After what is sure to be an enthralling and colourful opening ceremony, the first games of the
SOUTH AFRICA vs. MEXICO
3pm – Soccer City, Johannesburg
The form of the hosts has in recent weeks been more becoming of a major World Cup country rather than that of the no hopers we might have been expecting. They have gone 12 games unbeaten in the lead up to the tournament, with a 1-0 win over Denmark, the most recent of those successes. However, the problem, as it so often is for the smaller nations, will be finding the back of the net. The omission of Benni McCarthy, the country’s record goal-scorer, leaves the responsibility of scoring goals with Katlego Mphela, who with 15 international goals already to his name is one to watch, even if he is unproven at higher international level.
Mexico’s preparation has included a win over reigning world champions Italy proving that Javier Aguirre’s team are to be feared this summer. However, like in 2006, plenty of onus will be on captain Rafael Marquez, who was the driving force behind the team reaching the last 16 in Germany. In the absence of Jared Borgetti, Manchester United recruit Javier Henandez is one to keep an eye on, and will be the main source for goals for El Tri.
URUGUAY vs. FRANCE
7.30pm – Green Point Stadium, Cape Town
The scrutiny surrounding Raymond Domenech’s France squad has been relentless since his side qualified for the finals after a controversial victory over Republic of Ireland. The criticism he attracts with his tactics and selection policy has been compound by the team’s poor showings during their warm-up matches, which saw them beaten 1-0 by China last week. The Coach has left out Karim Benzema from his squad, and named a number of World Cup rookies and there appears to be plenty of apprehension about the French chances this summer.
Uruguay, while they may be unknown in some quarters can boast a number of exciting players, not least strikers Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, whose partnership up-front is set to blossom this summer. While the former Manchester United striker has been busy reaching two cup finals with his club side Atletico Madrid, Suarez was dazzling onlookers in Eredivisie as the Ajax man scored 49 goals in an unforgettable season. As well as attempting to fire Uruguay to the knock-out stages he will be keen to put on a show at the World Cup, with plenty of Europe’s top dogs set to pounce on the 23-year-old’s outstanding talent.