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Tactics Board

World Cup 2010, Group A

June 1, 2010
By Kevin Palmer and Nick Bidwell
(Archive)

Group A: France | Mexico | South Africa | Uruguay

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

FRANCE
Coach: Raymond Domenech
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Franck Ribery
Wildcard: Jeremy Toulalan
Weak spot: Coach Domenech

Raymond Domenech: Will leave France job after the finals in South Africa.
GettyImagesRaymond Domenech: Will leave France job after the finals in South Africa.
News that Laurent Blanc is set to take charge of the French national team would have delighted all who follow the fortunes of Les Bleus - but the reality may be that the appointment is being made a few weeks too late to salvage their 2010 World Cup dreams.

While the much-maligned Raymond Domenech can claim to have a mandate to retain power of the French post he has held with dubious distinction since 2004 after an ultimately successful qualifying push, few either within the camp he is taking to South Africa or observing from the outside have much faith in him finding a winning formula.

His often shambolic handling of players, bizarre tactical ideology and the general lack of faith placed in him by the very stars he will look to guide to World Cup glory suggests France are heading into the 2010 finals with hope rather than expectation pushing them on.

Of course, their place in the finals is due in no small part to Thierry Henry's infamous handball against the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup play-off last November, yet FIFA's refusal to punish the sinning France captain means he will be seen shamelessly walking past a host of bright yellow 'Fair Play' signs this summer and his importance to the team cannot be underestimated.

The ageing Henry will be hoping his final World Cup hurrah can be glorious, but the days of the former Arsenal man carrying a team on his own appear to be gone and it means the creative flair of Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda will be crucial on the flanks.

Lyon's Jeremy Toulalan holds an influential position in the heart of the midfield, offering a protective screen for a defensive line that has been chopped and changed far too often in recent times, with the injury-plagued season endured by Arsenal central defender William Gallas a major concern. It means Sebastien Squillaci and Eric Abidal will be key men in this squad.

The attacking bursts of Premier League full-backs Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra are a vital part of the French game plan, but the presence of the discredited Domenech leaves the enduring sense that Les Bleus' biggest handicap this summer will be sitting on their own bench.


MEXICO
Coach: Javier Aguirre
Preferred formation: 4-2-3-1/4-3-3
Key man: Javier Hernandez
Wildcard: Carlos Vela
Weak spot: Lack of proven experience

Javier Hernandez
GettyImagesJavier Hernandez is nicknamed 'Chicharito'
Coach Aguirre showed his hand when he named an initial 30-man squad for this World Cup adventure featuring a mere five midfielders, with three of those very much in the up and coming category rather than among those you could class as proven performers - and that may be Mexico's dilemma this summer.

Aguirre believes he needs to give the likes of Giovanni Dos Santos experience at this elite level of international football, but his failure to make a mark at either Barcelona or Tottenham suggests this 21-year-old is still very much in the development stage of his career. His younger brother Jonathan has not been included and is threatening to retire from international football.

It means old heads like Cruz Azul's midfielder Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro of Pumas will need to steady any rocking nerves, as the young guns try to provide the ammunition to the potential star of this Mexico squad this summer.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is not often wrong when pinning his reputation to a player with raw potential, so his move to splash the cash and sign Javier Hernandez confirms the legendary Old Trafford boss is convinced in the ability of a kid who turns 22 this June.

Speedy, clever and with a cool eye for goal, Mexico will need Hernandez to confirm he is the real deal this summer, with the more experienced Guillermo Franco charged with supporting him up front even though he has not shown his best form in the build up to this World Cup with Premier League side West Ham.

Carlos Vela is another in the so-far unfulfilled category, even though he has shown flashes of brilliance in Arsenal colours, yet he may be thrust into the starting line-up as doubts continue to persist over the form and fitness of Deportivo La Coruna star, Andres Guardado.

The battle-scarred veteran Rafael Marquez will be charged with holding things together at the back, but the Barcelona centre-back is struggling to keep pace with the modern game at the age of 31. It may be that he is best employed in a holding midfield role, with coach Aguirre seeing his best hope of success in World Cup 2010 being delivered by the wide men who will service the deadly Hernandez.


