Group A

Franck Ribery hopes to help a strong French squad advance. Pierre Lahalle/US Presswire

This story appears in the June 14 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

There's no place like home

South Africans are still moaning that being a seeded team is supposed to land the host country in an easy group, not alongside three squads with decades of Cup success. And yet Bafana Bafana fans also have reason for hope.

France, the 2006 runner-up, is the group's undisputed favorite, but that was also true in '02, when Les Bleus went three-and-out as the reigning champs. Plus, karma is a killer. Thierry Henry, whose infamous "Hand of Gaul" qualified France ahead of Ireland, spent much of the season on Barcelona's bench. And while French fans were busy calling for coach Raymond Domenech's head, a police probe of an underage prostitution ring has brought the wrong sort of attention to several national-teamers, including Franck Ribery.

Knockout-stage regular Mexico limps in with a gaggle of injured scorers and captain Cuauhtémoc Blanco fighting his weight. And a pair of aging strikers, Diego Forlan and Sebastian Abreu, lead an otherwise young and unproven team for Uruguay, whose two Cup titles (1930 and 1950) remain distant memories.