Messi burdened with expectations, while Capello aims to make history
All eyes will be on Argentina's Lionel Messi to see if he can reproduce his club form
The participating African teams are desperate to perform well in South Africa
Attacking fullbacks have become increasingly critical at the international level
Top 10 story lines to follow during the World Cup:
1. Can Maradona discover the Messi formula? There's no doubt that Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, but he has yet to replicate his Barcelona performances for his country. Local critics claim his move to Barcelona at 12 has made him more Catalan than Argentine, an accusation that infuriates and upsets Messi. The fact is, having the unpredictable Diego Maradona as national coach complicates the dynamic in this Argentina set-up: for a start, Maradona is no Pep Guardiola (Messi's manager at club level) as a coach, and Messi's Argentine teammates do not bring out his best as club teammates Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta can. Maradona is also so loved in Argentina, that to criticize Messi is to avoid criticizing him; while the coach has an ongoing battle with his ego to allow Messi the freedom to emulate his own performances. Messi is on the verge of joining Maradona among the all-time greats of the game, but will his coach let him?
2. History beckons for an Italian coach. Vittorio Pozzo, in charge of Italy in 1934 and 1938, remains the only coach to win consecutive World Cups. Marcello Lippi could join him next month after guiding the oldest team in the tournament to the title in 2006. After two years off, in which Italy lost on penalties to eventual winners Spain in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals, Lippi returned to the job and he has kept faith with nine of the players who served him so well in Germany. His friend Fabio Capello would also make history if he leads England to the title: no foreign coach has ever won the World Cup, although Brazil's Luiz Felipe Scolari (Portugal, 2006 semifinalists) and the Nethelands' Guus Hiddink (South Korea, 2002 semifinalists) have come closest.
3. Will South Africa be the least successful World Cup hosts on the pitch? -- No host has ever failed to qualify from their group and South Africa, with a World Cup-winning coach (1994) in Carlos Alberto Parreira and three months' preparation time, encompassing training-camps in Brazil, Germany and South Africa, is beginning to believe that it will be no different this time around. Bafana Bafana are on an 12-match unbeaten run and will have 90,000 fans blowing vuvuzelas in support.
2010 World Cup
However, only three of those games were against teams who have also qualified, and the two penalties from which they scored in their 2-1 win over Colombia were generously awarded. South Africa's players are physically shorter and weaker than their opponents: this, according to Demitri Constantinou, an exercise scientist at Johannesburg's Wits University and the director of FIFA's first medical centre of excellence in Africa, is down to the players' lack of nutrition when they were growing up (mainly in black townships in the 1980s). They have also been drawn in a tough group.
4. Will there be a new name on the trophy? There have only been seven different winners in 18 editions of the World Cup, with two of those, England and France, winning once when they were host country. Another one, Uruguay, has not won it since 1950, which leaves Italy (four), Germany (three), Brazil (five) and Argentina (two) as the usual contenders. But there have been 11 different finalists and 24 different semifinalists. European champions Spain, second-favorites behind Brazil, represent the best chance of a first-time winner though the Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, USA and Chile all hope to be in the reckoning. The competition would benefit from a new winner, although it might be too much to ask if they were to come from the host continent.
5. Africa needs a team to do well. Former Brazil forward Pele has been quiet in the run-up to this World Cup, perhaps because he does not want to be reminded of his prediction that an African team would win the World Cup in the last century. This year, the African sides can rely on home support but Pele's prediction looks like falling short once again -- mainly because Africa's best team, three-time reigning champions Egypt, did not qualify. Instead, Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback is trying to build a new team from scratch; Cameroon has ongoing issues with captain Samuel Eto'o (they need one more of him on the pitch and one less of him off it, where his prickly nature resulted in the tournament's first walk-out threat); Ivory Coast might be without talismanic captain Didier Drogba, and it has a poor record in tournaments; while Algeria, by its own admission, is just pleased to be in South Africa. Their best hope could be Ghana, whose young side coped with the absence of Michael Essien in reaching the African Nations Cup final in January, and has in Milovan Rajevac, an unheralded but tactically brilliant coach.
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