Kick Off: Wednesday, June 9, 2010. 20:45 CET
Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
Best Foot Forward
Though not attracting the same interest as Group A’s earlier fixture between South Africa and Mexico, Uruguay’s opening tussle with France should prove to be an interesting affair.
The South Americans arrive at this game having only prepared with one warm-up friendly, but having thumped Israel 4-1, coach Oscar Tabarez probably feels justified in his decision to focus primarily on the training ground. It may have been a quiet build-up for the Celeste, but they believe they are in good form.
“We will arrive to the game against France in our best form,” Fenerbahce centre-back Diego Lugano declared to the press. “We will see how far we can go in the competition but we are calm because we have worked well in training and we are ready.”
Tabarez’s side, who are noted for their tenacity and determination, known locally as garra charrua, can justify their confidence ahead of their opening fixture. Though they only snuck into the competition via a backdoor playoff against Costa Rica (whom France beat 2-1 in a warm-up friendly), in November 2008 they battled to a creditable 0-0 draw again les Bleus in Paris.
Prior to that, Uruguay achieved a similar result in the 2002 World Cup, helping to eliminate France from the group stage, while in England ’66, the South Americans triumphed 2-1 in London.
History is on the side of Uruguay, and they appear confidence of upsetting opponents who have constantly shown cracks over the course of Raymond Domenech’s reign.
France will doubtless advocate the assertion that the actual qualification process to the World Cup is meaningless, so long as it is successful.
Beaten finalists four years ago by virtue of a penalty shootout against Italy, les Bleus have since been almost wholly turgid. Euro 2008 was an outright disaster, and South Africa 2010 promises little more.
Thierry Henry’s infamous handball against the Republic of Ireland in the playoffs ultimately proved the decisive factor in les Bleus reaching the Finals, though ironically he is poised to take little part, having been pushed to the bench by coach Raymond Domenech.
The Barcelona man may be a great distance from the peak of his powers, but that is simply characteristic of a team looking tired and directionless under their outgoing trainer. Franck Ribery, the undoubted star man of the team, has had a crisis-riddled season, Nicolas Anelka isn’t scoring or even looking particular likely to and Karim Benzema has, temporarily at least, dropped off the international map.
Of those players in form, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris appears full of trepidation about the World Cup’s infamous Jabulani balls, Florent Malouda is being played out of position as a central midfielder and Samir Nasri hasn’t even been selected for the squad.
Pre-tournament friendly results have hardly been encouraging. A win over Costa Rica was a positive step, but a draw in Tunisia and a loss to China, despite controlling much of the game, have done little to build confidence or even team spirit.
Added to the existing problem of an uncertain defence, France have an uncertain cocktail that may result in the humiliation of an early exit, which is incidentally exactly what happened last time they were paired with Uruguay in the group stages of the World Cup back in 2002. A good start this time around is utterly essential for les Bleus.
WON 4-1 (h) Israel (Friendly, May 26)
WON 3-1 (a) Switzerland (Friendly, March 3)
DREW 1-1 (h) Costa Rica (World Cup playoff, November 18)
WON 1-0 (a) Costa Rica (World Cup playoff, November 14)
LOST 1-0 (h) Argentina (World Cup qualifier, October 14)
LOST 1-0 (h) China (Friendly, June 4)
DREW 1-1 (a) Tunisia (Friendly, May 30)
WON 2-1 (h) Costa Rica (Friendly, May 26)
LOST 2-0 (h) Spain (Friendly, March 3)
DREW 1-1 aet (h) Republic of Ireland (World Cup playoff, November 18)
Defender Mauricio Victorino and midfielder Egidio Arevalo Rios will be selected in the starting line-up, according to coach Oscar Tabarez when he spoke to the press on Wednesday. Neither was expected to feature in the 3-4-1-2 system employed by the South American tactician. Walter Gargano is to be somewhat surprisingly omitted.
Diego Forlan will be joined by Luis Suarez in attack.
Probable Starting XI: Muslera; Lugano, Godin, Victorino; Pereira, Perez, Rios, Pereira; Gonzalez; Suarez, Forlan
Raymond Domenech’s squad is apparently fully fit, though centre-back William Gallas continues to court worry due to his recent calf problems. Jeremy Toulalan has been causing a little concern, but he should shake his niggle to start. Otherwise, les Bleus have no serious injury problems in their camp.
A 4-3-3 formation identical to the one tested in the warm-up games should be deployed, as that is what France have been working with during training.
Probable Starting XI: Lloris; Sagna, Squillaci, Abidal, Evra; Gourcuff, Toulalan, Malouda; Govou, Anelka, Ribery
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Diego Forlan is undoubtedly Uruguay’s most recognisable face, and as their most experienced campaigner, the Atletico Madrid forward will be expected to lead from the front against France. A predatory goal scorer, the ex-Manchester United man has found the net regularly in Spain over the last six years and is a two-time winner of the Pichichi Trophy. By no means the South Americans' only threat, he is the player France must most effectively muzzle.
Nicolas Anelka has been rather ineffective in the pre-competition friendlies, failing to score a solitary goal in three matches. The Chelsea man has frequently dropped deep from his position as the offensive spearhead, meaning that France have lacked a presence in the box. On his first ever appearance at the World Cup finals, the 31-year-old has to get his scoring instinct to kick in.
Group A should be a close-run battle, and this encounter will have major implications for each side’s future. Uruguay are a defensively sound unit, while les Bleus have typically been involved in tight matches in their opening games of big competitions. Expect a low scoring encounter. Though France start as favourites with bookmakers, the Castrol World Cup predictor actually gives the Uruguayans the edge with a 39 per cent chance of winning in comparison to les Bleus’ 33 per cent.
Uruguay 0-0 France
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