It's typically a given to predict that the host nation in the football World Cup will advance from the group stage. Even the United States (in 1994) and both South Korea and Japan (in 2002) did the trick, despite all not featuring the most talented of sides.
However, the host of the 2010 World Cup, the South African national team (known typically as "Bafana Bafana"), is in serious danger. Looking at previous tournament results, the squad selected by coach Carlos Alberto Parreria, their group, and other factors, the team could become the first World Cup hosts to fail to reach the knock-out rounds.
Looking at the last four editions of the African Nations Cup—held every two years—it's easy to see why many football observers are skeptical of the Bafana Bafana's chances of making it out of the group stage.
The Bafana Bafana have had one win in the last four African Nation's Cup, which came in 2002. Also, the Bafana Bafana even failed to reach the 2010 edition, failing in the qualifiers, which also served as the World Cup qualifiers.
The 2009 Confederations Cup saw the Bafana Bafana get out of a group which featured European champions Spain, Asian champions Iraq, and Oceanic champions New Zealand, and saw them giveBrazil a good game in the semifinals.
South Africa's track record in international tournaments has been less than stellar, otherwise. The Bafana Bafana have played in two World Cups, partaking in France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002, but missing the cut in Germany 2006.
In those tournaments, which were the first World Cups for which the Bafana Bafana were eligible thanks to apartheid, South Africa has failed to make it past the group stage, winning only one game, a 1-0 win over Slovenia in 2002.
Meanwhile, the Bafana Bafana were also given no luck by the draw, even though they were seeded in Pool A, along with seeded world power teams such as England, Brazil, and Spain.
Hoping to avoid a tough group, the Bafana Bafana were instead given a tough draw. Their group features defending World Cup runners-up France, CONCACAF power Mexico, and a good South American team in Urugay. This draw has many predicting the Bafana Bafana to finish in fourth place in the group.
Despite having featured some nice talent in the past, including Quinton Fortune, Lucas Radabe, and Benni McArthy, the squad looks lacking in talent compared to their Group A rivals.
Only seven of Parreria's roster plays their club football outside of South Africa. This list includes captain Aaron Mokoena who plays for Portsmouth (at least so far; he is a Pompey defender) Steven Pineear, who plays for Everton, and Tsepo Masilela of the Israeli side Maccabi Haifa.
The bulk of the Bafana Bafana's squad in the 2010 World Cup plays their club football in South Africa's Premier Soccer League, which although is one of the top leagues in the African continent, is simply a far cry from European football.
The Bafana Bafana, for their credit, do have efficient offensive threats in Siyabonga Nomvethe and Katlego Mphela, who have scored 15 and 16 international goals respectively. The defense also has some solid talent.
Another key strength team-wise for the Bafana is the bulk of players with experience. 13 of the 23 players on the squad have 25 or more caps for the Bafana Bafana, and that will bode well for the team as they hope to make it past the group stage.
Of course, having 94,000 screaming fans blowing vuvuzelas would help South Africa in the tournament's opening match against Mexico, in which an upset over El Tri would help South Africa's hope.
The opener, which will take place on the 11th of June in Johannesburg's majestic newly-refurbished Soccer City, will be televised all over the world. And despite featuring less talent than their Mexican rivals, the opener would be the time to shine for the Bafana Bafana's veteran-laden team, many of whom still are stung from their shocking failure to qualify for the 2010 African Nations Cup.
To Parreria and the Bafana Bafana's credit, they have experienced a good stretch of football. They have an 11-match unbeaten streak dating back to the 14th of November, when the Bafana Bafana drew 0-0 with World Cup participants Japan. The Bafana Bafana even had their record win over the weekend—a 5-0 victory over Guatemala in Polokwane.
However, and I don't mean to dampen any South African supporter's spirit here, but much of that 11-match unbeaten streak was played against countries that are at a far lower level than their World Cup rivals.
Collectively, South Africa's last five opponents—Guatemala, Colombia, Bulgaria, Thailand, and Jamaica—were ranked 115th, 34th, 39th, 105th, and 79th. Sure, Colombia and Bulgaria are nice teams, but playing minnows such as Guatemala and Thailand don't help your reputation.
South African sports teams have pulled off shockers when hosting tournaments however, which may or may not ring true here in 2010. For example, the 1995 Rugby World Cup saw the less-fancied Springboks side win the William Web Ellis trophy by beating favorite New Zealand 15-12 in an overtime thriller, a victory which helped the nation heal after apartheid ended.
Just a year later, the underdog Bafana Bafana team won the African Nations Cup on home soil, defeating Tunisia in front of over 80,000 at the older Soccer City stadium. The team watched the trophy be handed over by President Nelson Mandela, which healed the nation and helped, at least for that night, unite the nation as one.
Could today's Bafana Bafana pull off the shocker and advance from Group A?
Eh, not likely.
But I sure hope it happens, as it's always nicer to hear the vuvuzelas blown during a Bafana Bafana match.
The team will surely enjoy the best support out of all the countries in this World Cup. Let's just hope it takes place for more than just three matches.
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