Tag Archives: Uruguay

Asamoah Gyan takes Ghana to the Quarter Finals

Ghana 2-1 United States

The United States’ dramatic World Cup adventure was brought to an end in Rustenberg this evening. Bob Bradley’s gritty side came back from a goal down to force the game into extra-time. Asamoah Gyan, who had scored twice in the Group Stage, was once again the hero for the Black Stars as his half volley just minutes into the first period of extra-time was to prove the decisive goal.

Ghana arrived in Rustenberg on a bus bearing the slogan “The Hope of Africa”. The sole remaining representatives of the continent enjoyed the majority of the support at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, with many South African fans wearing the shirts of their beloved Bafana Bafana painting their faces in the colours of the Black Stars.

They will have been overjoyed to see Ghana take the lead early on. Kevin-Prince Boateng, so influential to Ghana’s progress thusfar, burst down the left on to Kwadwo Asamoah’s pass and unleashed a low drive past Tim Howard at the near post. The concession of yet another early goal will have surely tested the resolve of the United States but they had proven their resilience time and again in this competition.

Ghana were comfortable in their lead for the remained of the first half as the United States struggled to keep possession in midfield. Goalkeeper Richard Kingson, a reserve at Wigan Athletic in the Premier League, prevented Robbie Findley from equalising. Kingson was unimpressive in earlier games against Serbia and Australia but was far more reassuring this evening.

Kingson produced another fine save just minutes into the second half. Benny Feilhaber, brought on as a substitute for Robbie Findley, was played through by Jozy Altidore but failed to beat Kingson with a left-footed dink.

Ghana were tiring and the United States capitalised after some excellent play from Clint Dempsey. Dempsey found himself isolated on the right but managed to squirm past John Mensah before being brought down in the penalty area by Jonathan. The ever-reliable Landon Donovan equalised emphatically from the penalty.

The United States failed to add to Donovan’s goal, however, despite perhaps being the better side in the second half. The full-time whistle will have come as welcome relief for the Black Stars, who appeared beleaguered by the physicality of the Bob Bradley’s side.

Asamoah Gyan undid the positive play of the United States in the opening minutes of extra-time. The Stade Rennais striker latched on to a hopeful long pass from André Ayew and outmuscled Carlos Bocanegra. Gyan finished superbly, scoring his third goal of the tournament by powering a shot past Tim Howard.

The goal seemed to shatter the confidence of the American players. Any hopes of another dramatic recovery were misplaced. The reenergised Ghanians asserted superiority over the United States throughout extra-time with outstanding performances coming from Kwadwo Asamoah, John Mensah and the goalkeeper Richard Kingson.

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Sixty years on, Uruguay look to repeat history

Uruguay are through to their first World Cup Quarter Finals in forty years. The Charruás defeated the Korean Republic courtesy of a brace from striker Luis Suárez. With Suárez and his strike partners, Diego Forlán and Edinson Cavani, in fine form Uruguay may even by considered as the favourites to progress to the Semi Final.

That Uruguay has made it to the latter stages of the competition is an impressive feat. A country with a population of 3.4 million, Uruguay can not count on the same resources and recent pedigree of their continental rivals. They can, however, count on the efforts of their manager Óscar Tabárez. The veteran coach is currently enjoying his second stint as the coach of the national side, having spent the intervening years at Boca Juniors, Cagliari and AC Milan amongst others. The Montevideo born manager has called upon perhaps the most talented generation of Uruguayan players since the triumph of 1950.

The world has long been acquainted with the talents of Diego Forlán. The striker, twice the holder of the Pichichi, was seen as the only Uruguayan player of world class calibre until Luís Suárez’s astonishing tally of goals for Ajax brought Suárez to the attention of the footballing world. With Forlán playing in a supporting role behind Suárez and Edinson Cavani of Palermo, Uruguay command one of the most prolific attacking trios in the tournament.

Uruguay’s success is not built on these three forwards, however. The Charruás have been organised by Tabárez into a solid defensive unit. Uruguay have yet to be beaten in the competition, despite having controlled possession under 45% of the time in each of their four games to date. Credit must be accorded to team’s captain Diego Lugano. The ferocious defender marshals a back four which is notable for its resolve. Lee Chung Yong’s goal this afternoon marked the first occasion the team has conceded at the World Cup so far.

