You knew it would have to take something pretty special to wake me from my hibernation. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the World Cup.
We here at Rumors and Rants will break down each group, giving you all the information you’ll need to know leading up to the world’s largest sporting spectacle.
And with such precious little time left (YES!!!!), we’re offering you a World Cup 2010 Crash Course. Here’s your class schedule:
Wednesday – Group A
Thursday – Group B
Friday – Group C
Monday – Group D
Tuesday – Group E
Wednesday – Group F
Thursday – Group G
Friday – Group H
Let’s get started.
Captain: Aaron Mokoena. Mokoena is Bafana Bafana’s most experienced player and became the nation’s first ever player to earn 100 caps, having just reached the milestone in last weekend’s friendly win over Guatemala. The 29-year old combative defensive midfielder, who spent this season with English club Portsmouth after making 101 appearances for fellow EPL side Blackburn, isn’t a threat to score (he’s scored just four goals in 302 career matches). Mokoena’s role is simple: allow opposing midfielders little to no time on the ball. He’s relied upon to be a calming force in the middle of the park, and with all the craziness that will follow this team, Bafana Bafana will need all of Mokoena’s steadiness to escape group play.
Where The Goals Will Come From: F Bernard Parker. The hosts chose to leave the nation’s most prolific striker Benni McCarthy off its roster, leaving much of the scoring burden to Parker, who spent this season with Dutch champions FC Twente. Parker, 24, scored twice at last summer’s Confederations Cup, but was nothing more than a substitute this year for Steve McLaren’s Twente side. Parker featured 23 times for the Dutch team, starting just seven times, scoring twice (neither in league play). But the speedy and tricky Parker has netted twice for South Africa in this year’s World Cup build up. The goals won’t be flying in for the hosts, but expect Parker to be involved when they do go in.
X-Factor: MF Steven Pienaar. By far South Africa’s most skilled and accomplished attacking threat, Pienaar is coming off yet another strong campaign in the Premier League with Everton. An injury forced Pienaar, 28, to play less than 100 percent in last summer’s Confederations Cup. But when he was on the field, Pienaar always looked the most dangerous Bafana Bafana attacker. The midfielder’s contract at Goodison Park is up and he could use the World Cup as a platform for bigger clubs to take notice. He’ll take most, if not every, South Africa free kick and he’s shown in England to be dangerous off the flanks.
Young Stud: GK Itumeleng Khune. The preferred No. 1 goalkeeper since the 2009 Confederations Cup, Khune garnered some attention for his play in last summer’s World Cup dress rehearsal. Just 22-years old, Khune plays for South African giants Kaizer Chiefs and has already amassed 25 caps. He’s not the tallest keeper around (5-foot-11), but what he lacks in height he makes up for in acrobatic saves. And with an iffy defense in front of him, expect to see Khune to be busy.
Captain: F Thierry Henry. For much of the past decade, Henry has been one of the best strikers in the world. And sure his next stop appears to be the MLS and he managed just four goals last year at Barcelona in Lionel Messi’s shadow, but Henry still is class, even at 32. He’s not France’s best player anymore, but he’s a cool customer and his moxie will assure he won’t head-karate chop any opponents.
Where The Goals Will Come From: Nicolas Anelka. The French haven’t featured an attack this potent since the Napoleonic Wars. Raymond Domenech brought five out and out strikers to South Africa with Henry and Anelka leading the line. But Djibril Cisse, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Sidney Govou all can do the deed (well maybe not Govou so much). Add a midfield with attacking talent galore and the French are loaded offensively. With Chelsea this season, Anelka couldn’t quite replicate his scoring exploits of 2009 when he netted 25 times. This past term “Le Sulk” scored 15 times, still a decent number on a team with so much firepower. Always one of the most skilled and sought after strikers in Europe, Anelka, now 31, has one last opportunity to show his critics he’s as good as everyone once thought he was and would be.
X-Factor: MF Mathieu Valbuena. A surprise inclusion in the final 23-man roster, Valbuena helped Marseille pull the domestic double, winning Ligue 1 and the Coupe de la Ligue this year. His strong performances led Domenech to call the 25-year old playmaker into the provisional 30-man roster, earning his first cap for the French national side last week. He answered in kind with the game-winner versus Costa Rica in his debut. Just 5-foot-5, the diminutive Valbuena has earned the moniker, “Le petit velo” (the small bike), and like most midgets, he’s tricky and quick. He fit in as a natural replacement for Franck Ribery when Ribery left Marseille for Bayern Munich. With so much talent, it won’t be easy for Valbuena to crack the lineup with the likes of Yoann Gourcuff, Florent Malouda and Ribery ahead of him. But as a second-half substitute, Valbuena could provide quite the spark.
