Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating with the comparison between football and rugby but South Africa are in some fine form as the World Cup kicks off on Friday.
South Africa’s 1-0 win over Denmark on Saturday was the host’s 13th unbeaten game in a row. It came against a team who dominated a difficult qualifying group on the road to the tournament and who are packed full of players used to playing in the top leagues of Europe such as Niklas Bendtner of Arsenal.
With this in mind, maybe South Africa should start to be thought of as the underdogs of this tournament. Certainly the hosts seem to be peaking at just the right time. With the fervent Bafana Bafana support behind them perhaps they should be aiming for more than merely just qualifying for the 2nd round?
A few weeks back I would have said that the most important game we play in this tournament would be the first match against Mexico. This is still going to be abundantly important in terms of setting up momentum but now perhaps the major game is really going to be France.
France’s 1-0 loss against what in effect were China’s ‘B’ team shows us that the hosts should have nothing to fear when it comes to playing against the former champions. An aging squad, short of real quality bar Franck Ribery seem to be ripe for going out in the first round. The French Football Federation have already moved to replace Domenech after the finals with Laurent Blanc, a move which seems to have created apathy amongst the squad members rather than stirring them onto more success.
South Africa should look to South Korea for inspiration. In the 2002 world cup the hosts shocked the world as they eliminated some huge names on their way to a semi final finish. The Koreans showed what could be accomplished with the ingredients of fanatical home support, fantastic desire amongst the players and an experienced manager.
Since the World Cup’s formation over 80 years ago no host nation has ever exited in the first round. South Africa shouldn’t be the first, but they need to believe that they will have a successful tournament.
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