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.
Thanks for the World Cup update!
I’m looking forward to your World Cup posts as things get rolling. If South Africa doesn’t make it through the group, there is going to be great sadness in the host country. I hope they surprise everyone.
@Violet: Thanks to both of you. Violet, I would love to be wrong in this case.
I’m sorry, but I don’t see how this has anything to do with the NFL.
France’s biggest obstacle is Domenech
Benzema has been injured and not particularly effective thus year, while Cisse was lights out in the Greek league. I see this as similar to Bradley taking Edson Buddle rather than Brian Ching — in form beats better previous international results.
For South Africa, Matthew Booth is a solid if slow defender, Macbeth Sibaya is a decent, if a little old midfielder, and if I am remembering correctly, Modise, Tshabalala (or maybe Digkacoi) and Parker played well at last year’s Confederation’s Cup, where they went to the semi-finals, although out of a weak group
Goalkeeping is always the undoing of the S. Americans. I could name every starting outfield player and then some for Argentina, but their GK? Haven’t the foggiest.
Brazil on the other hand have a pretty good GK with Julio Cesar and some outstanding defense, which has to make them one of the favorites this time around.
As for Mexico, Marquez has been a liability for running on two seasons now at Barcelona. That’s why he hasn’t gotten a lick of playing time. The idea that he is “gifted” gives me a bit of pause to laugh. They wouldn’t even play him against Arsenal in the Champions League without both Puyol and Pique available. That is not a new phenomena, he was left out of last years final against Manchester United under the same circumstances.
It’s a weak group. Domenech is surely happy about it. But that doesn’t mean that France is going to excel. They have looked anything but sharp for the past 12 months and even if Domenech wins it all (that will never happen), he’s done and dusted as France coach, soon to be replaced by Bordeaux’s Laurent Blanc. And everyone in France will be immeasurably happier with that development. The mans a clown.
I actually was only going to write this comment to make one point, the infamous Henry handball was actually not everything it was made out to be. First of all, if the goal was not credited, Ireland would still have not gone through. They still either had to score a goal of their own either in regulation or extra-time. Or they would have needed to win a shootout. Second, if it was not for an equally criminal act of “cheating” by Robbie Keane in qualifying, getting awarded a mystery PK against Georgia that his true honesty and sportsmanship didn’t see fit to turn down, but he instead grabbed the ball, put it down on the spot, scored the PK and then celebrated, Ireland would never even have been in the playoff. It was a laughably bad call in a match where Ireland was losing 1-0. That this “incident” with Henry was actually determinative of anything for Ireland or totally unfair to them is only a reflection of the absolutely mindblowingly insular and nativistic nature of the British and Irish media. So let’s leave that meme behind shall we?
Well, that’s the joy and pain of sports. You never know. Mexico could have a bad game (or two). Uruguay could rise to the occasion. France might get their karmic payback at the World Cup, in the groups. Wouldn’t that be fun? Heh.
Can’t wait for your take on Group C. I’d love it if the US shocked the world, but I’m not holding my breath. If the US manages to beat England, there will be chaos in my family. We’ll all be watching the first match.
South Africa will make it through. The host always does and if it looks like they’re not going to, expect a little home cooking from the refs.
My money is on SA and MX advancing.
Is this World Cup going to be a Shakespearean tragedy?
France shouldn’t even be in the Cup, if not for a missed hand ball. But what’s done is done. I definitely see Mexico advancing, but I’m not sure whether France or South Africa will also advance. Looking forward to this group.
@babieca: Mexico? Really? I have them picked for last in the group. They were smart enough to dump both Sanchez and Ericksson, however they just don’t have the talent or organization this time around. Their best team in a generation got beat by the US in the round of 16 in Japan-Korea 8 years ago.
I think Uruguay are a lot better. They certainly have much stronger talent in the attack. While Randinho mentioned Forlan’s goal scoring prowess in La Liga (funny, but he didn’t mention his stint at ManUtd where he couldn’t buy a goal to save his life), he neglects to mention exactly how many goals Suarez has scored at Ajax this season: an unfathomable 49 goals in 48 league matches. While one could say, okay, well we’ve seen that before in the dutch league with Kezman, Huntelaar and Alfonso Alves, who all equally put up obscene numbers in the Eredivisie only to stink it up in bigger leagues. That’s still an impressive record and fully 47 more goals than Vela scored for Arsenal all last season.
Maybe the next World Cup, when Dos Santos, Vela and Hernandez are more mature, will Mexico have a better chance of success. I cannot see them doing anything other than flopping out of this one, last in the group.
Only S. Africa, France and Uruguay have a shot to go through in this group. I predict now that whoever goes through, it won’t be pretty.
