JOHANNESBURG, June 22, 2010 (AFP) - Former champions France were staring a humiliating early exit from the World Cup on Tuesday while South Korea had their sights set on a second-round place.
Winners in 1998 and runners-up four years ago, the French have been beset by problems since reaching South Africa, culminating in striker Nicolas Anelka being sent home for an expletive-laden outburst against coach Raymond Domenech.
|French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot gives a press conference in Bloemfontein on June 21, 2010 during the 2010 World Cup. AFP|
Where the minds of the troubled 'Les Bleus' will be when they confront fellow strugglers South Africa in a win-or-bust Bloemfontein showdown is a matter for conjecture.
Uruguay (plus-three goal difference) and Mexico (plus two) lead Group A with four points each and France (minus two) and South Africa (minus three) have one point apiece.
Should Uruguay and Mexico draw in a Rustenburg match being played at the same time they will qualify with the former finishing as group winners and almost certainly dodging Argentina in the knockout second round.
However, if Uruguay or Mexico win and South Africa or France do likewise, out come the calculators to determine who finishes runners-up with goal difference or even goals scored coming into play.
French concerns about Uruguay and Mexico settling for a draw to ensure they both go through appear unfounded as neither of the group leaders wants to face Diego Maradona and his Argentine superstars.
Striker Katlego Mphela admitted only a "miracle" can prevent South Africa becoming the first host nation not to reach the second round since the World Cup was first staged 80 years ago by Uruguay.
He is also wary of dismissing a French side that faced government criticism for using a luxury Western Cape resort as its base for a tournament in which they played a dour goalless draw with Uruguay and lost 2-0 to Mexico.
"The French also have their pride and will not want to go home without a win or goals so it is going to be a tough match for us," said the lone striker in a 4-5-1 system that has come under heavy fire for being negative.
There have been hints that Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira will bow to media criticism and field a more attack-minded side against France with Bernard Parker from Dutch champions Twente partnering Mphela.
A draw for South Korea against Nigeria in Durban will suffice to earn a last-16 place for only the second time unless Greece shock Group B leaders Argentina in Polokwane st the other end of South Africa.
Success for the Koreans will also give battered Asian pride a timely boost after North Korea were crushed 7-0 by Portugal on Monday with Cristiano Ronaldo among the scorers after a near two-year goal drought.
Park Ji-Sung-inspired South Korea will also be keen to silence football legend Maradona, who was less than complimentary about the Taeguk Warriors after a Gonzalo Higuain hat-trick condemned them a 4-1 defeat.
Title favourites Spain squandered many chances when defeating Honduras 2-0 via a brace from David Villa and a Mark Gonzalez goal gave Chile a 1-0 win over over Switzerland in the other Group H match.