12 May 2010
What do Bafana stars Aaron Mokoena and Mathew Booth and President Jacob Zuma have in common? They believe South Africa could reach the 2010 World Cup final.
And South African Football Association President Kirsten Nematandani says the national side cannot be underestimated. “This event is big for the African continent. We’re the hosts, so we have to do well. Doing well means making sure that the Cup stays in South Africa.”
They may be the only ones holding out hope for a team that is languishing in 90th place in the world rankings, but there are no sports as fickle as football, and some extraordinary upsets have happened on the greatest stage of all.
Take 1990, for example, when unfancied Cameroon defeated world champions Argentina in the opening fixture of Italia 1990. And Senegal handed out similar treatment to cup holders France in South Korea in 2002.
When Bafana Bafana take the field against mighty Mexico at Soccer City on 11 June, the odds will be heavily stacked against them. Let’s not forget, though, that South Africa held their own against some of the giants of international football – including Spain, the world’s top ranked side at the time – in the Confederations Cup a year ago.
With the 90 000 vuvuleza-blowing supporters inside the new cathedral of South African football, South Africa could set the stage for a famous upset.
There are other factors favouring Bafana – and the other African contenders. No European country has won a World Cup outside of Europe. The 1978 champions Argentina struggled to qualify for the tournament, and coach Diego Maradona, the legend who lost his way, is widely regarded as their greatest obstacle.
Five-time champions Brazil can never be written off, but it remains to be seen whether they can show their famous dance moves on the pitch. They failed to get out of the starting blocks at the 2006 World Cup, and they are missing some of the giants of the game, including Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Romario. Kaka, their best player, is coming out of an off-form season at club-level. Brazil’s hopes are resting on the aging Fabiano or and Robinho.
With two minutes remaining in the semi-final of last year’s Confederations Cup, it took a wicked deflection from a Daniel Alves free kick to separate South Africa and Brazil.
Yes, anything could happen in the opening fixture of the 2010 World Cup.
Urquhart is a former Fifa World Cup media officer and the current editor of Project 2010