As 2010 FIFA World Cup™ hosts South Africa and former world champions France prepare to square up in their ultimate Group A match, football legends Lucas Radebe and Zinedine Zidane have both thrown their weight behind their respective countries in what is likely to be a fiercely contested game.
While Uruguay and Mexico sit on top of the table with four points each, France and South Africa have only managed to accumulate a point each. Mathematically, all sides in Group A are still within a chance of advancing to the knockout stages. But in order to do that, South Africa and France will have to fire from all angles and hope for a glut of goals at the Free State Stadium. There is romance in this fixture and some old scores to settle. One of the memorable moments between these two sides – their only FIFA World Cup meeeting – was back in 1998 where France emerged 3-0 victors in a fixture where both Radebe and Zidane featured prominently. But a lot has happened since then.
During an exclusive interview with FIFA, Zidane said he hoped the French team would peak in Bloemfontein. "There are no calculations to be made any more. France will have to go forward and score many goals while hoping to have a profitable result in the other game," said the France 1998 champion. "We all know what happened recently in the team and it does not matter to talk more about it. Even if it's very tiny, there's still a chance to go through. So France have to go for it. But we should never forget that South Africa are at home and have not done so well so far. They will give the best they can to make their fans happy. To give pride to the country."
On the other hand, Radebe, who captained South Africa at two FIFA World Cups, in 1998 and at Korea/Japan in 2002, believes all is not lost. He has predicted an offensive game where both sides will be going for the jugular in an attempt to register maximum points. "It's going to be a tough game, considering that both teams have not done so well, they are yet to collect maximum points," he said. "This makes it a very tough encounter, they both have to get maximum points not only to go through but also to salvage the image of their countries."
Media reports have hinted at internal problems within the French team, but while Radebe said this might weaken the former European and world champions, he warned South Africa to write France off at their peril. “When [France] played Uruguay, they looked lively, but not strong. Against Mexico, they were not good enough, surely there might be some problems in their team. To be honest, we have seen a decline of this French team. But they are former world champions, you don't discard them. They will want to do well on this game, they are the former World Cup holders, they have a point to prove."
France were held to a goalless draw by Uruguay in their first match at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town. They suffered a heavy blow, however, when they were defeated 2-0 by an innovative Mexico side. Zidane said France would have to rise above their current situation in order to defeat what is likely to be a highly motivated South African side. "France have to show superiority. It's as simple as it is," he said. "Players have to demonstrate on the pitch that they play in the biggest European clubs. We have talked about anything but football in the past days. And I am sure the players will have that in mind when entering the pitch. They know that if they qualify, everything will be forgotten."
Despite their tenacious performance in the opening game at Soccer City against Mexico, South Africa were a shadow of that team at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium where they went down 3-0 to an impressive Uruguay. It was a big blow to the hosts and their aspirations. "That was a painful game. We were not good enough and it hurts," said Radebe. "A lot will be said, but maybe I believe we could have been more offensive, we didn't put them under any pressure, we didn't force them to think hard. We had one striker while they packed their defence.
"I don't want to point fingers because at the end of the day, everyone should shoulder responsibility for what happened, but I hope we won't see the same performance against France. The boys must know that they are playing for the millions who have supported them throughout. They have nothing to lose, they need to go there and give it their best."