For the Bafana Bafana boys, the pressures of being the first African hosts of football’s most prestigious competition will be high. Ranked 81st in the world, SA are the lowest ranked hosts in the history of the tournament and the optimism of Phil Masinga’s goal against Congo that took us to our first ever World Cup Finals in 1998 seems like a very long time ago. However while Chippa’s goal was 12 years ago, some of that optimistic feeling that we could strut our stuff against the best teams in the world is starting to come back.
Despite being written off by most before last year’s Confederations Cup (also held in South Africa), Bafana Bafana were two minutes away from extra time in the semi-final against world champions, Brazil, before Dani Alaves broke South African hearts. The boys eventually finished fourth after pushing European champs, Spain, all the way in the third and fourth place play-off, with striker, Katlego Mphela, scoring both our goals in the team’s three-two loss.
25 year old Mphela, who plays for Pretoria club, Mamelodi Sundowns, has been leading the line for the team of late but while a record of nine goals in 24 appearances for Bafana Bafana is respectable, it highlights the hosts’ lack of major firepower upfront. However, with World Cup winner, Carlos Alberto Parreira, back in charge of coaching the team there is hope that the Brazilian can coax South Africa’s all-time leading goal scorer, Benni McCarthy, out of his self-imposed exile. 32-year-old McCarthy who scored our first ever goal at the World Cup in 1998 and has won numerous goal scoring awards in Europe, hasn’t played for the national side since 2008. Should Parreira be able to bring Benni back into the fold, our chances of progressing through a group that includes France and Uruguay as well as Mexico, will be greatly improved.
Having lost only once in our last five international matches and with an estimated half a million fans expected at the ten venues across the country, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa promises to be a true festival of sporting excitement.
Five SA soccer facts on the side
1 – Aaron Mokoena is the Bafana Bafana captain and the most capped SA player ever with 99 caps.
2 – Steven Pienaar plays for English club Everton and was named SAFA’s player of the season last year.
3 – Itumeleng Khune, the team’s starting goalkeeper, was discovered while acting as a ball boy during a junior game for Kazier Chiefs in 1999.
4 – Matthew Booth, a rock in the Bafana Bafana defence, is a cult figure in South African Football with local fans regularly chanting his name when he touches the ball.
5 – Teko Modise, one of the team’s most creative outlets, is a midfielder who plays for Orlando Pirates and is one of South Africa’s most popular players too!