|Cape Town horn: A Bafana Bafana fan blasts a vuvuzela in support of South Africa [GALLO/GETTY]|
All eyes will be on the hosts as they bid to defy their underdog status and progress to the knockout rounds on home turf.
Up against three teams with the combined pedigree of 38 World Cups behind them, South Africa will bank on home advantage, desire and the unsettling effect of their fans’ vuvuzela horns to see them progress in only their third appearance in the finals.
Known as the Bafana Bafana, or “The Boys” to their fans, South Africa go into their home World Cup as the second-lowest ranked team – currently sandwiched at 83rd between Belarus and China.
With the help of vuvuzela-blowing home crowds, Carlos Alberto Perreira’s team will hope star midfielder Steven Pienaar can fire them past the group stages of the tournament for the first time following failed attempts in 1998 and 2002.
They kick off their challenge on June 11 against Mexico at Soccer City – the Johannesburg stadium where they won their only Africa Cup of Nations title in 1996.
Since taking over from Sven-Goran Eriksson last year, Javier Aguirre has turned around Mexico’s fortunes to qualify for their fifth World Cup in a row.
Having struggled under the Swede, Mexico shot from fifth to second behind the United States in the Concacaf zone, and bring an exciting and youthful team to the finals.
|Group A fixtures|
Friday June 11
South Africa v Mexico
Led by Barcelona defender Rafael Marquez, 17th-ranked Mexico will be confident of kicking off their bid for a first quarter-finals appearance since 1986 with a win against the hosts.
One of the storied names in football, Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930 by beating Argentina – and repeated the feat against Brazil 20 years later.
Few give Oscar Tabarez’s troops a chance of repeating that feat, but Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan is sure to give opposition defences a headache.
Ranked 16th in the world ahead of the likes of Cote d’Ivoire, Australia and Africa Cup of Nations finalists Ghana, the inaugural world champions could prove to be dark horses this summer.
Les Bleus qualification for South Africa 2010 was steeped in controversy after striker Thierry Henry’s handball against the Republic of Ireland.
But despite the unpopularity at home of outgoing coach Raymond Domenech and many of their players, the French have been a force to reckon with since they won the World Cup in 1998.
Having lost out to Italy in the 2006 final after Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt on Marco Materazzi, France rarely fail to provide excitement whether in victory or defeat.