@Wildcat12: See my previous post on this thread. I already dealt with this topic. Under what basis “should they not be there”? If not for the handball, what would have happened? The match would have likely finished a draw, then went to extra time. If it finished a draw in extra time, it would have went to penalties.
Keep in mind that Ireland were not looking all that great themselves and they barely threatened France. They were being extremely effective at harrying France and breaking up their play though. There was nothing that happened before the handball to suggest that Ireland had a goal in them. And there is nothing to suggest that they would have won a shoot-out.
It is also worth noting that the match was being played at the Stade de France and not Dublin.
FIFA was certainly smiling on the French, when Ireland got jobbed out of a spot in the Cup.
Randy or anyone – how are the new stadiums and whatnot looking? Is everything finished or did the predictions of doom I heard on the BBC come true?
What is the current status of the underage prostitution scandal involving Ribery and two other France players? I remember reading that they might be up on charges and could potentially miss the tournament.
While this would be curtains for the French team, I suspect that even if they play, the scandal might unsettle the squad. Also unsettling is the general tone of pessimism: in addition to the lack of confidence in Domenech are Platini’s remarks a while back that team was mediocre.
I think Mexico looks quite good – they finished their qualification in good form, and have a good keeper in Memo Ochoa. They will also be helped by the fact that many of their games are at altitude.
Uruguay I think are fairly weak aside from their strike force, and I think the hosts will break the tradition of advancing (unfortunately); I just don’t think they are strong enough, and home field/sympathetic refs won’t be enough.
@Comrade Kevin: Arrggghhh, how many times do I need to address this? While Ireland certainly lost the match because of the handball, absent the handball, it does not follow that they would have won it. They STILL NEEDED TO WIN, in order to go through. You cannot just say that “Ireland got screwed”, you need to make the case that they would have won. Furthermore, as I demonstrated, if Ireland got screwed, then didn’t Bulgaria get screwed first? But for that erroneous PK decision against Georgia, Ireland may not have even been there in the first place. They went on to win that match against Georgia, when they were losing and if they had lost, it follows that Bulgaria could have stolen their spot in qualifying because they finished 3rd, using the same logic.
Whoever the Mexican goalkeeper was in the amistoso game against England needs to be put on a rack and stretched. That little guy is small even for a Mexican. He couldn’t even jump and reach as tall as Peter Crouch is when Crouch is standing flat-footed.
@Brandon: I have to disagree with you about Marquez, although I think his best years are behind him. In the 2004-05 season he moved to defensive midfielder when several players were injured and despite several injuries in the past three years has still managed 96 appearances in all competitions. I did mention that his role has diminished in recent months and I believe that is more to do with the rise of Piqué and the good health of Puyol. Indeed, Barcelona has kept him and I think that says something.
That being said, he is a bit of a head case.
I think that part of what upset Ireland was the point in the game when the handball took place. It appears to be a buffering issue on your link, so I wasn’t able to see the play very clearly.
@Bill Murray: Well it is the Greek League, which is getting to be more and more where players go when their career declines (Rivaldo comes to mind). FWIW, Benzema has scored all of his international goals since Cisse scored his last one. I would imagine that Benzema has had a tough time getting first team action with that squad at Madrid.
@smokescreen: Now that’s a spicy meatball. AFAIK, nothing has happened yet aside from Zahia Dehar saying that “I love them all”. So far, Ribery, Ben Arfa Govou and Benzema have been named/accused in the scandal. I have no idea when the prosecutor in France will decide anything. But there is the odd episode of Ms. Dehar sending a public letter to Domenech pleading with him not to hold the scandal against the players. Their defense seems to be one of a variant of Shaggy’s “it wasn’t me” to “look at her”. No timeline has been announced as to if/when charges are brought, which seems likely to depend on whether the judge is a football fan or not.
@Randinho: The video features one of the worst PK decisions one will ever see. It was against Georgia and favored Ireland during qualifying. After the match, not a peep from the Irish or British media about how Georgia got cheated. Furthermore, no one has yet addressed the issue that Ireland still NEEDED TO WIN. They had done a good job neutralizing France up to that point, but that had done very little to anything to suggest that they had a goal in them. And if they couldn’t score in regulation, they still needed to score and prevent France from scoring in extra-time or they needed to win the shoot-out.
My point is only that there is no reason to weep for them. They got to that playoff match based on the misfortune of Georgia. Once there, they were quite effective in stopping France from playing, but did very little to actually make the case that they deserved to win on their own merits.
As for Marquez, I agree that a few years ago, when he showed his versatility stepping into the holding midfield role, he was quite good, if not an excellent player. However, that was when Rondaldino was World Player of the Year and a lot has changed since then.
Also, one thing I forgot to mention, is that you totally discount Gignac. He is pretty much slated to have a break out tournament. I bet he gets lots of PT. We’ll see.
