Country: South Africa
Nickname: Bafana Bafana
Rankings: 88 (FIFA), 61 (SPI)
Elite Players: NA
Key Players: Steven Pienaar, Benni McCarthy, Teko Modise, Aaron Mokoena, Matthew Booth
History: Qualified 1998, 2002 (banned from 1966 to 1992 because of Apartheid) – Record 1W-2L-3D
Odds to Win World Cup: 125/1
“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Nelson Mandela
Home field advantage helps in the World Cup. Host nations have the oft-mentioned 12th man. They routinely outperform expectations. Six winners – Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), England (1966), West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (1998) have hosted the tournament. No host nation has failed to reach the knockout round. South Africa may be the first
South Africa is not among the top teams in Africa. They are not among the top 20 teams in Africa. They would not have qualified for the World Cup without the automatic bid. They could not make even the final round of qualifying for the African Nations Cup.
The Confederations Cup purportedly marks success for South Africa. It shouldn’t. They made the semifinals, but look at the tournament. South Africa reached that semifinal with Brazil by finishing second in their group. Their group included Spain, New Zealand and Iraq. They advanced by beating New Zealand and drawing Iraq, at home. It’s technically an international tournament, but it’s the equivalent of the Club World Cup. Let’s reign in the praise a bit.
Here are some factors to consider.
Experience: Carlos Alberto Parreira will become the second coach to take five teams to a World Cup. Experience can be great. Parreira led his home country Brazil to a World Cup win in 1994. Experience can be not so great. Saudi Arabia fired him during the tournament in 1998. He was blamed for Brazil’s underwhelming quarterfinals exit in 2006. The theory was that his tactics were outdated. That was four years ago. He’s 67 now.
Parreira has work to do. He joined South Africa after the 2006 World Cup. He resigned in 2008, amidst rumored disagreements with the South African FA. That’s no surprise, since they went through 15 coaches in 17 years. He assumed the role again after Joel Santana was fired for a terrible run of form in October. He has settled the squad with training camps and friendlies. Unfortunately, his European-based players will be unavailable until just before the tournament.
He was accused of relying too much on aging established players with Brazil. Some in South Africa have given the same criticism. It would take a master tactician to organize this South African squad. Parreira may not be up to it.
Goals: South Africa has trouble scoring them. South Africa have pace and skill with the ball. Steven Pienaar can be a creative force. The issue has been the end product. They need Benni McCarthy. Not just Benni McCarthy, but vintage 2007 Benni McCarthy who scored 24 goals for Blackburn. South Africa also needs captain and Orlando Pirates star Teko Modise to step up and support Pienaar in the attacking phase.
Physicality: The South Africans don’t just need to score goals. They need to stop other teams from doing so. They’ll rely on two experienced hands. Matthew Booth, the 6’6 ½ defender who vaguely resembles Grant Wahl, will need to thwart attacks through the air. They also need a tough-tackling performance from Aaron Mokoena. The Portsmouth midfielder follows the Charles Martel rule of nicknames. You don’t get labeled “the axe” undeservedly.
Conclusion: A South-African team featuring both white and black players will represent the unified country as the host nation of a major international tournament. When most of the current players were born, that would have been inconceivable. It’s a victory more important than anything that could occur on the pitch.
South Africa drew Uruguay, France and Mexico, the same group England had in 1966. They won’t be as fortunate. If they can pull off a result against Mexico in the first match, the Bafana Bafana can ride the enthusiasm and advance, but don’t bet on it.
Fact That Has Nothing To Do With Soccer: Seventeen percent of the South African population (age 15-49) has contracted the HIV virus.