South Africa is the host nation for a historic World Cup, the first ever to be held in Africa. There is widespread joy over this and South Africa is ready. After concerns in the last couple years about whether preparations for the tournament would be completed on time, the infrastructure (stadiums, facilities, airports, etc) is all set and South Africa is ready to welcome the world.
The national team however has not enjoyed the best of preparations for the tournament, suffering through mixed results in the lead-up to the competition that has dampened expectations. Many observers believe this is the weakest host of a World Cup finals ever. That remains to be seen, but even South African fans know that their team must play out of their skins in order to avoid becoming the first host nation to exit at the Group Stage of the competition. South Africa were handed a very difficult draw in Group A as they will face off against Mexico, Uruguay, and France. Should they claim a spot in the second round, the entire nation and continent for that matter would create a wonderful atmosphere which would only serve the World Cup itself well.
TALE OF THE TAPE
FIFA Ranking: 90
World Cup Appearances: 2 (1998, 2002)
World Cup Record (W-D-L): 1-3-2
Best World Cup Finish: Group Stage (1998, 2002)
Road To South Africa: Qualified Automatically As Host Nation
Home advantage will be a huge factor for the South Africans. Not only will the team be able to count on vociferous home support during the competition, but neutrals as well will be pulling for the team. A decent Confederations Cup performance last summer will also provide hope as the Bafana Bafana played both Brazil and Spain incredibly close in two defeats. This is a team that hasn’t had the best results as of late, but there is a sense that success could come at just the right moment at the World Cup.
Warm-up matches in the last two years have provided mixed results. This is also a side that has shown it has difficulty scoring goals and with all-time leading scorer Benni McCarthy suffering through many niggling injuries and indifferent form with the national side, the question is who will step up and produce the goods when it counts in June. The team has to break the label that they are the weakest team to ever host a World Cup tournament.
Carlos Alberto Parreira is one of the most recognizable managers in international football. He has been to six World Cups with four different nations, winning the competition with Brazil in 1994. Besides Brazil in 1994 and 2006, Parreira has also led Kuwait (1982), UAE (1990), and Saudi Arabia (1998) to the World Cup. A vastly experienced and respected manager who has coached more than 15 teams at the club and international level, Parreira left the South Africa post due to his wife’s illness two years ago, however has returned to the helm and will guide them in this tournament. For all his success at the top level, one potentially alarming fact for South African fans will be that besides Brazil, Parreira has never picked up a victory in World Cup play with any of the other nations he has managed.
The Key Men
Though Benni McCarthy, the national team’s all-time leading scorer with 32 goals is perhaps the most well known player in the squad, his play for South Africa has been criticized in recent years and his commitment questioned. On his day he is still the team’s best chance for goals. Arguably the most important player on this team is Everton star Steven Pienaar. The speedy winger combines skill, pace, and high workrate to wreak havoc on the flanks and his ability to create opportunities will vital against the likes of Mexico, Uruguay, and France. Pienaar, 28, is coming off another good season at club level and seems to be at the best age and in the right form to make a real impact in the tournament.
The effect home support will have on this team cannot be overstated. If the side can ride a wave of local excitement and enthusiasm all to the sound of thousands of vuvuzelas, then the sky is the limit. History is on their side as no host nation has ever failed to advance to the second round of the competition.
The Key Match
The opening match of the tournament against Mexico is surely the big one. A win would not only ensure that the whole of South Africa would get behind their side as expectations amongst most fans are quite low at the moment, but also give this team, which has struggled for confidence, a world of belief. Even a draw would allow the team and the nation the chance to believe, though a loss would be just about disastrous.
Why You Should Watch Them
Who doesn’t want the host to do well? World Cup fervor is enhanced ten-fold when the host nation makes a good run and this would hold true for the first ever World Cup in Africa. This is a side that has some creative players and it will be fascinating to see whether they play like the 90th ranked team in the world or whether they will become world beaters.
Guest Panelist: Duran Francis.
Duran Francis is a South African Professional Footballer. A 14-year veteran of the sport in South Africa, Francis currently plays for Bay United Football Club and is the team’s captain.
Francis told One Game, One World:
“South Africa have a good squad and with home support behind them they should do really well in the tournament.
Physically they will compete well with teams and their speed of play will be a huge factor.
Defensively they struggle to defend set-pieces which is so vital. Scoring goals will have to improve if they want to progress into the next round.
South Africa have a really good chance of getting into the next round of the tournament. With almost 90,000 South African supporters at the opening game and almost 50,000 at the next two, that will inspire them.
Every South African is extremely excited about the World Cup. It has also given us a lot of pride as a nation after talks of moving it because of stadiums that would not be ready, but every South African can’t wait to make it into one of the best World Cups ever.”
One Game, One World Final Say
All things point to South Africa finishing last in this group, due mainly to the strength of the teams they will face. That said, they carry the hopes and dreams of an entire nation and perhaps continent and will receive unprecedented support from many different quarters. We here at OGOW actually wouldn’t be surprised if they shocked the world and made it to the knockout rounds. It might be a longshot, but to write them off could be dangerous as one would be turning their back on history and the advantage of playing in your own backyard.
What do you think about South Africa’s chances? Will they fall at the first hurdle? Or will they beat the odds and advance to the second round? Leave us a comment with your views!
Next up in our 2010 World Cup Previews is New Zealand. Look out for our preview of the All-Whites in their first World Cup since 1982.