@Brandon: Don’t know if you saw Uruguay against Brazil, but it was an embarrassing 4-0 loss in Montevideo in qualification. Indeed, They tied Venezuela twice, lost to Argentina in Montevideo and edged out Costa Rica in the CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff, were shut out by Ecuador in Montevideo and Peru in Lima. They were shut out six times in qualifying, and while shutting the opposition out an equal number of times, they failed to score on two of those occasions.
@Brandon: Unfortunately I haven’t seen Cignac (no one carries the French League any more to my knowledge here in the US), but I don’t know how much playing time he’ll get. He usually comes on as a sub, and while he has four goals in ten appearances, three of them came against the Faeroe Islands, one of those teams like Liechtenstein, Andorra or San Marino designed to keep the big guys in fine fettle.
Quaker in a Basement
France’s coach, Raymond Domenech
Better check to make sure he didn’t copy his team lineup from another coach.
This group is probably one of the more deceptive ones. I think it might be easy to dismiss South Africa but none of the other teams are strong enough to say that they couldn’t get beat by anyone else in the group.
A draw and a win will get you through. Personally I like Mexico and South Africa in this group. I have no faith in France, stacked with talent but not good together and a terrible manager. Uruguay I honestly don’t know much about other than a couple nice easy wins against Costa Rica(not exactly a huge test). They kind of slouched into the playoff spot in CONMEBOL though, and Mexico should have the advantage at altitude.
RSA 2-2 MEX
URU 1-0 FRA
RSA 1-1 URU
FRA 1-3 MEX
FRA 0-1 RSA
MEX 2-1 URU
@Randinho: Well, those are good points about the relative weakness of Uruguay. I think you need to consider though that they did squeak in there ahead of Ecuador, and Ecuador are legitimately good with a lot of talent. While Mexico had a great run in a recent Copa America (was it the most recent one where they came in 3rd?), their qualifying campaign was on the edge of disaster before they fired Sven. I just don’t foresee them having much success, call it a hunch.
As for Gignac, he’s been increasingly coming into better form of late. Big things are certainly expected of him and basically he’s at the stage right now where if he has a breakout tournament, he can write his ticket for a big money move to England, probably a club like Spurs. If of course all depends on what formation Domenech uses. My guess is a 4-2-3-1, or at least that was probably the plan until Lassana Diarra seems to mysteriously bow out with a “stomach injury”, which seemed weird. Because I would expect both L.Diarra and Toulolan to plan back, with Gourcuff the engine and then it is sort of a take your pick for the two wingers and the central striker. I’d put my money on Gignac taking that central role, with Ribery on the right and Anelka on the left, likely to be replaced by Henry late on.
But with Diarra gone, I am unsure if Domenech will use that formation and just slate Diaby in for Diarra, or go with a 4-3-3 instead.
I agree that Ireland wasn’t exactly in top form that game. The reason they are considered getting screwed is because the goal should not have counted. If France scored a goal 2 minutes after that, or went on to win it in penalty kicks, then there would be no conflict. But because the game was decided on a goal that shouldn’t count, Ireland does have a reason to be upset about it.
Anyway, since you’re more knowledgeable on this than I am (though I’m trying!) do you think Mexico is overrated, and RSA under-rated?
What the f&*ck did you guys start having soccer blogging? Man, I need to visit more often.
And who the hell are all these new bloggers? Did I miss open tryouts?
I don’t see South Africa going through; they’re just outclassed by all three teams in the group. Yes, a host country has never failed to advance, but the host hasn’t faced such long odds before. Also note, the US was only able to advance after finishing third in their group in 94, which is no longer possible.
I also don’t see altitude being much of a factor in the Mexico-Uruguay match-up. Mexico has been in the US and Europe for about a month now, with a brief stopover in Mexico City to play Chile, and won’t leave Europe until the end of the week. I don’t know what Uruguay is up to right now, but their second match is at altitude as well, so they should be well-acclimated by the time they play Mexico.
Tough to call, but I see France going through, SA being left behind, and basically a toss-up between Mexico and Uruguay. What the hell, I’ll go with Uruguay.
Apparently, there’s a controversy about the ball being used.
Americans can always be counted upon to overrate the quality of the Mexican team.
@Wildcat12: In terms of what most people believe, I don’t think either team are especially underrated or overrated. My book on Mexico is that are good, but a mostly bit young, especially in attack and are rather inconsistent in terms of results. South Africa on the other hand have very little world class talent. But in the World Cup, you also have these “x-factors”. Everyone has already mentioned the factoid about the home team advancing. A couple other things have not been mentioned:
1) Home team advantage: When Bafana Bafana play, the crowd is going to be absolutely rabid. I think people underestimate the intensity with which the South Africans are going to supporting their team. It could intimidate a number of teams, particularly the S. Americans who are used to playing against so many Africans. Basically half of the French team has African origins, so it won’t bother them at all.
