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Its finally here. The first World Cup on African soil kicks off today with hosts South Africa taking on Mexico. So far, no host nation has ever failed to move past the group stages. Bafana Bafana are being considered the weakest host nation ever and many fear their early exit. Mexico on the other hand are among the elite group of only 3 countries to have reached the knockout stage of the last three World Cups. With France being in the same group, neither South Africa nor Mexico can afford to lose.
A lot of people have been saying jokingly, that the 3 advantages that Bafana Bafana have is the altitude (which leaves the opposition player breathless), the vuvuzelas (which leave opposition player deaf) and most importantly the crowd support. If Bafana Bafana lose their opening match, the crowd’s pre-tournament optimism would be severely hit and South Africa’s key advantage diluted but if they avoid defeat, they’d come out so much stronger with an entire nation urging them on with even more belief.
South Africa’s manager Carlos Alberto Perreira is a veteran of many a World Cup battle with the experience of having guided five different nations at the World Cup. Bafana Bafana’s all-time top scorer Benni McCathy was not selected but they do have Mamelodi Sundowns striker Katlego Mphela who has been good form and netted quite a few goals in the friendlies. The player who has the ability to win games for South Africa is Everton’s Steven Pienaar and a lot depends on whether Perreira plays winger on the right where he will come up against the very experienced Carlos Salcido or in a more central role. Defensively, South Africa have one of the best defenders in the world in their captain Aaron Mokoena along with Masilela and Siboniso Gaxa.
Mexico is a team of youngsters. It is at that stage when the talented youngsters aren’t the complete ‘experienced’ footballers and the experienced players are getting too old. Carlos Vela, Giovanni dos Santos and Javier Hernández are all playing their first World Cup and playing the most supported team in their very first match can be daunting. Mexico are managed by Javier Aguirre, who took over after Mexico were lead adrift by the befuddling managerial ways of Sven Goran-Eriksson. Aguirre helped Mexico to qualify for the finals twice and has swiftly emerged as Mexico’s most successful coaches. He has at his disposal a team with attacking talent in Giovanni Dos Santos, the oldest outfield player in Cuauhtémoc Blanco and midfielder Andres Guardado. The defence is lead by Salcido, Marquez, Rodriquez and Osorio. Castro and Torrado dominate the midfield. Aguirre will be hoping he got the mix of experience and youth just right for today’s game.
“Everyone has to respect us. I believe the team has shown itself ready for the World Cup. We will go to the event with confidence” – C A Parreira, SA manager
“We are going to the World cup without fear of success. We’ve played Italy, England and the Netherlands… and we are here.” – Javier Aguirre
Stars to Watch Out for
South Africa: Steven Pienaar, Katlego Mphella
Mexico: Rafael Marquez, Giovanni Dos Santos
Eight of the last 11 opening matches at World Cups have produced one goal or none.
South Africa are only the third African side to play in an opening game at the World Cup, the previous two both won 1-0