The back-four of Lugano, Godín, Fucile and Maxi Pereira is protected by a combative and composed midfield. Alvaro Pereira, Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalano do not offer much to Uruguay creatively but are supplemented by the prodigious Nicolas Lodeiro, who has an unrivaled intelligence for a player of his age.

The group stage confirmed what many already believed, that this Charruás team is the most complete Uruguayan side since the side that stunned the Maracana in 1950. In a recent interview, Alcides Ghiggia, the man who scored the winning goal in that tournament, remarked that this team has the capability to mount a serious challenge for the nation’s third World Cup triumph.

Ghiggia himself was speaking in South Africa just after receiving the FIFA Order Of Merit award for his part in the 1950 campaign. The Charruá speaks of that monumental day when Uruguay upset the hosts Brazil and his pivotal contribution with the verve of a man less than half his age.

“Three people have silenced the Maracana”, he said, “the Pope, Sinatra and I”. Suárez, Forlán and co are unlikely to replicate his achievements but they have the talent to pose a significant threat to any side now.

Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Day 6

Winners

Switzerland

Who saw that coming then? Considering even the word Switzerland hardly conjures up feelings of excitement, it was no surprise that the first half was an especially drab affair with the Swiss playing ultra defensive and rarely looking threatening. Mick McCarthy repeatedly scolded them for “being happy not to score” but thankfully once the second half rolled around they spat in the face of that particular assessment.

The opening round of games have proved to be mostly very tight affairs with teams playing very defensively, and while this has attracted criticism from viewers who crave goals, can it not be argued that certain teams simply need to play defensively? You can practically set your watch to the amount of times Arsene Wenger will complain about teams not allowing his beloved Arsenal to play their beautiful brand of football by suffocating his team and being happy to come away from the Emirates Stadium with a point.

While Wenger has a point, surely it’s nothing more than suicide for certain teams to repeatedly attack those clearly superior to them? Had Switzerland adopted a free and easy approach against the European champions they would surely have been crushed. As it was Spain had plenty of opportunities to win the contest and failed to do so, while Switzerland grew in confidence and pulled off a famous and deserved victory. This was not anti-football, nor was it winning ugly. And it certainly was no fluke.

Ottmar Hitzfeld


The wily veteran manager got his tactics absolutely spot on.

Eren Derdiyok

Made the goal and was cruelly denied a particularly sweet one of his own by the post. While the commentators were reluctant to heap praise upon the Swiss striker due to his direct nature, he made life difficult for the Spanish defence and his tenacity led to the decisive goal.

Chile

Impressive, but expectedly so. Having finished second in their South American qualifying group, many pundits have touted Chile to do well in South Africa. The 1-0 scoreline flattered their opponents, as Chile dominated the game and really should have come away with a more impressive goal tally. With Spain losing, it makes their upcoming clash all the more interesting.

Alexis Sanchez

The 21-year-old Udinese forward is one to keep an eye on.

Uruguay

Showed the creativity and killer instinct that was absent against France. With four points on the board and one game to play, they should be looking to win the group.

Diego Forlán

And he’s off. The man who destroyed the Europa League dreams of Fulham (and Liverpool) opened his World cup account with a spectacular brace. Both goals, in addition to his crossing, demonstrated that Forlán has little problems controlling the much-maligned Jabulani ball. One of the top strikers in world football, the Uruguayan is definitely worth a punt for top goalscorer should his country progress further. Please come back to Old Trafford Diego…

Losers

Spain

Oh dear. Just when they were beginning to shake off their choke artists tag, this happens. And yet I find it hard to be moved, considering their conduct. Spain, like their native Barcelona, have a quiet arrogance about them. While they do indeed play beautiful football, they seem to believe they have a divine right to victory simply because of their attractive output. Not so. Petulance was on display along with whinging and diving and in the end all that pouting, all that complaining merely amounted to a loss.