2) The vuvuzela factor: Related to home team advantage, I think people are underestimating just how annoying these dastardly things are. They are certainly going to ruin the tournament for those of you watching at home, but I have a feeling that these obnoxious plastic horns are going to ruin a number of teams as well.
3) The weather: It’s going to be cold. People think Africa = hot, but this tournament is going to be played in S. Africa in the dead of winter. You won’t see any freezing rain, but there will be a lot of long shirts.
4) The continent factor: As we saw with the tournament in Asia, weird things happen when you have tournaments in places that people are not used to. We have no idea how teams are going to adapt to being in Africa. While S. Africa is certainly not the Congo, it’s still Africa. I think the Brazilians will feel right at home. I think the Mexicans will feel a little bit like aliens. Just as I believe no non-European team was won a World Cup hosted in Europe, there may be similar issues for some federations in Africa.
5) The officiating: Every World Cup, there is some new craziness to talk about. Whether it is the Ecuadorean official or Graham Poll and his infamous three yellow cards or that mysterious injury time PK decision that put Italy over the top against Australia and put them on the way to their victory match. Because FIFA are insistent on bring officials from every Federation and basically almost every country involved, you get a lot of officials there who have little experience refereeing such high stakes matches and who frankly lack the quality and ability to do the job effectively. And sadly, even in UEFA, the days of the professional and unimpeachable referee are basically dead with the retirements of Pierluigi Collina and Anders Frisk. Frisk notably retired in 2005 after his family received death threats from English hooligans in the wake of Chelsea losing in the Champions League to Barcelona. The fact that notoriously lousy Howard Webb was the official for the Champions League final says all there needs to be said about the state of refereeing in Europe at the moment.
@OriGuy: There is controversy about the ball at every World Cup. This is not news.
@ Some Popes
Mexico has a pretty good record at getting out of the group. Beyond that, not so much.
Some immigrant guy
Sorry, Randinho, your Bafana Bafana knowledge is lacking…
Aaron Mokoena – who just got his 100th cap – is a holding midfielder. Benni McCarthy’s best years came in Portugal (not Spain) under Jose Mourinho, go figure. But he isn’t in the SA squad, he was always a marginal call and Parreira did what he had to. Steven Pienaar is the player who could spark the home team, if he’s on his game then SA will be a handful.
So anyway, Bafana Bafana are a decent outside shot to make it through this group. Yes, I am biased, but home teams at football world cups do tend to do pretty well.
I think Mexico will go through – they routinely make it through the group stage – and I hope it triggers a frickin’ massive celebration in downtown Phoenix.
Domenech is mad as a bag of cats. He will find every conceivable way of trying to have France eliminated… unfortunately for him, France is blessed with stacks of talent and they should go through.
Uruguay sneaked in to the finals, they lack a bit of all round quality, and they’ll only have some joy if Forlan hits a hot streak.
So Mexico + 1… and I’ll go South Africa, Mandela magic, vuvuzelas or something else to inspire them.
@Some immigrant guy: Mokoena is listed as a defender on both my link and Portsmouth FC’s website. I don’t believe they’re wrong.
McCarthy was on the provisional squad. I agree with you that Parreira was probably right to leave him off. Thanks for the Porto correction. Don’t know why I missed that.
As nutty as Domenech is, he does have the good sense to have Hugo Lloris as his keeper. Lloris is a solid stopper at Lyon and much less dramatic than Coupet or Barthez IMHO.
As an ex South African I am obviously biased but I think they will make it through the group. They are riding an unprecedented wave of excitement and passion and have the skill to take on all three teams. They’re unbeaten in their last 11 games since Perreira took over and benefit of extended camps over the past few months is showing.
In answer to an earlier question everything is ready and despite the possibility of some traffic jams the Cup will be a roaring success and a wonderful party for a nation that deserves it. The negative media in Europe and America was a disgrace and has inhibited a lot of people from traveling to South Africa. As soon as the 2006 Cup was over the U.S. soccer org suggested they could host the Cup if South Africa couldn’t and American soccer writers immediately started a campaign of negative reports.
That being said, Bafana doesn’t have any easy games but the support and passion will play a significant part.
Look for some lesser known names to have an impact. Siphwe Tsabalala and Teko Midise in the midfield, Tsepo Masilela and Lucas Thwala in defense will shine. If they have any weakness it will be upfront. Khuboni is another midfielder who was unheard of six months ago but has been magnificent in warm up games.
South Africans love to party and their enthusiasm will be infectious.
Hh, wht ct wst f spc. Sccr! G fgr.
Have you considered Phalloplasty?