Friday, January 8, 2010

Mexico Opening Match Key; Well, of Course

Match Mexico and South Africa on a soccer pitch almost anywhere in the world ... and any mildly attentive soccer fan would expect a Mexican victory.

Mexico has been among the planet's two-dozen best teams for decades, now. Just consistently solid and routinely competitive in the World Cup. And South Africa has been good for a month or two, here or there. Ever.

But Mexico vs. South Africa ... when the match is in Johannesburg? And when it represents the opening match of a World Cup?

That could be a different situation. As well as the key to Mexico surviving the group stage of the 2010 World Cup. As Mexico (and Barcelona) defender Rafael Marquez correctly notes in this story from the Associated Press that ran in the Johannesburg Sunday Times.

Normally, you'd think "Mexico 2-1 or 2-0. But ...

What has to be a bit troubling, for fans of Mexico, is its consistent failures to win in the United States, over the past decade. Mexico is far, far better at home, especially in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Big games on foreign soil have been a bit tricky for El Tricolores.

Mexico also has the disadvantage of being first up, against South Africa.

The crowd will be 98 percent pro-South African, we have to assume, and in the opener, South Africa won't yet know how good it isn't and how it has no chance. In the first match you always still have a chance, right? And you play with a bit more confidence. Or hope, anyway.

Have to think both France and Uruguay, the other members of Group A, are pulling for a Mexico victory -- to take some starch out of the home team before they take the field against them. And they also have to be happy they weren't up first.

I still believe Mexico will win. But that first match will be intense, difficult -- and probably the pivot for advancing to the second round for whoever can get three points out of it.

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