidad de Chile, replaces Andres Scotti of Colo Colo, also in the Chilean top flight, and Arevalo Rios from Penarol takes over from Walter Gargano of Napoli in a 3-4-1-2 formation. "The system we have chosen can adapt to the different things we could face against France," said Tabarez, nicknamed 'El Maestro'. Star striker Diego Forlan from Atletico Madrid will be partnered by Luis Suarez, who scored 35 goals for Ajax in the Dutch championship last season. AFP