By WADE MURRAY
One Great Season
South Africa's beloved Bafana Bafana went into Wednesday's match against Uruguay on fairly high spirits after last week's 1-1 draw with Mexico that was pretty much a win for them. Uruguay, on the other hand, had to have beeen asking a lot of questions after their scoreless draw with France. It was a match that neither side did much to impress. All of Africa, and many neutrals outside, would be on Bafana's side, but as everyone saw Wednesday, Uruguay more than made up for their shortcomings in their first match with a thorough 3-0 thrashing.
WHAT WAS AT STAKE
Group A was all even after the first round of matches, with the four sides stuck on 1 point each, but Mexico and South Africa had the slimmest of advantages by way of having scored a goal in their openers. The Bafana boys play France last (which now is RSA's most important game ever) and didn't want to leave themselves desparately needing a win in that one. Uruguay needed to show that they are more than a team with two brilliant strikers. I know this gets tiring to hear before every single match, but this one was really important not to lose.
Going into this tournament, I would have picked Uruguay to give South Africa a difficult time, and they did ... and then some. The spirited first match by the RSA seemed a distant memory Wednesday. The South African midfield looked far better than Uruguay's in the teams' first matches, but the Uruguayans simply had too much class.
A 3-0 drubbing of the RSA that showed the return of Uruguyan scoring machine Diego Forlan. Uruguay was my darkhorse to win this group and they showed why on Wednesday. RSA was simply not able to handle the attacking style and midfield of their opponent. Uruguay, not normally known for their defense, did at least what they needed to in the defensive third. The only hope that RSA had was in counter attacking and strong goal keeping, but Bafana Bafana failed on both counts.
In the end, neither speed nor national pride could save South Africa. Look out for Uruguay, a team poised to do more than win the group. And as for RSA, well, let's hope they show up for the their final match and sneak a win to perhaps qualify for the next round. Nothing would please me more than to see France sent home early.
FRANCE VS. MEXICO PREVIEW
France's main problem in their most recent matches has been an inability to score goals. They have been very good at getting into positive positions but that's about it. Could it be that the Jabulani is giving them trouble? No, I don't think so.
The true problem lies within their lack of chemistry and ability to use each other. The famous and now infamous (from the 2006 headbutt heard 'round the world) Zinedine Zidane was more than critical of his country's team, stating that "there was a lack of teamwork and it was more a case of individual efforts," and I think that continues to be the case. Personally, I expect much of the same from the Frenchmen and possibly a group-stage exit, as Mexico will give them problems.
Mexico showed in their opening match against South Africa that they have fielded their most talented squad in years. Though their first game ended in a draw, they were clearly the superior squad and that should serve as a confidence booster heading into the France game. Giovani Dos Santos was, as I expected, awesome all match long against the RSA, creating chance after chance. Expect Mexico to change very little Thursday besides the amount of goals put on the scoreboard.
Both sides might feel they have something to prove after opening-round draws last week, but it's a hungrier Mexico team that seems more likely to get it done.
Despite Mexico's inability to put the ball in the net against the RSA lads, they impressed me. They not only created several scoring opportunities, but played some beautiful football with a togetherness reminiscent of Spain and Barcelona. Meanwhile, France seems to be in nothing but shambles and lost chances that leave themselves and their fans wanting. There are reports of disputes with the manager as well as sharp criticism from the media. France will need to score, preferably early, to build confidence against a dangerous opponent. I don't think they will.
Look for Mexico to put the French out of second-round contention. Mexico wins, 2-1, setting up a very interesting, winner-take-all final against Uruguay next week.
Click here for Wade's bio and an archive of his previous stories.