A shocking loss due to the identity of the opponent yes, but that Spain were defeated is not shocking at all. Hype is a killer, and as tournament favourites and with a history of failure in major competitions, don’t be surprised if Spain take the high-profile early exit this year.

Fernando Torres

Is it harsh to pick on a player who isn’t fully fit? Perhaps, but when you are labelled the greatest striker in the world (is Messi strictly a striker?) and you have thirty minutes to make an impact and proceed to scupper any and all opportunities that come your way, you certainly don’t belong in the winners column.

South Africa

May well suffer the ignominy of not qualifying for the second round of their own tournament.

Steven Pienaar

Sacrificed for the substitute goalkeeper after another poor performance. The new Premier League season can’t come soon enough for the Everton midfielder.

Itumeleng Khune


Perhaps unfortunate to receive a red card, the South African goalkeeper may well have played his final part in the competition.

Round One in Review

The first round of group stage fixtures at the 2010 World Cup is complete. Every team has now taken their World Cup bow in South Africa and we’ve already been left with some intriguing permutations for qualification to the last sixteen. World Cup Daily will now take a look back at this mini-milestone stage of the competition.

Group A:

Group A is a bit different by way of having already completed one game of the second round of fixtures. The result was a potentially crippling one for the Bafana Bafana, as they lost to Uruguay 3-0 while also losing their first choice goalkeeper to suspension. France play Mexico tomorrow with the winner of that game taking a massive step towards the next round. Here is the table as it stands.

Group A MP W D L Pts
Uruguay 2 1 1 0 4
Mexico 1 0 1 0 1
France 1 0 1 0 1
South Africa 2 0 1 1 1

The hosts, South Africa, achieved what may yet be their best result in the competition in the tournament’s opening game against Mexico. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s incredible strike will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it. 1998’s winners France stuttered in a 0-0 stalemate against Uruguay. Although they failed to impress against Les Bleus, Uruguay now control Group A courtesy of their victory over Bafana Bafana in Pretoria this evening. Diego Forlan lead the line with conviction and scored two goals, taking him to the top of the goalscoring standings for the tournament.

The outcome of Mexico v France is key to the future of the group. If there is a winner to that game then the hosts will be all but eliminated and the victor should progress to the last sixteen alongside Uruguay. A draw will throw open a range of possibilities and will ensure an exciting climax, with South Africa’s participation in the World Cup still very much alive.

Group B:

The Republic of Korea and Argentina sit loftily atop Group B at the moment courtesy of victories over Greece and Nigeria respectively. The two sides meet tomorrow in the early kickoff at Soccer City.

The Republic of Korea were comfortable victors of Otto Rehhagel’s Greece. The Euro 2004 champions were both lethargic and sloppy and possessed none of the defensive nous that saw them capture the European Championships six years ago. On the other hand, Korea were excellent. Their captain, Park Ji Sung, has excelled in the playmakers role for South Korea for years and demonstrated his immense capabilities in their 2-0 win.

Lionel Messi was at his dazzling best in the Albiceleste’s 1-0 success over Nigeria. The tight scoreline flattered the Super Eagles and Nigeria will need to improve drastically if they are to have a future in the competition. Nigeria will face elimination from the competition should either South Korea or Argentina win and they are defeated by Greece. Lars Lagerbäck will refuse to accept a group stage exit and Nigeria should get the better of a Greek side devoid of ideas.

Group B MP W D L Pts
South Korea 1 1 0 0 3
Argentina 1 1 0 0 3
Nigeria 1 0 0 1 0
Greece 1 0 0 1 0

Group C:

To everyone’s surprise Slovenia sit in pole position in Group C. They capitalised on England’s 1-1 draw with the United States, beating Algeria 1-0. Slovenia were vulnerable on the flanks, where Ziani was a constant threat. The United States’ Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan could pose similar problems to the Slovenians should they be allowed to transgress deep into Slovenian territory. Slovenia’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovic carried his remarkable Serie A form into the World Cup and will prove a difficult obstacle for Bob Bradley’s side.

