Location: The southernmost point of the African continent, bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Atlantic Ocean to the west and Namibia, Botswana & Zimbabwe to the north. Lesotho is an independent country within South Africa. (29.046S, 25.063E)
Prior Appearances: Twice (1998, 2002)
Best Performance: Group Stage 2002 (1W 1D 1L)
Players to watch:
Steven Pienaar (MF – Everton, English Premier League)
With South Africa lacking a bit of fire power Pienaar’s role on the wing becomes crucial. He will need to be getting in some good balls into the box if South Africa is to have any chance at all. He was named Everton’s player of the season, so is in good form, he absolutely needs to bring that to the table come the World Cup. He will be the key creative force for Bafana-Bafana.
Aaron Mokoena (DF – Portsmouth, English Premier League)
The captain of the team for the host nation carries with it a massive honour, Mokoena will fill this role for the South Africans. He is South Africa’s most capped player and his experience will be crucial to the South African’s. He’s been used as a defensive midfielder in the past, which is a crucial position, however South Africa will be most likely to use him as a defender, with South Africa likely to be put under a lot of pressure in this tournament, defence will be crucial and Mokoena will be the main man in this defensive unit.
Prediction: South Africa will struggle, never before has a host nation not made it out of the group stages, but that seems unlikely to continue here. South Africa should be looking to maybe snag a result here and there but the expectation is surely that if this team can avoid finishing last in the group it’ll be an achievement (4th in group)
Location: South of the border, bordered by the Pacific ocean to the West, Guatemala & Belize & the Caribbean to the south east and the Gulf of Mexico to the East. (19.03N, 99.22W)
Prior Appearances: 11 (1930, 1950-70, 1978, 1986, 1994-2006)
Best Performance: Quarter-Finals 1970 (V Italy), 1986 (V West Germany) – both times as host nation
Qualification: CONCACAF (North & Central America): 2nd place (6W 1D 3L)
Players to watch:
Giovani Dos Santos (ST – Galatasaray, Turkish Super League)
Dos Santos is a young superstar, just waiting to break out and the 2010 World Cup is precisely the stage for that to happen. He has regularly embarrassed defenders while playing for Mexico, but struggled with Tottenham. Dos Santos needs to have a good tournament here to prove that he can handle playing at this level, he certainly has the ability.
Rafael Marquez (DF – Barcelona, Spanish La Liga)
Marquez missed a lot of last season, but has gone on to have a solid season this year for the Spanish giants, even scoring a goal. At 31 he has certainly got enough experience to marshal a younger defensive line up and playing at Barcelona does not mean he has neglected the defensive side of the game. Marquez is a solid defender and in a tight group, that can be the difference between going through and going home. Marquez’s experience has lead to him being given the captaincy of this side, and no doubt he will lead Mexico with distinction.
Prediction: This group will be a tight group, with essentially 3 teams fighting for two spots. It seems to me that Mexico had the better of the qualification out of the other 3 teams in their group, so I’d have to tip them to advance but how far they’ll get is another issue, if they come first in their group I can see them making the quarters if second, they’ll struggle to go further (Second Round/Quarter Finals)
Location: South America, Brazil to the north, Argentina to the southwest, the Atlantic Ocean to the south east (34.53S 56.10W)
Prior Appearances: Ten (1930, 1950-54, 1962-74, 1986-90, 2002)
Best Performance: Champions 1930 (as hosts), 1950
Qualification: CONMEBOL (South America) 5th place (6W 6D 6L) defeated Costa Rica (North & Central America) in a playoff 2-1 on aggregate
Players to watch:
Diego Forlan (ST – Atletico Madrid, Spanish La Liga)
Forlan has had a good season this year, rounding it out with a win in the Europa League, scoring both goals for his team in the final. Forlan has been a key attacking player & goal scoring force for Atletico Madrid, scoring 32 goals in 2008-09 and a bagful again this year, Forlan will need to be on target if Uruguay are to advance.
Diego Lugano (DF – Fenerbahce, Turkish Super League)
Lugano will captain Uruguay through this tournament, having played a significant role in the national team through the failed 2006 campaign & this campaign. He has been a significant player in the Fenerbahce side for a number of years and has recently shown his ability to score goals. In a tight group a solid defender who has the ability to score goals can be a real difference, the captain could well be the edge here.
Prediction: Uruguay have high hopes for the 2010 campaign, 60 years on from winning their last world cup the fans are tired of looking back to 1950 and a mouthwatering clash with their rivals Argentina looms if they can make it out of the group stage. While they’re the weakest South American team at the tournament it still takes a lot of work to come 5th in South America, they’re a good side and should advance, hopefully setting up a mouthwatering clash with Argentina (Second Round)
Location: Western Europe, Spain to the south west, the English Channel to the North, Belguim & Luxembourg to the North, Germany to the North East, Switzerland to the East, Italy & Monaco to the South East. (38.51N, 2.21E)
Prior Appearances: Ten (1930-38, 1954-58, 1966, 1978-86, 1998-2006)
Best Performance: Champions 1998 – as hosts
Qualification: UEFA (Europe) defeated Ireland, controversially in a playoff 2-1 on aggregate
Players to watch:
Thierry Henry (ST – Barcelona, Spanish La Liga)
The man responsible for all the controversy after his hand ball before the crucial goal in qualifying sent France through will be the centre of attention. Henry is France’s captain and highest scorer, and at 32 this is certainly his last World Cup. Henry’s career is coming to an end and he will want to top it off with a good heroic performance here for France to advance. We saw one French legend leave his last world cup in disgrace in the final 4 years ago, Henry’s handball has put him close to that, he needs to redeem his reputation here. As an aside, we could soon be seeing Henry in the USA with rumours linking him to the MLS side the New York Red Bulls.
Franck Ribery (MF – Bayern Munich, German Bundesliga)
Ribery is often the forgotten man of this French side, but he is a key man in the midfield for les blues. Ribery spent much of the early stage of the season on the sidelines, but since coming back from injury has had a good season. The biggest worry for the French will be Ribery’s tendency to get flustered and earn cards, if he can avoid this & the accompanying suspensions, he’ll be key for France.
Prediction: You always want to say that the French will be up there, and there’s always a chance they will be, after all they are were the finalists in 2006. However, their qualifying campaign was a disaster, and many in France have been calling for the head of the coach. I haven’t been impressed with France lately and I can’t see much changing in what is a tough group. (3rd place, Group Stages)