Welcome to Thunderdome! or Welcome to South Africa, please give me your wallet...
Sadly the opening day of the World Cup is being marred with reports of journalists being mugged and one team having money stolen from it's hotel rooms. The host cities have a tremendous amount of work to do in keeping anything like this from happening throughout the rest of the tournament. Part of the story of the World Cup is covering the passion and pride of the host country. It takes a bit of the shine off when residents are holding a gun in your face and demanding your laptop and cameras. I'm hoping that the communities rally together to stamp out this kind of behavior, because South Africa as a country and Africa as a continent could use some good publicity these days.
Onto the previews!
Match Day One- Group A: South Africa vs. Mexico
South Africa: nicknamed Bafana Bafana. The South African team comes into this game with a lot of pressure on it's shoulders. No one rightly expects them to win a game, but they do have to put forth every single drop of sweat towards trying to win. They have some really talented players, but the majority of the team play in lesser leagues and will be outclassed in most positions on the field.
Player to watch: Steven Pienaar. South Africa's captain plays for Everton of the English Premier League and won that club's player of the year award. A versatile midfielder, Pienaar won't be scoring as much as he will be lobbing in precise crosses to his forwards. He also shares a last name with Francois Pienaar, the rugby player immortalized in last year's film Invictus starring Matt Damon in the role of said Rugby player.
South Africa also has some of the best names of players in the tournament such as Surprise Moriri and my personal favorite MacBeth Sibaya.
Mexico- nicknamed El Tri or El Tri-Colores for the three colors of Red, White, and Green that make up the National flag. Mexico is one of the teams that is under the radar for this tournament. Let me make this analogy; Mexico is like the smaller guy in a fight who isn't afraid to die. They won't stop coming until the final whistle. Mexico is attack, attack, attack. The have a healthy mix of veterans and young players. They disappointed in the last World Cup only because there was a fair amount of internal strife between the old coach and some of the star players. El Tri was not a unified front to be sure. This year is different with everyone on the same page playing for a coach who seems to have cooled any lingering animosities.
Player to watch: Cuauhtémoc Blanco. The veteran forward with brilliant touch and a true sense for goal scoring. Blanco plays his pro ball for the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer. He sat out the last World Cup due to previously mentioned difficulties with the old manager. Blanco at 37 is the old guard and probably won't play a full 90 minutes in any of the games. However, while he is on the field, he will confuse defenses and create opportunities for the other attacking players.
Breakdown: This is Mexico's game to lose. I always dread US games against Mexico. They are tenacious and unforgiving. I think Mexico can have a strong impact in this World Cup. They are playing in conditions that closely mirror a lot of their home games. Altitude and high temperatures don't mean much to a team that plays in the punishing Stadium Azteca. Mexico has a lot of European league tested players and a really solid defense. South Africa fell into a very difficult group with France and Uruguay waiting for them after this opening test against Mexico. They have some good midfield play but it won't be enough against the relentless Mexican attack.
The best guess: Mexico 2-0 South Africa. South Africa loses on the field but I don't think their supporters will care one bit. When the whistle blows their team will have played in the World Cup and the whole world will have been watching.
Notice I say, best guess. This tournament is so crazy that anything can and probably will happen. I'm not an expert, and I am not paid to be so I can conjecture freely. Yay!