So now you’re telling me the winner is going to come from Group C. And of course, you could be right. The results of the opening games – Saudi Arabia v Denmark and France v South Africa on June 12 – will not tell us all the answers and I believe this group will go to the last game 12 days later with everything still on the line. It promises fever pitch excitement with high stakes, and a further burgeoning bonanza awaiting the countries advancing.
Let’s take a look at each country in some depth and see if we can differentiate between contender and pretender. France is the host nation and gets saddled accordingly with even greater pressures and expectations. They won the European Championships in 1984 as hosts so successful speculation will continue until the facts prove otherwise. Not going beyond round one is strictly unacceptable. But unlike qualification which is granted free gratis to the hosts, they must play their way out of Group C and amass points from each game. Easier said than done. Any defeat is difficult to recover from. This is, however, the only round of the finals where you can lose a game and still advance with good results in the other two games. But that is definitely the hard way. With the world stage set and all the arguments set aside, the time comes for actions to speak louder than words. The world will be watching and many breaths will be held.
France has talent in abundance. How many countries could afford to dilute the international careers of Eric Cantona and David Ginola? They are ranked 14th in the world as I write and have undoubted game winners in Zinedine Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff. Home support and pride will carry them so far – the rest is up to them on the day.
Saudi Arabia is not known today as a world soccer power. But if money truly talks – and I’m sure there’s an argument there somewhere – the world may be surprised by their results and it could well be that their current world ranking of 34 will be adjusted upwards in a hurry this June/July. Club soccer is well funded by wealthy business people and emirs. For the same reason, the Saudis reached the last 16 in 1994, their first finals appearance. It would not surprise me to hear of Titanic “incentives” supporting their “efforts” in the form of bonus payments of one form or another. The kind of terms even Mark Messier might sign up under. So it’s not just pride in playing for your country on the world stage, is it? Let’s be philanthropic and say that these guys are playing for their country and for “life’s rewards” also. The true romantic in me sees them getting a very well rewarded lack of success. The invidious realist in me just wishes I were playing with them.
The Danes will not be on the same layer of incentives financially but will nonetheless be determined to succeed. It is likely that few people outside of Denmark will take much notice of their qualification and they will not be favoured to win outright. This is just the position soccer players like to be in as they can compete without the added undue pressure. Lots of colour and singing at the games and they will be harder to beat on the pitch than they are on paper. Probably tight games with close results making it hard to predict. Although injured at present, world-class goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel alone could be a big enough factor to “fool” the world experts – after all, nobody expected them to win the European Championships just six short years ago. We also look forward to some Laudraup watching from either brother.
That just leaves South Africa. Oh boy! Where do I begin? Quite simply the games involving South Africa will be incredibly exciting, will contain superlative attacking soccer with highlight reel goalscoring, and provide hard-to-match entertainment, particularly for the neutral observer. Theoretically, soccer is much easier to watch when you are not overly concerned with the outcome of the game and are not cheering on one side more than the other. I suspect that come June, I will be “theoretically” watching and wishing South Africa well in their endeavors. Because they are only competing in FIFA competitions since 1992, it will be their first World Cup finals appearance. Can a team win the World Cup at effectively its first attempt? Realistically, not too many people outside South Africa will believe it. This writer is an exception – as if you didn’t know that already – I’m a believer and look forward to them trying. They are currently ranked 20th in the world and it would be “shocking” for them to make the quarterfinals. Just watch.
When it comes to group C, it could be worth nothing or worth noting (what’s in a “H”) that C is in France, C is in South Africa, C is in Cup, C is in Champions, C is in Advance, C is in Second Round, C is in Contender, – C is not in Pretender, C is not in Denmark, C is not in Saudi Arabia, – C is in Case Closed. Maybe it’s that Cimple. Oooops, maybe not.