France’s coach, Raymond Domenech must have thought that the gods were smiling on him when France emerged in Group A facing the following opponents: Mexico, South Africa and Uruguay. While none of these nations are pushovers, it could have been much worse for Domenech, chiefly if the draw had left them with another tough European opponent in the group with them. There was certainly no karmic smackdown for Thierry Henry’s notorious handball that led to the goal that sent Ireland to the couch for June and France to South Africa. Here’s a view of their roster before the final cut to 23 due tomorrow.
Domenech’s most surprising decision in my opinion has been in his selection of attackers. While Thierry Henry will likely be used only as a substitute, the inclusion of Djibril Cisse, who has never impressed me, instead of Karim Benzema has me puzzled. Cisse is inconsistent, to be polite, with one more international goal than Benzema with eleven more appearances. Odds are that Nicholas Anelka will be bearing the brunt of the attack along with midfielder Franck Ribery. Indeed, it’s the midfield and defense where France excel, notwithstanding the age of some of their players (yes I’m talking about you, William Gallas).
The host country is a bit of a puzzle to me with the exception of a few players and their coach, the Brazilian, Carlos Alberto Parreira. The only players I have seen play with any frequency are Aaron Mokoena, a fine defender who plays in England, Benni McCarthy, a journeyman forward who has played in Holland, Spain and currently in England and Steven Pienaar, who is a solid attacking midfielder for Everton in England. Parreira led Brazil to the World Cup Championship in 1994 and coached them in 2006. He has also coached Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the World Cup. Here’s a view of their preliminary roster, most of whom play their club football in South Africa.
Uruguay has a potent strike force in Diego Forlan who won the goal scoring title in the Spanish League for the 2008-09 season for his current team Atlético Madrid after having won it with Villarreal in the 2004-05 season. He also scored both goals in this year’s first Europa League final win against Fulham. His likely strike partner is Luis Suarez who is as versatile as Forlan is formidable, with ability to come from the wings and the middle to score or feed to Forlan.
Where Uruguay is weak, in my opinion is on defense. Goalkeeping is shaky and, with the exception of Walter Gargano, one of the best holding midfielders around, the rest of their defense is adequate, but does not thrill me and may be vulnerable on the counterattack with a skilled team attacking their goal, especially if the weak goalkeeping surrenders an early goal. Here’s their preliminary roster
Mexico may be the sort of team that gives Uruguay and France trouble. They have excellent speed in the attack with Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez forming a solid strike pair with midfield support from Andres Guardado and Giovanni dos Santos making for arguably the best attack in this group. Defensively it depends on the health and mental stability of Rafa Marquez a gifted center-back whose role at FC Barcelona has been diminished in recent months and whether the young Hector Moreno will pick up the slack. In addition, it’s absolutely essential for goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to be solid against the likes of Franck Ribery, Nicholas Anelka, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. Here’s Mexico’s preliminary roster.
My picks to go through to the next round from this group: France and Mexico. Experience will win out and as much as I will pull for South Africa, I just don’t see it happening for them. Uruguay is just too weak in goal.
Cross-posted at Beautiful Horizons.
Next up (hopefully tomorrow): Group B Argentina, Greece, Nigeria and South Korea.