The United States themselves were lucky to escape from Rustenberg with a point, Robert Green’s now infamous catastrophy allowing Clint Dempsey to score. USMNT are capable of producing a much superior performance against Slovenia. The Americans’ defensive core of Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit were solid against England, a huge boon considering Onyewu’s terrible recent history of injury. Bob Bradley will need to consolidate that defensive strength with a more potent strike force if the United States are to wrestle command of the group out of Slovenian hands.

England’s performance has been evaluated countless times since that night in Rustenberg. Last minute call-up Jamie Carragher was beaten easily on occassion by the pace of Jozy Altidore and if the rumours of him starting the next game are proven to be correct then John Terry will need to be on top form.

The conundrum of who is the best candidate to partner Wayne Rooney in attack has not yet been solved by Fabio Capello. Emile Heskey’s performance against the United States was bafflingly praised by some pundits in the immediate aftermath of the game. The reality is that Heskey is not a striker of genuine international-quality. Perhaps the best solution for Fabio Capello would be to move new captain Steven Gerrard forward into a support role for Rooney with a four man midfield behind the two.

Group D:

It is no surprise that Germany are the stand out performers in Group D thusfar. Their 4-0 demolition of Australia was founded on individual brilliance from Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski and fantastic distribution and holding from Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger. It will be a great relief to Jogi Löw to see Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski performing so effectively after both had endured difficult seasons for their club sides.

Australia on the other hand seem destined for elimination. They were powerless to prevent a drubbing at the hands of the Germans and to make matters worse their talisman, Tim Cahill, has been suspended. They must now face Ghana, who were better than their 1-0 scoreline indicates.

Stade Rennais’ Asamoah Gyan gave the Black Stars victory over Serbia. The real star performer, however, was Kevin Prince Boateng. The Portsmouth midfielder was busy, creative and determined against the Serbs and if he can continue that form against Australia then Ghana will stand on the brink of qualification for a second successive place in the last sixteen.

Serbia were predestined to be the tournament’s dark horses. They were abject against Ghana. Their celebrated defence was challenged by an under-strength Ghana and it is forgivable to think that they will have even greater difficulty against Germany’s multi-pronged attack.








Group D MP W D L Pts
Germany 1 1 0 0 3
Ghana 1 1 0 0 3
Serbia 1 0 0 1 0
Australia 1 0 0 1 0

Group E:

Holland failed to reach their potential against Denmark but still managed to escape with a comfortable 2-0 victory. The return of winger Arjen Robben will only add further strength to their challenge and they may yet become the swaggering champions that a large section of the world’s observers reckon they were born to become. The revelation of the game against Denmark was Eljero Elia. The young Ajax winger replaced Rafael van der Vaart and made an immediate impact. His energy and innate skill were clear to see and further appearances for the youngster are almost a certainty now.

Japan were everything their reputation told us they were. They were organised. They were boring. And they numbed Cameroon into submission. Keisuke Honda’s goal gave them a 1-0 victory over the Lions. They will not be so fortunate against Holland.

Cameroon’s performance was toothless (pardon the pun). Samuel Eto’o was the only player to emerge with any credit and even he seemed powerless to prevent Japan from hanging on to a clean sheet and a victory. Cameroon should improve against Denmark, they have too many players of high quality not to. A victory is required. Anything less may spell an embarrassing early exit.

Group E MP W D L Pts
Netherlands 1 1 0 0 3
Japan 1 1 0 0 3
Cameroon 1 0 0 1 0
Denmark 1 0 0 1 0

Group F:

Paraguay 1 0 1 0 1
Slovakia 1 0 1 0 1
Italy 1 0 1 0 1
New Zealand 1 0 1 0 1

The immediately striking aspect of your first glance at the Group F table is Italy’s absence from top spot. The World Champions were perhaps the better side against Paraguay but could not convert their superiority into sincere shooting opportunities. If Marcello Lippi insists on keeping the 4-2-3-1 formation then he will need to remove Iaquinta. The Juventus forward was unthreatening throughout the encounter with Paraguay and his place in the starting line-up ahead of Antonio Di Natale is ponderous at best.