SOUTH AFRICA
Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Steven Pienaar
Wildcard: Siphiwe Tshabalala
Weak spot: Lack of quality in depth

Vuvuzela
GettyImagesSouth African fans will get behind their team.
The host nation generally enjoys a decent run in their own World Cup, but there are grave concerns that such a scenario will not be the story for South Africa in 2010.

Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has done his best to piece together a unit that will do their best to progress beyond the group stages, but poor form in the last 12 months has done little to suggest that Bafana Bafana will be able to flick the switch and turn on the style when it matters most.

No World Cup hosts have been knocked out in the group stages, so South Africa will look to their experienced midfielder Steven Pienaar to sparkle in front of an expectant nation. He is heading into this tournament in fine form, with his sparkling season with Everton in the Premier League sparking rumours of moves to Manchester United and Arsenal this summer.

As for Benni McCarthy, he has some bridges to build with a nation of football lovers that have never fully embraced a character who has shown indifference when it comes to playing for the national team and was not included in the squad.

It may be that McCarthy's erstwhile strike partner Bernard Parker is a better bet to emerge as a scoring star for Bafana Bafana, with Parreira putting plenty of faith in the FC Twente striker since assuming control of national team affairs in the last 12 months.

If you are looking for star to emerge from this South African story, keep an eye on wide man Siphiwe Tshabalala. The Kaiser Chiefs flyer is famed for his spectacular goals and also an unfortunate ability to miss clear-cut chances, so his box of tricks will be unpredictable from the start.

The defensive line is led by the ultra-reliable Aaron Mokoena, the 100-cap veteran of this South African side who has just lived through a season of unimaginable uncertainty at Portsmouth. His club's financial woes mean he is certain to be playing elsewhere after this World Cup.


URUGUAY
Coach: Oscar Tabarez
Preferred formation: 3-5-2
Key man: Diego Forlan
Wildcard: Nicolas Lodeiro
Weak spot: Keeper Fernando Muslera

Diego Forlan
GettyImagesForlan is hoping Uruguay can spring a surprise in South Africa
The experienced Tabarez will know he needs his handful of star performers to shine at the right moment in South Africa - with Uruguay's lack of consistency in the qualifying campaign suggesting that ambition is far from assured.

Much will depend on the free-scoring Diego Forlan, who backed up another fine season in Spain with Atletico Madrid with a match winning performance in the Europa Cup final against Fulham in May.

There is little doubt that Forlan and strike partner Luis Suarez of Ajax will deliver if the service to him to him is of the sufficient quality, but that's not always assured in a side packed with battling performers rather than flair players.

With this in mind, Tabarez has put his faith in a youngster to solve the creative deficit, with Nicolas Lodeiro given plenty of responsibility as he looks to give his side a fresh dimension. The 21-year-old Ajax star came to the fore as he burst onto the international scene with a starring role in the World Cup qualifying play-off triumph against Costa Rica last November, yet it may be asking too much of this raw talent to turn on the style in the World Cup finals.

However, that's what Lodeiro will be expected to do in a side filled with hard working grafters rather than flair players such as Napoli's Walter Gargano and Monaco's Diego Perez. Lodeiro's lack of first-team exposure since his move to Ajax means Tabarez's plan has to be viewed as suspect at best.

There are concerns about Uruguay's solidity at the back, with keeper Fernando Muslera the current first pick even though Tabarez went through four different No.1s during the qualifying push. The 23-year-old stopper only made his debut last year and his tendency to toss in the odd error and a weakness when dealing with well directed balls into his box is a worry for Uruguay.

The solid defensive line in front of him should help Muslera, with Tabarez set to employ a back three of Villarreal's Diego Godin, Colo Colo's Andres Scotti and Fenerbahce's Diego Lugano. It represents a solid base which will allow the full-backs/wide men to support the attacking thrusts, though a lack of width is an issue if Uruguay are pushed back by their opponents.