A look at the teams in Group A
Manager: Carlos Alberto Parreira
Key player: Kagisho Dikgacoi
Best: Round one (1998, 2002)
World ranking: 86
Qualifying as hosts has its obvious advantages – giving straight passage without having to kick a ball in anger. However, the lack of a competitive edge is the drawback and South Africa will need to compensate for this by preparing thoroughly for the tournament on home soil. As with previous sporting events in the country, they are sure to have a passionate support backing them.
The side failed to score a single goal in the 2006 African Cup of Nations and immediately afterwards set about finding a new manager who could lead them during the 2010 World Cup. Parreira was their choice but it has not been plain sailing. The Brazilian briefly left for family reasons, after which he coached Fluminese in his homeland, before returning in October of this year. They showed how far they have come with a good showing at this year’s Confederations Cup, where they finished fourth out of eight teams. However, the team remains disjointed and there are fears that they could be embarrassed.
Manager: Javier Aguirre
Key player: Rafael Marquez
Best: Quarter-final (1970, 1986)
World ranking: 15
Mexico made sure of their 14th appearance at the finals with a game to spare after a comprehensive 4-1 victory over El Salvador – despite a swarm of bees in the goalmouth halting play for 10 minutes. Javier Aguirre’s side won six of their nine games to seize the initiative in the group after a stuttering under previous coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Team captain Rafael Marquez has praised coach Aguirre for bringing back the team’s belief following Eriksson’s disappointing reign. The no-nonsense Aguirre has certainly improved the side and they are likely to prove tricky opponents in South Africa, especially in matches at altitude. Barcelona defender Marquez is their star man, but Deportivo La Coruna midfielder Andrés Guardado and Arsenal striker Carlos Vela are both talented performers, while West Ham striker Guillermo Franco is becoming something of a cult hero at Upton Park.
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Key player: Diego Forlan
Best: Winners (1930, 1950)
World ranking: 19
Two-time world champions Uruguay clinched the 32nd and final place in South Africa with a 2-1 aggregate victory over Costa Rica via the play-offs. Oscar Tabarez’s men will reflect on their priceless 1-0 victory in San Jose in the first leg, which meant all they needed was to avoid defeat in Montevideo in the second leg. They took the lead through Sebastian Abreu and although Walter Centeno equalised for Costa Rica, the visitors failed to level the tie. In the South American qualifying group, Uruguay were the epitome of inconsistency – winning six, drawing six and losing six. Of all the teams who qualified from the group, Uruguay beat only Paraguay.
Uruguay possess some talented players who regularly do the business for their club sides but have rarely produced on the international stage. Case in point is Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan whose goalscoring record is hugely impressive in La Liga but his international form less so. However, if their big guns can fire they may well overcome what has become a crippling inability to perform on the biggest stage.
Manager: Raymond Domenech
Key player: Franck Ribery
Best: Winners (1998)
World ranking: 7
Having finished a point behind Serbia in Group Seven the French, led by Raymond Domenech, were paired with Republic of Ireland in the play-offs. A 1-0 win in Ireland was followed by a game of huge talking points in France, with the Irish going in front through Robbie Keane and taking the tie to extra-time. France won it, but with a goal from William Gallas that came from a blatant handball from Thierry Henry.
Controversial it may be but France will be in South Africa this summer and it would be naive to assume they are not capable of going far because of the circumstances surrounding their qualification. The side is packed with talent, including Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and Gallas of Arsenal in defence, Real Madrid “water-carrier” Lassana Diarra and Bayern Munich’s mercurial Franck Ribery in midfield and Nicolas Anelka of Chelsea and Barcelona’s Henry up front. However, the jury remains out on coach Domenech, who is widely seen as the reason such an able group of players continue to under-achieve, and for the first time in many years the French are not viewed as certainties for the latter stages.