WORLD CUP: Friday's previews


When: 7 a.m. PT. Where: Soccer City (Johannesburg)

TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 7 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 3 p.m.; ESPN2, delayed, 11 p.m.

Players to watch: South Africa's Steven Pienaar, a creative midfielder who orchestrates Bafana Bafana's attack. Mexican midfielders Gerardo Torrado and Rafael Marquez, who will be responsible for shutting down Pienaar and starting El Tri's attack.

The scoop: No host nation has ever lost its first World Cup game, and Mexico has never won in five previous tournament openers, so, naturally, a draw should be expected. Except that Los Tricolores look as if they could go pretty far, maybe the quarterfinals (maybe the semis? With some luck?), and South Africa is widely considered the worst team a tournament host has fielded. But Bafana Bafana have some things going for them: A rabid home crowd blowing mightily on those dreaded Vuvuzelas, no expectations (unlike the Mexicans) and a stunning 13-game unbeaten streak, with victories over Colombia and Denmark. Mexico is coming off a stirring performance against Italy last weekend, but Javier Aguirre hasn't decided whether Guillermo Franco or Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will partner Carlos Vela up front, and is weighing Guillermo Ochoa and Oscar Perez in the nets.

History: Mexico has won two of three meetings, none in a World Cup. South Africa prevailed as a guest team at the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup, but neither side fielded first-choice lineups.

Prediction: Mexico 3, South Africa 1


When: 11:30 a.m. PT. Where: Cape Town Stadium/Green Point Stadium (Cape Town)

TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34), 11:30 a.m.; ESPN Classic, delayed, 5 p.m.

Players to watch: Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan, a master goalscorer whose battle with defender William Gallas will be pivotal. French winger Franck Ribery and outside back Patrice Evra, whose combinations on the left flank could prove devastating.

The scoop: France has the talent to contend in this Cup, but its form has been awful -- they lost to China! -- and head coach Raymond Domenech's switch to a 4-3-3 formation seems desperate. And there are questions about Thierry Henry's fitness and Gallas' ability to be at the top of his game after an injury-marred campaign at Arsenal. Uruguay's got goalscorers. Forlan and Luis Suarez are first-rate finishers, and they'll challenge any backline in the tournament, but they're a class above their teammates, and Los Charruas are, at best, ordinary. And have been for a long, long time: They've won just one of their last 16 World Cup matches, 20 years ago. Les Bleus haven't scored in their last two World Cup openers. In 2002, they failed to advance from the group stage; in 2006, they lost in the final on penalties.

History: Uruguay won World Cup titles in 1930 and 1950, France in 1998. They've met four times (both teams are 1-1-2) and twice in World Cups, with Uruguay prevailing, 2-1, in 1966 and a 0-0 draw eight years ago.

Prediction: France 2, Uruguay 2