With 48 Group Stage fixtures already drawn, there are some mouth-watering clashes to look forward to before the
10 – South Africa vs. Mexico
A hotly anticipated clash, if only because it is the opening game of the 2010 World Cup. After all the waiting, the action finally begins with this intriguing clash in what is a very open Group A. With the South Africans seeded only because they are hosts, and group giants France struggling to gel, Group A is there for the taking. Uruguay have a strong team but it is Mexico who have the privilege of taking centre stage alongside the home side in the curtain-raiser. It is the first ever World Cup finals match on African soil and everyone will be waiting to see how Bafana Bafana fare. The Mexicans will be unpopular if they spoil the party but will be single-minded as they look to steal an advance on their Group A rivals.
9 – Kevin-Prince Boateng vs. Jerome Boateng
Should Ghana Coach Milovan Rajevac and his German counterpart Joachim Low see fit to select their respective Boatengs, their Group D clash could see brothers Kevin-Prince and Jerome line up against each other in direct competition. Elder sibling Kevin-Prince has recently accepted an invitation to join the Ghanaian fold and could feature in an advanced role on the left of midfield. At right-back for their native Germany will be the younger brother Jerome, adding an extra spice to a final game that could prove decisive for one or both of the teams involved in the hotly contested group. If playing against his brother and his country of birth is not a big enough task, Kevin-Prince will have to face the boo boys after his poor tackle in the FA Cup Final ruled German talisman Michael Ballack out of the World Cup.
8 – Brazil vs. Korea DPR
Possibly the biggest mismatch on paper in the 2010 World Cup, the match will be well worth watching to see if Korea DPR can spring a massive surprise. At their last World Cup in 1966, the North Koreans pulled off a huge shock beating Italy before contesting a thrilling 5-3 defeat against Portugal. In recent years, Senegal stunned holders France in 2002 which proves giantkillings can happen at a World Cup. The Koreans will know all about the Brazilians whereas relatively little is known about Kim Jong-hun’s team. The element of surprise will be their main weapon, and Brazil will do well not to underestimate the David to their Goliath. If North Korea should fluff their lines, then there is always the prospect of a Brazilian goalfest, something that is always good to watch.
7 – Thierry Henry vs. Rafael Marquez
Two players who have found themselves increasingly on the sidelines at Barcelona but nonetheless remain key figures for their respective national teams. Henry is still an important part of the France attack and will relish the chance to test himself against his experienced club colleague. Marquez is the rock that the Mexican defence is built around and has the technical ability to stand out even at the highest level. The personal battle between the two will not be blood and thunder but will be a fast-paced game of chess between two club colleagues who will know each other’s game inside out.
6 – Italy vs. New Zealand
Another game that is a total mismatch on paper but recent evidence suggests otherwise. A friendly before the Confederations Cup last year ended in a thrilling 4-3 victory for the Italians, with the New Zealanders raising their game for the unbeknownst dress rehearsal. Italy boss Marcelo Lippi has largely stuck with the tried and tested World Cup winners from 2006, but that team had an average age of 29 and those veterans are now four years older. With the Azzurri in decline, can the All Whites prove to be a surprise package and upset the odds? Will we see another seven-goal thriller? Or can the Italians roll back the years and put on a masterclass against vulnerable opposition?
5 – Robin van Persie vs. Nicklas Bendtner
It is Gunner against Gunner as the two Arsenal strikers go head-to-head in the opening clash in Group E. The pair lead the line for one of the best pure-footballing clubs in the world and will both hope to lead their respective national sides to victory at the wonderful football venue in Johannesburg, Soccer City. Van Persie is very much the main man at Arsenal with Bendtner living in his considerable shadow but the junior colleague will look to step up and fire Denmark to victory. A win for the Danes would be a huge fillip going in to their remaining matches but Bendtner is their best hope of achieving this. At the other end, van Persie will be desperate to put an injury-hit season behind him and put his apprentice firmly in his place.
4 – Greece vs. Argentina
The resolutely defensive Greeks against the world’s finest attacking talent, Lionel Messi. Can their ultra-conservative tactics – surely the only team to field three strikers and still be all-out defence – contain Messi? With the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria also in attendance, the Greek defence will receive its sternest test yet, but their triumph at Euro 2004 proves that anything is possible. As the last game in Group B, there could be a lot resting on the outcome for both teams. If Argentina need the points, this could be the ultimate in attack meets defence.
3 – Milovan Rajevac vs. Serbia
A Serbian Coach leads a strong Ghana side against his native country. The Ghanaians’ clash with Serbia is the opening match in a very tough Group D and Rajevac can ill-afford any sentiment if his adoptive nation are to have any chance of qualifying for the round of 16. Will he have divided loyalties? Or will he know his opponents well enough to complete the treason and put Ghana in pole position? With difficult matches against Australia and Germany to follow, victory is crucial for both Ghana’s Serbian leader and for Serbia themselves.
2 – England vs. United States
With the two countries enjoying a ‘special relationship’ off the pitch, can the United States come out on top in the one field in which they perpetually live in England’s shadow? Several of the American squad play in England, giving them an excellent insight in to their first Group C opponents. At the same time, there will be few surprises for the English who will know all about Bob Bradley’s team, particularly the strength of their goalkeepers who all earn a living at Premier League clubs. It is 60 years since the USA sprung one of the all-time World Cup surprises by beating England 1-0. A repeat scoreline would not have the shock factor of 1950, but would still raise more than a few eyebrows. England will be desperate to win to save face, but three points for either