Friday, December 4, 2009

South Africa to play Mexico in World Cup opener!

Hosts South Africa will kick off the opening match of Africa's first World Cup finals against Mexico next year with two former winners, France and Uruguay, also drawn in the same group on Friday.

But if the hosts did not get the easy draw they were hoping for in Group A, neither did five times winners Brazil who play their European cousins Portugal, Africa's strongest team Ivory Coast and North Korea in the tournament's toughest section.

The draw for the 32-nation tournament was made at the end of a 90-minute global television spectacular, featuring African music and dancing, broadcast to more than 250 million people around the world.

The opening match will be staged on June 11 at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium with the final, the tournament's 64th match, in the same stadium on July 11.

European champions Spain, who top the FIFA world rankings, were immediately installed as 4-1 tournament favourites by British bookmakers after being drawn in favourable Group H with Switzerland, Honduras and Chile.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said: "We can't complain. We can't hide the fact we are one of the favourites to win (the World Cup)."

But Spain look set to face a tough time in the last 16 where they would probably face Brazil or their immediate neighbours Portugal from Group G.

Holders Italy, who beat France in the final four years ago in Germany, have a more comfortable looking ride in Group F with Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia.

Italy's coach Marcello Lippi said: "We will prepare without thinking whether our opponents are either easy or difficult. We will just think that these are matches to win.

Germany have it somewhat tougher with Australia, Serbia and Ghana standing in their way in Group D.

Germany coach Joachim Loew said: "I've got a lot of respect for Serbia. They beat France and easily won their group.

"They've got a lot of good players and they're a very strong team. I wouldn't call Ghana an outsider. They're one of the stronger teams."

England meet the United States, who beat them 1-0 in a humiliating result at the 1950 finals, Algeria and Slovenia in Group C.

"I think it is one of the most balanced groups," said England manager Fabio Capello. "Algeria have beaten Egypt so they are a dangerous side. I remember there have been groups that looked easy but then became really complicated."

The draw was conducted by FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke with South African actress Charlize Theron and the ceremony included a televised address to the world from former South African president Nelson Mandela.

The country's current president Jacob Zuma appeared on stage to make the bold prediction that the trophy would stay in Africa after the continent staged the tournament for the first time.

No African team has reached the semi-finals before though Africa's first World Cup features six African teams for the first time and there are more Africans than ever playing with the world's best club sides.