Of more immediate concern to ‘gli Azzuri’ is the fitness of Gianluigi Buffon. The decorated goalkeeper has suffered a recurrence of a herniated disc and may play no further part in Italy’s quest to retain the World Cup. Into the breach will step young Federico Marchetti. The Cagliari goalkeeper was a revelation in Serie A this past year and may yet prove to be a worthy replacement to one of the world’s greatest shot-stoppers.

Slovakia controlled the game against New Zealand but concentration lapses ultimately proved to be their undoing. Marek Hamsik, their captain and Vladimir Weiss were stand-out performers against New Zealand and must retain their creative flair if they are to overturn Paraguay as the second side to progress from the group.

There is a feeling that New Zealand have already achieved what they set out to do in drawing with Slovakia. It is unthinkable that they may claim another point against Paraguay or Italy despite their obvious strenghts in defensive organisation.

Group G:

Brazil showed their usual flair but were unable to score more than two goals against North Korea. Robinho and Maicon were the outstanding performers on the night for the Seleçao. They should prove too strong for Portugal, who were terrible against the Côte d’Ivoire, but may yet be tested by the Elephants.

North Korea were the unknown quantity in the ‘Group of Death’. Their star player, Jong Tae Se, garnered a lot of attention for his tears at the national anthems and his subsequent display which culminated in an assist.

Côte d’Ivoire were far more structured than they were in the Cup of African Nations. In Gervinho and Salomon Kalou they have players to supply the now fit Didier Drogba and also to beat fullbacks. If they can achieve a draw against Brazil and proceed to thrash North Korea, then the Brazilians may yet face an unlikely elimination from the World Cup.

Brazil 1 1 0 0 3
Côte d’Ivoire 1 0 1 0 1
Portugal 1 0 1 0 1
North Korea 1 0 0 1 0

Group H:


This group looked to be all about Spain. The European Champions and favourites to lift the World Cup were expected to breeze through this group with minimal fuss. They did not expect to encounter the managerial powerhouse that is Ottmar Hitzfeld and his appropriately strong Switzerland defence. The Swiss demonstrated the frailties within this otherwise exceptional Spain side.

Spain were unable to show the requisite cutting edge and for all of their possession, they mustered very few threatening attempts on goal. They will have a chance at redemption against Honduras, who were disappointing against Chile.

Chile were every bit as entertaining as we were led to believe. Marco Bielsa has created an attacking side with a remarkable flair and creativity to it. The tactical decision to field only three players was not exposed as folly by a blunt Honduras but achieving the same result against Spain may prove to be too difficult a challenge.

The Winners and Losers of Day 1

Dave Hanratty evaluates the heroes and villains of the opening day of the World Cup Finals.

Uruguay

While not especially impressive, the South Americans picked up an important point against arguably their toughest opponents in Group A. A victory in their next game will put them in the driving seat. While all four teams could only manage a draw, Uruguay will be happy with the solitary point.

Siphiwe Tshabalala

The World Cup has often been a shop window of sorts for players previously unknown on the world stage, and the first goalscorer of the tournament has done his future prospects no harm. Following on from Philip Lahm’s screamer against Costa Rica in the opening game of 2006, Tshabalala capped off a fine passing move with an absolutely spectacular finish. Expect to see it again come the inevitable goal of the tournament competition.

RTE


Ireland may not be there, but we can relax in the warm, glowing embrace of the RTE punditry team. It took less than an hour for things to descend into surrealism, from Johnny Giles desperately trying to remember the title of Casablanca (all the while ignoring poor Graeme Souness) and host Darragh Maloney presenting the panel with three customised England jerseys. Souness couldn’t hide his disgust, but he was no doubt on edge due to the constant needling of arch-nemesis Eamonn Dunphy. Forget potential scrapes between Germany and Ghana, it’ll be a miracle if Souness and Dunphy don’t come to blows before July 11th.

Deaf people

For they will never know the horrors of the vuvuzela.

Losers

Everyone else

Unlike the omnipresent horn, I shall refrain from droning on at length regarding the subject. While not quite as irritating as feared, the vuvuzela does have the ability to really distract from proceedings. RTE host Darragh Maloney was at pains to point out to complaining viewers that there is nothing RTE can do about it, so it’s a case of just getting used to it. One can’t help but wonder what confusing scenes would unfold should a swarm of bees descend upon the stadium.

