Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Waiting is Over

After all the hype and expectation it's time for the action to start. The 19th World Cup in South Africa kicks off on Friday and by July 11th we will know which of the 32 teams has won the biggest prize in football. Let's hope for a healthy dollop of breathtaking football, last-minute drama and controversy along the way. Maybe even a couple of penalty shoot-outs to keep us on our toes.

The World Cup has been won by a team from South America in exactly half of the 18 tournaments, from Uruguay in 1930 to Brazil 8 years ago. Is the time right for Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay to regain their crown? Could Chile or Paraguay spring a surprise? All will have ambitions of negotiating a safe path through the group stages...and some for a lot more besides.

Let's start with Chile. Marcelo Biesla has built a team around his attacking instincts with Alexis Sanchez, the bag-o-tricks winger, to the fore. But his creative talents will be best served if he can team up with La Roja's star sriker and leading goalscorer in qualifying. Humberto 'Chupete' Sauzo is key to Chile's chances and a nation is crossing everything in the hope that his injured hamstring heals in time. The first game against Honduras may just come too soon for him.

Brazil goes into the tournament with a settled, efficient team with Kaka at its core. For Dunga, the 1994 World Cup winning captain, the message from the Brazilian press and supporters couldn't be clearer: bring back the cup for a 6th time...but make sure you do it with the flair and panache that we have become accustomed to. Anything else will be seen as failure for the most successful team in World Cup history.

There aren't many teams who are overshadowed by their manager but if you have Diego Maradona calling the shots then it's hard for anyone else to get a look-in. The footballing genuis who won the World Cup for the Albiceleste almost single-handedly must now prove he has the tactical nous to create a winning team from a squad that, on paper, is as good as any. Much will depend on Messi replicating his club form for Barcelona in the national colours. Diego thinks he's better than he was in 1986. Time will tell.

Uruguay, like Chile, has been sweating on the fitness of its star striker, Diego Forlan. But all the signs are that he will make the starting line-up for the opener against France. He forms a potent attacking threat with Nicolas Lodeiro and Luis Suarez and if these three are firing there's every chance that Oscar Tabarez will enjoy this World Cup more than his last as Uruguay manager in 1990. The first-ever World Champions are due an improved showing.

Then we have Paraguay, boosted by the arrival of recently-nationalised striker, Lucas Barrios from his native Argentina. He didn't feature in qualifying but has been in fine goal-scoring form in the warm-up matches. If the players needed any more motivation then the absence of striker Slavaor Cabanas could act as an extra spur. He was shot in the head in January but amazingly survived and Gerardo Martino's men will be out to send a message of good will to their missing team-mate.

So there it is. There will be 15 games in the next 2 weeks featuring South America's finest, starting with Uruguay against France this Friday and ending on June 25 with Super Friday as Chile play Spain and Brazil play Portugal.

Beyond that it's all conjecture and supposition. The second round could see Chile play Brazil or Argentina pitting its wits against Uruguay. But that can wait for another day. For the time being, let's sit back and watch the greatest show on Earth unfold. South America's dreaming...

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