France should cruise through WCup group

France even missed playing an uncomfortable opening game against the host nation. While millions of South African fans will be focusing on their team’s game against Mexico, France’s first game against Uruguay in Cape Town later in the day will be out of the spotlight.

CAPE TOWN, South Africa _ After creeping into the World Cup through the playoffs, and helped by Thierry Henry’s infamous handball, France now has a chance to make a big impact at the tournament itself.

Although coach Raymond Domenech is under fire for not getting the best out of a team of top quality players, France was given a comparatively easy group and should be capable of reaching at least the quarterfinals.

France even missed playing an uncomfortable opening game against the host nation. While millions of South African fans will be focusing on their team’s game against Mexico, France’s first game against Uruguay in Cape Town later in the day will be out of the spotlight.

With Henry set to make his fourth World Cup appearance and Patrick Vieira hoping to get there, too, the 1998 world champions and 2006 runners-up have plenty of experience.

In Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda and maybe Louis Saha, the French have plenty of attacking talent and have strength throughout the lineup _ as long as Domenech can get them to play to their strengths.

Like France, Uruguay had to win a playoff series to reach its 11th World Cup. Unlike the French, however, the South Americans haven’t been past the last 16 of the competition since 1970, when they finished fourth, and it is more than 50 years since the 1930 and ’50 champions were considered a world powerhouse.

With strikers Diego Forlan and Luiz Suarez, Uruguay has the talent to score but lacks any depth to make an impact and will do well to make it to the second round.

Mexico went through three coaches and used more than 60 players to get through the qualifying rounds and is now relying on Javier Aguirre to get the best out his talented but unpredictable players.

Veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco has come out of retirement to mastermind the midfield and Aguirre has Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez at the back. He also has young talents Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos playing at their first World Cups, so opening against South Africa before 87,000 fans at Soccer City might prove difficult.

The local supporters, with their unbridled enthusiasm and the sound of thousands of vuvuzela horns being blown throughout the games, should be South Africa’s biggest weapon. They will create such a din in the stadium that their opponents may find it hard to concentrate.

On the field, hardworking and talented midfielder Stephen Pienaar and lanky defender Matthew Booth will play major roles for the team.

Although South Africa’s form has been poor over the past two years, the team showed at last year’s Confederations Cup that they can be difficult to beat on home turf.

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