South Africa vs. Mexico:
As I said yesterday, I think the ref could have a decisive role in South Africa’s opener against Mexico. Call me unpatriotic, but I’m finding it hard to imagine Bafana Bafana putting El Tri on the back foot, despite the crowd. More likely, it’ll be a tight affair, with both sides more desperate to avoid losing than they are likely to roll the dice in order to claim all three points. That said, I see the Mexicans hurting South Africa on the counterattack, and Bafana Bafana could struggle to pose a goal threat. But sheer adrenalin will keep my boys fighting for 90 minutes, and doing everything to shut Mexico down. Both sides may be okay with a draw, but if anyone shades it, I’m guessing it will be El Tri — and I will gleefully eat my words if I’m wrong.
Prediction: South Africa 0, Mexico 1
Uruguay vs. France
This one’s really difficult to call. France’s preparations are nothing short of shambolic, but then the same was true at the last World Cup — when they were coached by the same fool Domenech — and they went all the way to the final. This time, he won’t have the players like Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Viera and Claude Makelele who took charge of the team and made it work despite the coach. There’s friction in the squad over the captaincy, Gallas sulking because it’s gone to Evra, and the players are also demanding that handyman Thierry Henry start, where Domenech had planned to have him warm the bench. There are plenty of talented players in the side, but they may struggle to find coherence. Uruguay present a real goal threat in the form on fire Athletico Madrid man Diego Forlan and Ajax’s Luis Suarez, and they could spring a shocker on the French. (If you’re a betting person, have a flutter on the prospect of Forlan scoring and earning a yellow card — in quick succession. He can’t resist taking his shirt off when he scores in very tense games, and that’s an automatic yellow-card offense.)
But France will be aware that if they can’t win this game, they may struggle to make it through the group stage, and will likely throw everything into the breach. And as we’ve seen so many times before (and as the Irish will bitterly attest!), Les Bleus have a way of scraping home when it counts.
Prediction: France 2, Uruguay 1