World Cup Opener An Intriguing Match Up

Rather like the crazed face of Jack Nicholson peering through the broken door at Shelley Duvall bellowing “Here’s Johnny!”, the World Cup, after years of preparation, months of hype and days of somewhat over the top panicking about a player picking up an injury in the final warm up game, will commence on Friday with hosts South Africa taking on Mexico at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg.

And for a punter looking for an opportunity to get off to a winning start at the World Cup finals, this game promises plenty.

SOUTH AFRICA RESURGENT UNDER PARREIRA

Twelve months ago, the talk was that South Africa could possibly be the worst team to host the finals in history. That’s some boast when you consider that the 1954 finals were played in Switzerland. The national team was in a shambolic state and fans of the Bafana Bafana could be forgiven for feeling that although the World’s biggest and best soccer tournament was coming to their shores, their participation in it would be fleeting.

However in November 2009, former Brazilian World Cup winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira (pictured) returned as coach and began to mould the team in his own image. The result has been a significant improvement in fortunes for the South Africans, 12 matches unbeaten and having defeated Denmark 1-0 in their final warm up game (a Denmark side that forced Portugal into second place in their qualifying group and Sweden out of the finals altogether, as well as beating England 4-0 not too long ago) they will go into the clash with Mexico in superb form and with new found confidence. You can back South Africa now, on Betfair at 3.0 for the win. Which seems good odds for a team unbeaten in 12 games and playing with the advantage of being on home soil…

BUT MEXICO PROVIDE A STERN TEST

However those punters hoping for a nailed on home win may need to reconsider. Opponents Mexico are themselves looking a very talented team. Despite a 3-1 defeat to England at Wembley (a result which was something of an injustice to the Mexicans), Mexico’s strong warm up form continued last Thursday when they beat World Champions Italy 2-1 in Brussels and coach Javier Aguirre has already stated that he believes that his current squad “is the best Mexico squad we have ever had at a World Cup.”

The Mexican team is built upon a foundation of talented older players, such as midfield lynchpin Gerrardo Torrado, Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez and winger Andres Guardardo combined with the emerging talents from the World Champion U17 team that includes the likes of Arsenal’s Carlos Vela, Tottenham’s Giovanni Dos Santos, not to mention Manchester United’s new £10m striker Javier Hernandez.

MEXICO FAVOURITES BUT DRAW LOOKS BEST BET

As such, the latest markets suggest that Mexico are just the slight favourites in this very close encounter at 2.75.

With both teams desperate not to lose their first game, in what looks like being a very evenly contested Group A, I like the look of 3.25 on the draw and given the defensive frailties shown by both teams at times, I also like the look of the 2.60 on offer for there to be over 2.5 goals during the game, in a game that I see as being an open, and entertaining, 2-2 draw.

And the best thing is, we only have to wait until 3pm on Friday to find out for sure!