France

The unforgettable method of their qualification masked just how poor 2006’s finalists were throughout their campaign. Their performance against Uruguay was listless and uninspired. Sidney Govou’s early miss will be rued in the French camp as they managed to come up with nothing else in a fairly tedious game. While they should ease past Mexico and South Africa, this performance recalled the 2002 World Cup campaign which saw France fall at the first hurdle.

South Africa

While it may seem cruel to put the hosts in the losing column given the spirit, energy and conviction they played with and the grand atmosphere provided, South Africa should have three points on the board. A combination of sloppy finishing and sloppier defending saw to it that they only have one. While John Giles may have dismissed goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune’s dramatic head-in-hands reaction as him trying to get his photograph in tomorrow’s paper, the reality is that the South Africans now have a huge mountain to climb to progress.

Mexico

Failing to enter the half-time break a goal up invited South Africa to attack and gave them the belief that they could win. The Mexicans showed little of their impressive pre-World Cup form, lacking bite up front and playing a largely pedestrian game. A point helps neither team and both France and Uruguay will have looked on with confidence for their forthcoming encounters.

Carlos Vela

The sometime Arsenal forward was utterly anonymous throughout.

Steven Pienaar

The pre-match talk was laced with rumours that Arsenal are looking to sign the impressive Everton midfielder, however his performance was so lacklustre he will hope Arsene Wenger wasn’t watching.

Sepp Blatter

His very odious presence threatened to derail the fun and games.

ITV

By contrast to RTE’s warts-and-all coverage, ITV have sauntered down the road marked “patronisation”. From Ned Boulton harassing the locals in Soweto to Peter Drury shrieking “BAFANA BAFANA!” and “A goal for ALL of Africa!” following Tshabalala’s stunning strike, it’s a wonder they didn’t stop short of patting an African child on the head. Heavy-handed and clumsy, it’s what we’ve come to expect from ITV, and the scary part is that Clive Tyldsley and David Pleat have yet to be unleashed.

On the punditry side of things, Adrian Chiles was more dead-eyed than usual and his teleprompter reading much more noticeable, while Andy Townsend’s pink shirt was more offensive than the vuvuzelas in the stadium. ITV’s production values are obviously going to outshine RTE, but their overall delivery leaves a lot to be desired. And let’s not mention James Corden, shall we?

Day 1 – World Cup Daily

So the first day of the 2010 World Cup is already ‘in the books’. It was a day that started with news of a tragedy, brought hope and expectations, encapsulated scenes of unbridled joy and frustration. World Cup Daily takes a look at the moments that made Day 1.

Moment of the Day: The game may have finished as a draw, but the immeasurable joy brought about by the electrifying goal scored by Siphiwe Tshabalala must surely rank as one of the finest moments in the tournament’s most recent years. The sumptuous lofted pass offered by team-mate Katlego Mphela allowed Tshabalala to control the ball just inside the penalty area and fire a thunderous left-footed shot high into the far side of the net. The vuvuzelas reached fever pitch as fans of Bafana Bafana believed that they were on the verge of witnessing a historic victory. Unfortunately for them, their hopes were dashed by Rafael Marquez’s equaliser. The moment, however, will live long in the memory.

Questionable Decision of the Day: The opening ceremony was the usual mix of culture, music, dance and dung beetles.

Adidas, creators of the controversial Jabulani football featured in this summer’s World Cup, will be wondering what they did to deserve the criticisms aimed their way in recent weeks. Their misfortune continued today as a giant dung beetle pushed an enormous Jabulani around the field at Soccer City like the inflated lump of excrement the ball itself is said to be. Somewhere a Nike executive was celebrating.

Schadenfreude of the day:

Thierry Henry’s appeal for a handball against Uruguay will have come as some solace to the legions of fans, both in Ireland and elsewhere, who still take issue with the French internationals unpenalised foul against the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup Qualifying Playoff. Should Henry’s unheeded demand for a penalty be seen as deeply ironic (at least in Alanis Morisette’s understanding of the word ‘ironic’)?

