THE BIG MATCH

South Africa vs. Iraq: With Spain the heavy favourite to win Group A, the opening game of the tournament in Johannesburg is a must-win situation for both the host nation and the Asian champions, and the result could go a long way to deciding second place.

STANDINGS

TEAM GP  W  D  L  GF  GA  PTS
<img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/spain.jpg" alt= "Spain"/>[/CUSTOM]SPAIN ** 3 3  0  0 8  0 9
<img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/sth-africa.jpg" alt= "SouthAfrica"/>[/CUSTOM] SOUTH AFRICA ** 3 1  1 1 2  2 4
<img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/iraq.jpg" alt="Iraq"/>[/CUSTOM] IRAQ 3 0  2 1  0 1 2
<img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/new-zealand.jpg" alt="New Zealand"/>[/CUSTOM] NEW ZEALAND 3  0  1  2  0 7 1

** qualifies for semifinals

SCHEDULE AND RESULTS

 MATCH  DATE - TIME TEAMS EXTRA
 1  June 14 - 10:00 AM ET <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/sth-africa.jpg" alt="South Africa"/>[/CUSTOM] SOUTH AFRICA vs. <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/iraq.jpg" alt="Iraq"/>[/CUSTOM] IRAQ Game Report | Full Game Video | Video Highlights | Game Tracker
 Venue: Johannesburg - Final Result: 0-0
 2  June 14 - 2:30 PM ET <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/new-zealand.jpg" alt="New Zealand"/>[/CUSTOM] NEW ZEALAND vs.  <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/spain.jpg" alt="Spain"/>[/CUSTOM] SPAIN Game Report | Full Game Video | Video Highlights | Game Tracker
 Venue: Rustenburg - Final Result: Spain wins 5-0       
 5  June 17 - 10 AM ET <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/spain.jpg" alt="Spain"/>[/CUSTOM] SPAIN vs.  <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/iraq.jpg" alt="Iraq"/>[/CUSTOM] IRAQ Game Report | Full Game Video  | Video Highlights  | Game Tracker  
 Venue: Mangaung/Bloemfontein - Final result: Spain wins 1-0           
 6  June 17 - 2:30 PM ET <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/sth-africa.jpg" alt="South Africa"/>[/CUSTOM] SOUTH AFRICA vs. <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/new-zealand.jpg" alt="New Zealand"/>[/CUSTOM] NEW ZEALAND Game Report | Full Game Video  | Video Highlights  | Game Tracker   
 Venue: Rustenburg - Final Result: South Africa wins 2-0     
 9  June 20 - 2:30 PM ET <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/iraq.jpg" alt="Iraq"/>[/CUSTOM] IRAQ  vs. <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/new-zealand.jpg" alt="New Zealand"/>[/CUSTOM] NEW ZEALAND Game Report | Full Game Video  | Video Highlights | Game Tracker  
 Venue: Johannesburg  - Final result: 0-0      
 10  June 20 - 2:30 PM ET <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/spain.jpg" alt="Spain"/>[/CUSTOM] SPAIN vs.  <img src="/sports/soccer/FIFAconfederationscup/includes/imgs/flags/sml/sth-africa.jpg" alt="South Africa"/>[/CUSTOM] SOUTH AFRICA Game Report  | Full Game Video  | Video Highlights | Game Tracker  
 Venue: Mangaung/Bloemfontein - Final result: Spain wins 2-0           

EXPERT PICKS

Nigel Reed, CBC Sports soccer commentator: Surely the only question to be answered in Group A is which team will finish runners-up to Spain and advance to the semifinals. The Spaniards are so far ahead of their rivals there can be no doubt they will win the group and will expect to win all three games against South Africa, Iraq and New Zealand. 

After the euphoria of Euro 2008, Spain will be considered among the favourites for the World Cup itself in a year's time and will use the Confederations Cup as serious preparation to acclimatize to the conditions in South Africa. The head coach has changed but it has not interrupted Spain's run of success - there has been a seamless transition from Luis Aragones to Vicente del Bosque, whose only problem could be player fatigue after a long European season. 

If South Africa can get off to a positive start against Iraq, I fancy the hosts to use home advantage to their benefit. For the sake of the tournament, it's important the South Africans give a good account of themselves and the itinerary should play into their hands. They are certainly capable of posting positive results in their opening two games, which could well be enough to see them into the knock-out stages, before their meeting with Spain.  

Despite their status as Asians champions, the Iraqis have failed to make it to the final round of World Cup qualifying while the Kiwis have suffered a major blow with captain Ryan Nelson ruled out of the tournament after tearing a calf muscle on the penultimate weekend of the English Premier League season.  

Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. South Africa, 3. Iraq, 4. New Zealand     

Jason de Vos, CBC Sports soccer commentator: Well, I think we can all pretty much agree that Spain will win this group hands down. This is as close as you'll ever get to a sure thing in football, and the only debate in Group A is who else is going to advance to the semifinals.

My money is on South Africa. They have a difficult game against Iraq to start with, but home field advantage is something the Bafana Bafana will have in their favour.I expect them to ride the inevitable wave of emotion that comes with playing in front of their vocal home support. They also have the benefit of playing Spain last, by which time they may already be through to the semifinals as group runner-up.

Despite being in a bit of a transition period, I think Iraq will push South Africa for second place. Their biggest star is arguably their coach, Bora Milutinovic. I have seen him succeed wherever he has coached throughout his career, and I wouldn't bet against him doing it again with Iraq.

The fourth team in Group A, New Zealand, were dealt a blow near the end of the Premier League season as their best player, Ryan Nelson, went down with a knee injury playing for his club team, Blackburn Rovers. Team chemistry will be key for both Iraq and New Zealand, and I just wonder how much of an effect the absence of Nelson will have on the Kiwis.

As for Spain, I fancy them to win the whole thing. They have such a talented squad of players, and unlike some teams before them, they have brought all of their big hitters to the Confederations Cup. Torres, Casillas, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas and Villa are all in attendance, and with such a plethora of talent to choose from, the only challenge for coach Vicente Del Bosque is keeping them all happy.

Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. South Africa, 3. Iraq, 4. New Zealand     

John F. Molinaro, CBCSports.ca reporter: This is Spain's group to win and the only way they'll get beat is if they beat themselves.   Not only does Spain enter the tournament as the reigning European champions and the No. 1 ranked team in the world, but they're also riding an incredible 31-game unbeaten streak and haven't loss a game since November 2006. The streak isn't going to end in the first round, because none of Spain's opponents have the talent, quality of skill to even come close to mounting a serious challenge.

With the Spanish a lock for first place, the second spot in the group becomes a three-way race between a trio of teams that are pretty evenly matched, although the South Africans do have a decided advantage of being able to play before the home fans.

So much was expected of Iraq after its heart-warming victory in the finals of the 2007 Asian Cup, but they couldn't build on that success, failing to make it to the last round of the Asian qualifiers for next year's World Cup. The team is in disarray and not even new coach Bora Milutinovic will be able to help them.

New Zealand is just making up the numbers. They failed to win a single game during their previous two appearances at the Confederations Cup, and chances are very good they'll still be looking for that elusive first victory when this tournament is over.

As for the hosts, they took a big gamble by not calling up Benni McCarthy, their only proven goal-scorer, for duty and it's hard to see where the goals will come from for South Africa. That being said, Bafana Bafana will benefit from home-field advantage and that should be enough to push them past Iraq and New Zealand into second place. 

Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. South Africa, 3. New Zealand, 4. Iraq