Young Stud: MF Yoann Gourcuff. One of French football’s gems, Gourcuff has long been tabbed as Zinedine Zidane’s heir apparent in the middle of the French midfield. After a frustrating spell at AC Milan (36 appearances with just one goal from 2006-08), Gourcuff has flourished since returning to France. Loaned to Bordeaux in 2008, Gourcuff absolutely dazzled, leading les Girondins to their first Ligue 1 title in a decade on his way to earning Ligue 1 Player of the Year honors. A member of the U17, U18, U19 and U21 national teams, Gourcuff notched 14 goals in his youth international career for Les Blues, and is always an attacking threat from midfield.
Captain: D Rafael Marquez. While not officially announced yet, it’s widely believed Marquez will captain El Tri in South Africa. The Barcelona defender has been slowed by injuries and age (31), but he’s still one of Mexico’s most dependable performers (that is when he’s not headbutting Cobi Jones).
Where The Goals Will Come From: Guillermo Franco. Mexican fans are hoping either Giovani dos Santos or Carlos Vela shine at the senior level much like they did at the junior ranks. But realistically it’ll be the crafty Franco who gets the vital touch to get the ball across the line. Not the most skilled striker in the world, the 33-year old West Ham striker is savvy vet who knows where to be after the young studs do all the leg work.
X-Factor: MF Pablo Berrara. Came on as a second-half substitute against England and the Netherlands in the World Cup build-up, and on each occasion showed a flare for letting go with some ferocious strikes from distance. The 22-year old, who plays at home for Pumas, is also adept at attacking on either flank, showing the ability to use both feet well. With more and more Mexican players attracting the eye of European scouts, it’s a safe assumption Berrara will head east soon as well.
Young Stud: F Javier Hernandez. Fondly known as “Chicharito” (Little Pea), Hernandez made news recently after landing a contract with Manchester United after a successful run at Chivas de Guadalaja. Chicharito, who turned 22 on Tuesday, has appeared just 11 times for the senior national side, but in those handful of caps, Chicharito has a proven nose for goal, scoring seven times for El Tri. And no, his nickname isn’t because he’s 5-foot-7. Most Mexicans are lucky to be 5-foot-7. He’s Little Pea because his pops, Javier Hernandez Gutierrez played for Mexico at the 1986 World Cup, and went by “Chicaro” (Pea), because of his green eyes. And now you know.
Captain: D Diego Lugano. At 6-foot-2, the 29-year old Lugano is a physical force in the center of Uruguay’s defense. Lugano has been battled tested at Turkish giants Fenerbahce the past four seasons. When Lugano isn’t busting up anything that comes near the box, he’s also proven adept at nodding home set pieces at the other end (18 combined goals for Fenerbahce and Uruguay).
Where The Goals Will Come From: F Diego Forlan. Forlan’s struggles at Manchester United are well documented. But that’s ancient history. All Forlan has done since leaving Old Trafford is score. And score. And score some more. In his first season with Spanish side Villareal in 2004-05, Forlan scored a league leading 25 goals and helped the Yellow Submarines to their first ever UEFA Champions League berth. He went on to score 19 more times for Villareal before joining Atletico Madrid in 2007. In the capital city, Forlan has continued to be prolific with 66 goals in 102 games for Atletico. Forlan has plenty of help up front (see below), but he’s still the main threat – for his poaching traits if anything else.
X-Factor: F Luis Suarez. A potential star in the making, Suarez could (and probably will) become one of soccer’s hottest properties following the World Cup. Currently with Dutch giants Ajax, Suarez has proven a prolific scorer in the Eredivisie. In 97 appearances for Ajax, Suarez has netted an astonishing 74 times. His scoring exploits have continued on the international stage, with 10 strikes in 29 appearances for Uruguay. He’s dynamite waiting to explode and paired with Forlan, Uruguay has a forward duo not many in the world can match.
Young Stud: F Edinson Cavani. Suarez is the real young stud here, but since we’ve already gushed over him, we’ll focus elsewhere. Which brings us to Palermo winger Edinson Cavani. As a member of Uruguay’s U20 team at the 2007 South American Youth Championship Cavani finished the tournament as the top scorer with seven goals in nine games as Uruguay placed third. A year later, “El Matador” made his first senior national team appearance against Colombia, with an immediate impact, notching a goal in the 2-2 draw. He’s obviously behind Suarez and Forlan in the pecking order, but it’s just another bullet in the chamber for coach Oscar Tabarez.
France wins the group. Uruguay takes second.