The Vuvuzela Award for Irritation of the Day:

People complaining about the vuvuzela. Television networks were inundated with complaints from viewers about the constant,  monotonous hum of the vuvuzela. That didn’t stop the anchors from voicing their objections to the plastic horns themselves. Were the vuvuzelas all that intrusive or are people just too sensitive?

Sepp Blatter Mishap of the Day: That speech before the game. It infuriated the thousands of Twitterers watching the game and presumably those in attendance too. Nobody likes him, but he doesn’t care. Carry on wayward Sepp.

Ke Nako – It Is Time

South Africa v Mexico

Venue: Soccer City, Johannesburg

Date: Friday, 11 June

Time: 15.00 BST (16.00 local)

The hosts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup enter the tournament’s opening fixture buoyed by recent performances and by the unbridled devotion offered to them by the South African public. Hoping to upset the party will be Javier Aguirre’s Mexico, a side with a strong recent World Cup history and players of genuine pedigree.

When the draw for the World Cup was made the instant reaction was that South Africa would become the first World Cup hosts to fail to progress from the Group Stage. Placed in Group A alongside France (winners of the 1998 World Cup), Uruguay (winners in 1930 and 1950) and tomorrow’s opponents Mexico, many believed that South Africa would struggle to muster even a single point.

That belief, potentially a correct one, still exists in some quarters. However, Bafana Bafana, guided by former World Cup winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira come into Friday’s game unbeaten in twelve fixtures, a run stretching back to October 2009. The same pessimism greeted South Africa’s participation in the last summer’s Confederations Cup where they narrowly missed out on Third Place. If South Africa are to enjoy another successful international tournament then achieving a result against a talented Mexican side is an essential prerequisite.

Mexico should prove to be a formidable opposition for the hosts. So adept at controlling possession and tempo, El Tri would

usually look to release their pacy wingers Andrés Guardado and Giovanni dos Santos in a bid to terrorise the South African full-backs. However, Javier Aguirre has surprised many with his selections in recent international friendlies. He has left out Guardado of Deportivo la Coruña, wily veteran Cuauhtémoc Blanco and coveted goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa with varying consequences. The uncertainty surrounding the lineup perhaps revealing that Aguirre is not entirely convinced that El Tri can win games at the World Cup in their conventional 4-4-2/4-3-3 setup.

For all of their skill and competence with the football, Mexico must improve their cutting edge. Against England, they dominated a potential World Cup winning side but were unable to capitalise, losing 3-1. In qualifying, six players were equal top scorers with three goals each.

South Africa have suffered problems with strikers as well. The omission of West Ham United’s Benni McCarthy was not a popular decision. Without a recognisable goal scorer, South Africa will struggle to win the one game that is usually required to qualify for the Round of 16. Step forward, Katlego Mphela. Four goals in three games for the Mamelodi Sundowns striker including goals against strong Columbia and Denmark sides has relaxed criticism of the ponderous decision to leave McCarthy out.

Despite this, Mexico are still favourites for this opening encounter. Under normal circumstances, Mexico should and probably would win this match. These are not normal circumstances. Bafana Bafana have united the Rainbow Nation. When the two teams emerge from the tunnel at Soccer City they will be met with one of the most impassioned crowds yet witnessed at a World Cup. Vuvuzelas, hard-hats, altitude and up to 90,000 fans combined will make any fixture against Parreira’s side a challenge even before kick-off.

This match will tell us a lot about the balance of power in Group A. Should Mexico overwhelm South Africa en route to a comfortable victory then they will be favourites for a place in the Round of 16. If they are stifled by the raucous atmosphere and the combative nature of captain Aaron Mokoena and his side and draw then all attention will refocus on Mexico v Uruguay. If, however, South Africa are able to pull off an upset and win, then there is a genuine opportunity for the host nation to avoid breaking precedent and progress to the next round.

That is the aim of Carlos Alberto Parreira, who informed the media that people must fear his side.

“Everybody has to respect us. We are ready to fight. We respect everybody, but they must also respect us. We will take every game as a final. We will fight in every game.”

Prediction – South Africa 1-2 Mexico