World Cup Group A Preview

Group A is one of the toughest groups in the tournament. While 2006 runner-up France is on the decline, they are still a force to reckon with in any World Cup. They just barely qualified on the controversial handball goal by Thierry Henry in the squad’s play-off against Ireland.

France has struggled as of late, losing to Austria and recording drawing with Romania and Serbia in qualifiers. They also barely escaped an embarrassing draw with Faroe Islands in their qualifier in August 2009. France is known for its lackadaisical play in the qualifying stages and they fell victim to their lack of urgency at the 2002 World Cup, when they were eliminated after the group stage without recording a single win.

The retirement of leader Zinedine Zidane won’t help this attitude and manager Raymond Domenech will have his work cut out trying to motivate the players. This could be a chance for Uruguay to win the group and for either Mexico or host South Africa to surprise the French.

Uruguay has been playing great soccer in their qualifiers. They beat Bolivia and Peru handily and surprised in a 2-0 victory over Paraguay. They barely lost to Argentina twice. In the teams’ first meeting they lost 2-1. Their second meeting looked like it was going to end in a draw until a late goal by Mario Bolatti gave Argentina the victory.

The only big loss Uruguay suffered came at the hands of perennial power Brazil. The record World Champions beat Uruguay 4-0 in June 2009. Uruguay was among the top teams in the world in the early years of the World Cup, winning the championship in 1930 and 1950 and finishing fourth in 1954. They haven’t been near as successful as of late, with the exception of a deep run in 1970, when they repeated their fourth-place finish.

This year could mark the return of Uruguay to the elite soccer teams. They definitely have a shot at beating struggling France in their first match.

While Uruguay and France seem to be the favorites to advance from the group, don’t look past Mexico or South Africa.

Mexico’s biggest problem might be fatigue. They play more friendlies than any other squad, and that might have an adverse effect on their form at the World Cup. They have been successful lately, beating Gambia 5-1 on May 30th and – more importantly – surprising defending champion Italy 2-1 in their final friendly before the World Cup.

Mexico has a good shot at advancing from the group, if they can keep their nerves together in the World Cup opener against host South Africa. Soccer City Stadium will be packed with a raucous crowd and the El Tri needs to weather an early storm by the South Africans.

The hosts themselves played a solid qualifying round and have been outstanding in their most recent matches. They are taking an eleven game unbeaten streak into their final friendly against Denmark Saturday. They beat Jamaica, Thailand, Colombia, and Guatemala in their last five games and drew with Bulgaria. The colorfully named Bafana Bafana surprised in a draw against Paraguay in March, and home field advantage could push Carlos Parreira’s squad to a great World Cup.

Pinnacle offers wagers on the teams’ performances in the group stage and there are some bets that seem too good to pass up. I like Uruguay to win the group and the +340 line offers exceptional value.

South Africa’s advancing from the group will get you $174 on a $100 dollar bet, and with their recent success they go into the World Cup with a lot of momentum. Add to that the great fan-support in their home country and a successful run by the Bafana Bafana doesn’t seem far-fetched. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them winning the group, but if you feel lucky, Pinnacle offers a South Africa group victory at +663.

I could see France repeating their poor performance from the 2002 World Cup and failing to advance from the group. If you are with me here, you could get $207 for your $100 dollar bet.

Group A will definitely be one of the most interesting groups to follow, and it offers some serious value for believers in Uruguay and South Africa.

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