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Bafana feel weight of the world
South Africa enter World Cup as hosts aiming to play well above their lowly ranking.
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2009 08:27 GMT

South African fans are one of the team's biggest assets [GALLO/GETTY]

Amid the anticipation of the first football World Cup to be held on African soil next year, one nagging fear remains among fans, organisers and players.

Is this the worst host team ever to appear at the finals?

The Bafana Bafana can't win at the moment.

The beauty of being hosts is that the side, ranked 86th in the world, get to qualify automatically for a tournament they would probably have otherwise been watching at home.

One major problem for them is that, while other teams arrive in Johannesburg in June toughened by the harsh lessons of a long qualifying campaign, South Africa take to the field with a string of friendlies behind them.

And, for what it's worth, an appearance in the Confederations Cup.

Looking at the previous hosts, it is hard to find a country that has ever had so poor a side. To pick out one for comparison would be a slight.

A good run by the home teams always adds a story to a tournament, especially for a native population that suddenly finds the World Cup roadshow on its doorstep.

Inspired

The hope is that the Bafana Bafana will be inspired by their support – who would definitely rank higher than 86 in any world standings for fans.

Teko Modise on the attack against Jamaica this month [GALLO/GETTY]
But opinion is divided on whether the strength of the South Africans matters at all.

Sepp Blatter, president of football's governing body Fifa, and organising committee chief executive Danny Jordaan have implied an early exit would spoil the tournament.

"I don't buy that," said former England and Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey, now a television analyst in his native South Africa.

"At the 2008 European Championships, joint hosts Austria and Switzerland went out early and that did not detract from a good tournament.

"When South Africa are eliminated the locals will switch to supporting the other African teams.

"It is not a South African World Cup after all but rather an African World Cup."

Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira took charge of South Africa this month for the second time, aiming to plot a revival after the team won just five out of 18 matches this year.

'Desperate'

"We were desperate for a win because we have to try and boost morale," said Parreira after seeing his side draw 0-0 in friendlies with Japan and Jamaica.

The World Cup warm-up schedule was originally designed by Parreira during his first spell as coach.

World Cup hosts

1930 Uruguay
1934 Italy
1938 France
1950 Brazil
1954 Switzerland
1958 Sweden
1962 Chile
1966 England
1970 Mexico
1974 West Germany
1978 Argentina
1982 Spain
1986 Mexico
1990 Italy
1994 United States
1998 France
2002 South Korea & Japan 2006 Germany
2010 South Africa

He quit in April 2008 to look after his sick wife before returning to replace compatriot Joel Santana.

Matches against tough opponents such as Chile, Germany, Ireland, Serbia and Portugal over the last year, all of which ended in defeat, have drained the confidence of South Africa's players.

The team's losing run cost Santana his job a few months after the hosts had run eventual winners Brazil close in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in June.

"We should take that as a reference of the ability of the side," said Parreira.

"When the key players are in good shape and fit the standard of the team will improve quickly; I have no doubt about it."

The hosts are cutting short their league season to allow Parreira to begin working with his team in March.

And the coach said if the players were fit and in good mental shape they had every reason to believe they could do well in the finals.

South Africa 2010 can be a great tournament regardless of the performance of the hosts.

But failure would take an emotional edge off the finals.

The world will hope South Africa do well – as long as their own team isn't knocked out in the process.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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