Writing a preview about the France-South Africa match might as well be previewing a lottery. I know what the parameters of the contest are, but with France in so much turmoil that it’s unclear who will play, describing match-ups and potential turning points is a bit self-indulgent. Part of me thinks it’s better to say 22 players, divided equally into two factions, will contest a match that will feature a ball and two goals in a defined space. Beyond that, location, and the name of the official, we don’t know much about this match.
On the other hand, there are a number of people tuning into this match who may want some background - some information to help them give context to the match. No match the strange circumstances surrounding this game, that’s what these previews are ultimately about: context.
South Africa, Going Forward: Carlos Alberto Parreira and his team need more from Katlego Mphela. The striker has not gotten a ton of chances, but the three or four that have fallen his way over the first two matches have failed to threatened. A run-down Steven Pienaar, often playing in support, is not going to help generate more chances. Mphela is going to have to do better with the few that he gets.
France’s defense is talented but erratic. The end of the Mexico match is a perfect exemplar. The goal allowed to Javier Hernandez was pure defensive lapse - one defender keeping a man onside. The second goal was a different but equally beguiling error - a different defender taking down a man in the penalty area 16 yards from goal to the far right of the box.
If South Africa can continuously pressure France throughout the match, they should be able to force similar errors. Still, it is unclear whether Bafana Bafana, like Mexico, has the players to take advantage of such mistakes.
France, Going Forward: We don’t know who plays, because of all the uncertainty surrounding the team, but Andre-Pierre Gignac is a good bet. Gignac is one of the players that Domenech has brought into the team, has not played a role in their coup de sulk, and matches up well with South Africa. A big, strong center forward, he will give Aaron Mokoena trouble.
Between Gignac and Mathieu Valbuena, who is likely to play for the same reasons, France has more than enough to trouble South Africa. Still, it will be hard for the few players who can turn this match to stay focus amidst the confusion. In addition to players whose minds are not on the match, it’s tough to think Domenech, likely managing his final game for Les Bleus has his full heart in the result.
How The Match Turns: If South Africa come out with energy, they will get an early goal. If they get an early goal, this match is over. As little motivation as France has to finish this tournament strong, they will have even less impetus to comeback. At this point, the question will be whether South Africa can make up the goal difference on a possible Mexico-Uruguay loser.