The pressure is great on the Bafana Bafana South African squad come Friday, when they inaugurate the 2010 World Cup against Mexico.
Not only will South Africa be forced to represent the entire continent of Africa, but they are also facing an 80-year-old statistic: No host nation has been eliminated during the group stage.
However, South Africa—the lowest ranked team in the Cup—faces an unfortunately tough Group A, with two past champions in France and Uruguay and a World Cup regular in Mexico.
History of the South African Team
South Africa spent most of its apartheid years banned from international soccer due to their racist policies at home and was only reinstated in 1992.
It's strange, and hopefully cathartic, to have them be the first nation to host the tournament in Africa.
South Africa has only been to two World Cups prior to hosting (1998 and 2002), failing to get past the group stage on both occasions.
South Africa may be stronger now than it was then with striker Stephen Piennar at the front. They showed great form in last year's Confederation Cup, despite not advancing beyond the group stage.
The South African team has had a successful run in the friendly matches on the cusp of the World Cup. They enter the competition coming off a 1-0 win over Denmark.
Past Host Nations
The pressure is high on South Africa. The past three host nations (France, South Korea, Germany) have made it to the semifinals or finals of the competition.
Host nations not only have the crowds on their sides, but they have a history of getting very favorable calls from the officials. South Korea's dark horse run in 2002 was aided by calls against their opponents, especially in games against Italy and Spain.
Out of the seven World Cup champions, six of them won when hosting the tournament. Brazil is the only team to not have won at home.
Aside from those six teams, another two (Brazil and Sweden) have been runners up in their competitions.
Group A Opponents
South Africa has been placed in a group with veritable veterans. All of the other three teams in the group have a strong history within the Cup.
Uruguay was the first winner of the tournament in 1930. They also paralyzed a nation when they beat Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in 1950 to win their second trophy.
France won the Cup in 1998 and was a runner up in the 2006 World Cup.
Mexico, coming out of the weak CONCACAF conference, has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals. Both times they reached quarterfinals were when Mexico was hosting.
Despite the prominence of the teams, South Africa may not be in as deep a hole as many make it out to be.
Uruguay's days of glory are 60 years removed, and France is coming off a weak, controversial qualifying round.
Playing for Africa
The Bafana Bafana may also be relieved of some of the pressure of representing the entire continent.
There are a total of six African teams in the competition, with Ghana and Ivory Coast coming in as strong favorites.
The South Africans may be able to get away with simply playing for their home country, as it is unlikely that they'll be the last African country standing.
Regardless, for fans everywhere, hopefully the South African team is able to play competitive soccer and create suspense within the group, even if they do not qualify to the next round.
Either way, South Africa will be making history when they step on to their home pitch against Mexico.
The entire world will be watching under the sounds of the vuvuzuelas to see what the South Africans can do with the spotlight come June 11th.