Mexico drew the short straw and had to open the tournament against the home team. After seeing South Africa play Wednesday against Uruguay, the emotion of an opening match may have allowed Bafana Bafana to cost Mexico two points. Whether those points ultimately matter depends on how Mexico closes-out Group A.
Their first task is a French team who, for all the complaints about how they qualified and how they've played, are still in position to get into the knockout stages. In addition, they don't even need to beat Mexico today to maintain a good chance to get there. A draw today gives them a chance to get to five points on Tuesday against South Africa, a day when Mexico and Uruguay will finish group play against each other.
First, France needs at least a point today, as does Mexico, and if either can get three, they will have pushed one of their competitors to the bring of elimination.
France, Going Forward: Friday's match against Uruguay showed that Raymond Domenech has not developed any attacking tactics between the Ireland learning moment and the World Cup. Without a plan to adhere to, it's going to be up to Les Bleus themselves. And when you look at the attackers likely to be deployed against Mexico, one player stands out as a match-winners. It's not the shrinking Gourcuff. It's not the stoic Anelka. It's not Govou or Malouda.
If France is going to stay alive in this tournament, Franck Ribery has to do it himself, and against a Mexican team that often leaves itself open to be countered on, Ribery will have opportunites. Be he isolated against Carlos Osorio, Francisco Rodriguez or whomever else Javier Aguirre deploys in his central defense positions, Frank Ribery will have the skill and quickness to beat Mexico.
It's just a matter of how many chances he gets. If France plays the kind of constrained soccer we saw on Friday, France may not generate any opportunities for Ribery. However, if Les Bleus develop a sense of urgnecy and decide it's best to get into attack as quickly as possible, you could see Ribery, with support from Patrice Evra, lead France over Mexico.
Mexico, Going Forward:
Gerardo Torrado has a chance to control this match. While Abou Diaby could prove a roadblock, Torado (form his relatively deep position) should be able to have his way distributing to Mexican attackers Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Guillermo Franco.
All this assumes Torrado plays better than he did against South Africa. The captain was a non-factor against a team he should have picked apart, particularly given the energy dos Santos brought to the match's opening. He needs to better utilize that type of performance, because if he doesn't, Mexico will have to rely on wing play that will put their best players against Evra and Bacary Sagna. Torrado needs to play strong enough to draw out defensive midfielder Jérémy Toulalan and allow his attackers to pick at William Gallas and Eric Abidal.
Additionally, as Mexico's wide attackers bring Toulalan wider - out from in front of the line - Torrado will be the man tasked with exploiting the French when the ball's played back out.
If he has another ordinary day, Mexico is going to look a lot like they did lat Friday: reliant on dos Santos until their opponent gives them a gift.
How The Match Turns:
With their talent, there is the sneaking suspicion France could wake up at any time, and against a Mexican team that could not put up a better result against South Africa, hope remains for Les Bleus. But consider the circumstances around that match - an emotional opener against the home nation - and Mexico's performances over the last year and Mexico could be a much different team on Thursday.