Devoted fans of Manchester United were left feeling confused and bitter following England's unceremonious defeat against Portugal in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup. First, striker Wayne Rooney excited the World Cup stage in disgrace, earning a red card and a prompt dismissal for an immature stomping out at Ricardo Carvalho. Later, evidence emerged that Cristiano Ronaldo, then Rooney's Manchester teammate, may have instigated Rooney's rash challenge. Red Devil fans were reeling; was Cristiano Ronaldo suddenly persona non grata at Old Trafford? Was he to be forever marked as an enemy and traitor to English football?
Such is the dilemma for players and fans alike during the World Cup. Club teammates, who spend the better part of a year competing with their brothers in arms, suddenly find themselves pitted against their erstwhile comrades. Call them World Cup Frenemies. Club allegiances crumble, and are replaced, albeit temporarily, by the national cause. Selected below are a few key match-ups between World Cup Frenemies that could very well determine which teams march through the tournament and which teams head on home.
The battle between the Marquez, Mexico's stalwart defensive force, and Henry, France's aged talisman, could decide the winning team from the strong Group A, which also includes the hosts South Africa and a tricky Uruguay side. The two veterans are on the wrong side of 30 and could be playing in their last World Cup. Marquez and Henry struggled to see regular action for Barcelona this year, but were instrumental in helping Barca win the treble in the 2008/2009 Season. The emphasis for Mexico and France will be to win the Group, and that could come down to which grey-haired hero can turn back the clock. Remember, facing Argentina means a match against the brilliant Lionel Messi. Marquez and Henry are familiar with Messi's talents, having played alongside him at Barcelona for the past several seasons, so they know such a fate is as good as a ticket home.
Following the announcement that German midfielder Michael Ballack will miss the World Cup due to injury, Group D is very much up in the air. Australia, Germany, Ghana and Serbia all have a realistic chance progressing to the Knockout Rounds of the tournament. The match between Serbia and Ghana is likely to be determined play in the midfield, which puts Intern Milan teammates Dejan Stankovic and Sulley Muntari on a collision course. Last seen leading Intern to their first Champions League title since 1965, Stankovic and Muntari will see plenty of each other on the pitch at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium.
Ranked 19th in the World according to the latest FIFA World Ranking, Cameroon are the top African side at the World Cup. Their hopes for a deep run in the World Cup were somewhat dashed when they were drawn into Group E along with the classy Dutch team and a gritty Demark squad. Advancement will be a triumph for The Indomitable Lions. The pivotal tilt between Cameroon and Denmark will feature an intriguing match-up between two of Arsene Wenger's most celebrated pupils, Danish Striker Nicklas Bendtner and Cameroonian defensive midfielder Alexandre Song Billong. Song is relied upon to provide some much-needed substance to Arsenal's stylish brand of soccer, and shutting down Bendtner, his North London teammate, will be essential if Cameroon want to get past Denmark and advance to the Knockout Rounds.
The showdown in Port Elizabeth between the Ivory Coast and Portugal is perhaps the most highly anticipated Group Stage match of the 2010 World Cup. The contest will feature footballers from top club teams in Europe and includes stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Yaya Toure and Bakari Kone. All the big names and intriguing match-ups, however, are eclipsed by the intra-Chelsea showdown between the Ivory Coast's offensive duo of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou and Portugal's defensive tandem of Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho. Drogba and Kalou combined to score 34 goals for Chelsea in league play, while Carvalho and Ferreira featured in the Blues stingy defense that conceded only 32 goals, the second best mark in the league. The Portuguese defense will have their hands full with the powerful Drogba, which could create some openings for Kalou. This could be one of the higher scoring contests of the Group Stage.
If the 2006 battle between Rooney and Ronaldo proved anything, it's that friendships build back up as quickly as they fall apart. Following their controversial roles in the 2006 World Cup, Rooney and Ronaldo went on to form a prolific tandem for Manchester United, leading the team to three consecutive league titles, one league cup, and back-to-back appearances in the Champions League Final (they won one). So expect to see unyielding competition between World Cup Frenemies, but as soon as it ends, back to being friends.