France: Many (especially in Ireland) don’t believe the French have earned a place in this year’s tournament, and I would have to agree. To say the least, they were lucky to qualify, and they have failed to impress in the friendlies. Yet they remain favorites to win their group with the vast experience of players like Henry, Gallas and Ribery. They were champions in ’98, bottom of their group in ’02, runner ups in ’06… there is an ominous pattern here and I believe they will struggle this time around.
Mexico: Mexico has some bright young players (dos Santos, Vela, Hernandez). But the leadership of some of the older ones, notably Marquez, has been most important in producing some excellent displays over the past year. They are good enough to create opportunities even against the best of defenses, and are very able to go far in the competition this year.
Uruguay: Uruguay qualified for the World Cup by just one point. They are good going forward and can score plenty, but they have also been guilty of giving up too many goals. In Group A, I can’t see them scoring much and their vulnerability at the back will show against Mexico and France. I doubt they will make it out of the group.
South Africa: South Africa faces the threat of being the first home team not to make it past the group stages. But I don’t think this will bother the players who will want to put on a good show for their country. Preparations have gone well for them, being undefeated in their last 10 games. They certainly have strength in defense with Booth and Mokoena but are lacking in capability going forward. Their matches will probably be close ones, and as a neutral fan in this group, I would like to see them go through to the next round. I think they just might do so.
1. Mexico 2. South Africa 3. France 4. Uruguay
It should be close between South Africa and France, but I am betting on the hosts getting lucky (as they probably deserve to) and making it through.