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Group A is the answer to a trivia question that few people would be able to come up with - it is the only group in this tournament that has two former World Cup winners. France, the 1998 champion, is the obvious one. The other is more obscure - Uruguay took the first ever World Cup in 1930, and then added another in 1950.
It also has another unique distinction - all four teams have hosted the tournament. Uruguay was the home team in 1930, Mexico hosted in 1970 and 1986, France won at home in 1998, and South Africa is hosting this year. The World Cup futures odds for this group would indicate that another winner isn't likely to emerge this year.
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Looking at World Cup Group A predictions, France is the favorite to win the group at even money, but at 16/1 to win the tournament they are just the eighth choice overall. That's a heck of a lot better than the other three teams - Mexico is the best of the rest at just 80/1, while both Uruguay and South Africa are at 100/1, and both prices seem overly generous given their accomplishments.
This is a group packed with history, and thanks to the presence of the home team their games are going to be raucous, but they aren't likely to be relevant in the end. This is a fun group, but likely not an important one.
If there was any justice then France probably wouldn't have been there at all. They qualified for the tournament in the most controversial manner of any team when Thierry Henry used his hand to direct the ball onto his foot for the winning goal that eliminated Ireland and gave France their berth. The referees missed the blatant violation, and the Irish were suitably outraged, but none of their protests got them anywhere.
France found themselves in the position of having to play that playoff in the first place because they let Serbia beat them in group play. It's hard to win your group and get an automatic berth in the World Cup when you can't score, and that scoring has definitely been an issue for the French.
During their 12-game international schedule last year they had a streak of seven straight games in which neither they nor their opponent scored more than one goal. The French get deserved respect because they lost in the finals of the last World Cup, but they aren't the team that they were back then. Zinedine Zidane is gone, Thierry Henry isn't getting any younger, and incompetent management hasn't made the transition to the next generation smooth. Their performance at Euro 2008 was a humiliating debacle. Though they are likely to get out of their group this time, they will be hard pressed to go deep.
Mexico showed that they can't be taken lightly in last year's Gold Cup, the CONCACAF championship. They fought their way into the final, which was being played in New Jersey, and they had to face the home team. The game was tied at the half and Mexico was clearly frustrated. Something changed during the break, and in the second half Mexico erupted and cruised to a stunning 5-0 win.
That game is, in a nutshell, what Mexico is. They aren't always fancy, and they certainly aren't consistent, but they can be stunningly explosive if you turn your back on them. This is their fifth consecutive World Cup appearance, and they have made it past the opening round each of the last four times, so they are dangerous. They haven't made it beyond the second round over that stretch, though, So they can't seem to build any momentum.
They are extremely well coached by Javier Aguirre, and they have more talent then they have had in recent years, so they are in the driver's seat to move to the second round again. If talent matters, and unfortunately it doesn't always at the World Cup, then Mexico will have an edge over Uruguay and the hosts.
Uruguay was once great, but times have clearly changed. They earned the last possible berth into the tournament - after finishing fifth in South America they beat Costa Rica in a playoff. This is only their second appearances in the last five World Cups, and they didn't get out of group play last time around.
They have made a savvy move this time around, though, by bringing back coach Oscar Washington Tabarez - el Maestro. He coached the team to the round of 16 in 1990, and has coached top teams including AC Milan, so he gives his team the best chance of success.
Uruguay has some real issues in this tournament, but they do have a secret weapon. Two, actually. Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez are both much better than average strikers, and the team plays an aggressive style than can make those players very dangerous. They will have to be at their absolute best if Uruguay wants to live past round robin play.
The thought of handicapping South Africa gives me a headache. On paper they have no business being in the field. They are ranked 84th in the world, and the only reason they are in the field is because they got an automatic bid. They would be easy to rule out except for one obvious issue - they are going to have a whole nation behind them, and the feel-good support of much of the world as well.
They will be carrying high hopes, but they'll have to play much better than they did at the end of last year to live up to those hopes. They lost eight of their last nine games, and got a coach fired in the process. The firing may be a good thing, though. The replacement, Carlos Alberto Parreira, is among the most successful World Cup coaches there are. He coached Brazil to a win in 1994, and led them as far as the quarterfinals in 2006.
He doesn't have the most aggressive, creative style in the world, but he has had results. Parreira will need to be at his absolute best, and he'll need star players like Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar to rise to the occasion if they want a chance of advancing. The public has already overbet them as their futures price indicates, and they aren't likely to stop doing that, so the value will likely lie in betting against their success. That's not very hospitable, but it's likely profitable.