The inaugural match of South Africa 2010 should provide Mexico with their best chance of 3 points and on paper they should be considered favourites. Mexico have more technically, adept players and the majority of their players have been competing in higher standard, European leagues this season.
Whereas “El Tri” can boast of household names such as Rafael Marquez, Giovanni Dos Santos and an emerging world star in Javier Hernandez, South Africa’s only recognized team member is probably Steven Peinaar of Everton.
But there are a number of factors still to consider and the Mexican’s should not fall into a trap of over-confidence or hubris.
When the draw was made Mexico were right to feel confident of progression and South Africa despite being the home nation were odds on favourites to be awarded the dreaded, wooden spoon. However it seems as if the South Africans have got their act together just in time after enjoying a 12 match unbeaten streak before this match.
Mexico have been similarly, busy in the tournament run up but only recently have they managed to test themselves against teams of genuine strength. Impressive but losing displays against England and Holland was followed by a 5-1 hammering a Gambia but real, hope and confidence will come from their 2-1 triumph against current World Cup champions Italy.
Vela celebrates goal against Italy
Much has been made about the altitude in Johannesburg and the effect this may have upon players but Mexico City is a further 259 feet above the South African capital so this should have little bearing on the match. The temperature will be colder than the Mexico players usually play in International games but i am fairly sure they will have acclimatized before Friday’s game.
An obvious weakness in Mexico’s game is their inability to adequately deal with set pieces. The defence have been careless in recent games with free headers becoming goals for England and Gambia. At 1.78 they have one of the smallest, average teams but this is a statistic shared with South Africa. Rafael Marquez will have to marshal the defence properly in order to combat the many high balls South Africa may swing into the goal area.
It is difficult to predict Javier Aguirre’s starting 11 as he has experimented a lot in recent months however it likely he will set up with a back four of Ricardo Osorio at right back, Marquez and Francisco Rodriguez in the centre and Carlos Salcido on the left. They will have to stifle the creativity of Pienaar and goal threat of Katlego Mphela who has scored 4 times in 3 matches. Judging by recent form veteran Oscar “conejo” Perez should start between the sticks for Mexico although Memo Ochoa is regarded as the golden goalie in Mexico.
Oscar “the rabbit” Perez
Marquez will need to push forward to strengthen a midfield of Gerard Torrado as sitting midfielder with either Israel Castro or Efrain Juarez on the right side and Andres Guardado on the left (although he has been strangely, under-used so far by Aguirre).
In attack Aguirre will choose between Alberto Medina, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Javier Hernandez, Giovani dos Santos, Guillermo Franco and Carlos Vela. As more aged and slower options Blanco and Franco will be probably used as 2nd half substitutes and Medina may replace the mercurial Dos Santos alike against Italy. This leaves a 3 pronged attack of Carlos Vela as target man beside the more industrious Hernandez and Dos Santos as the creative link behind the two strikers.
Giovani Dos Santos
The Central Americans base their play on sharp, passing game with an ability to turn defence quickly into attack. Giovanni Dos Santos is their main creative engine and his ability to link up with Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela will be vital.
If Mexico can match their first half performance against England then they should create many chances but the strikers must be less profligate in front of goal.
Much will hinge on Mexico’s ability to rise to the occasion with a partisan crowd and a whole nation willing them on.
Match prediction : South Africa 2 – 3 Mexico
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