France could struggle to get through Group A

FRANCE have made it to two of the last three World Cup finals, but they were knocked out in the group stages in 2002, taking just one point and the same happened at Euro 2008.

It is remarkable that Raymond Domenech has managed to keep his job and they are only really in South Africa thanks to the hand of Thierry Henry. They just don’t look like a squad that is together in my opinion and are therefore worth taking on in Group A.

Franck Ribery is a class player, but he has had personal issues leading up to the tournament and didn’t look great for Bayern Munich at the back-end of last season. Nicolas Anelka is another potential match winner, but it may just be that they will rely too heavily on the Chelsea striker to get the goals. The French are as short as 3/10 to qualify and that looks poor value in a group that includes Mexico, Uruguay and South Africa, all decent sides on their day.

There isn’t one standout team in this group and they may well nick points off each other. Uruguay and Mexico both have strong players, while South Africa have the backing of a vociferous home crowd. Everyone knows that no host nation has ever failed to make it to the second round, but some believe that the South Africans are the worst team to try it. I’m of the opinion that they can progress and like the look of the 2/1 on Betdaq about them doing just that. I’ll also be selling France on Sporting Index’s Group A index at 14.5.

Fabio Capello was delighted when his side were drawn with the USA, Slovenia and Algeria in Group C. The Three Lions should really have far too much for their opposition, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they struggle slightly against the Americans on Saturday. England are traditionally slow starters in the major tournaments and the much improved USA should be their toughest opponent in the group stage. It is 13/8 on Betdaq for the England-USA straight forecast and that looks a decent price.

As I’ve already advised, write off Germany at your peril. They don’t have the best individual players, but they always play for each other and don’t forget that they reached the Euro 2008 final against Spain. The Germans have topped their group in all of the last five World Cups and are just a shade of odds-on to do the same again. It won’t be easy for Joachim Löw’s side, as they face Serbia, Ghana and Australia, but they should still have too much strength in depth.

The Serbs strike me as the next best and they could quite easily be the dark horses of the tournament. England certainly wouldn’t look forward to a meeting against them in the second round. Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic and Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic are top quality defenders and their 6ft 7in striker Nikola Zigic could prove a handful up front. They look a decent bet to qualify alongside the Germans, so back the Germany-Serbia straight forecast at 3/1 with William Hill.

Those expecting a similar Brazil side to the one that last won the World Cup in 2002 will be disappointed. This is a far more disciplined and less flashy team than we’ve become used to, but they should still be strong enough to win the group of death. Kaka and Luis Fabiano will be the key upfront and, as long as they stay injury-free, it will be a battle between Ivory Coast and Portugal for the second qualification spot.

The Portuguese were disappointing in qualifying and they will be relying on Cristiano Ronaldo to hit form if they are to progress. Similarly, Ivory Coast are nervously waiting to see if Didier Drogba recovers from a fractured arm. They were favourites in the African Nations Cup, but were eliminated in the quarter-final stage and will be hoping to go at least as far as that this time. Sven-Goran Erikssson is a proven international manager and he can inspire the Ivorians to finish second behind Brazil in Group G.

• France not to qualify from Group A at 2/1 with Paddy Power / Sell France on Sporting Index’s Group A index at 14.5
• South Africa to qualify from Group A at 2/1 on Betdaq
• England-USA straight forecast in Group C at 6/4 with Paddy Power
• Germany-Serbia straight forecast in Group D at 3/1 with Hills
• Brazil-Ivory Coast straight forecast in Group G at 11/4 on Betdaq