World Cup 2010 Previews: South Africa's Secret Weapons

Philip CramerContributor IIJune 9, 2010

SANDTON, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 09:  The South African World Cup Football team is surrounded by fans as they ride atop a double decker bus during the Bafana Bafana Parade on June 9, 2010 in Sandton, South Africa.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A few months ago things looked grim for the South African soccer team.They were floundering with a string of poor performances including a 1-0 loss to Iceland. 

The prevailing opinion, even among the most optimistic, was that Bafana Bafana (as the team is known) would be the first host in history to bow out in the group stage. 

The coach, Joel Santana was fired and Carlos Alberto Parreira who guided Brazil to the cup in 1994 was brought back.

He had been the coach until his wife fell ill and he had to return to Brazil.

Since then Bafana have been unbeaten for 12 games, albeit mostly against inferior opponents but wins against Colombia and Denmark in the last couple of weeks are significant.

The South African Football Association did some smart things, the first was compacting the domestic season to give the locally based players lengthy training camps in Durban, then Brazil and Germany. 

Parreira is a fitness fanatic and lengthy workouts were standard.  The result was visible on Saturday against Denmark when Bafana ran the Danes ragged for 90 minutes. 

South Korea did the same in 2002 and it showed. The speed and talent of the midfield will trouble all their opponents. 

Steven Pienaar, Everton's player of the year is a known quantity but watch Siphwe Tsabalala who I think is every bit as good as Pienaar in reading the game with the added ball skills to take on any defender. 

I expect him to become a major target of European teams after the tournament.

Their second weapon is the altitude. 

Johannesburg is the other 'mile high' city and many of the other venues such as Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Rustenburg and Polokwane are not much lower. 

This will be a huge advantage for South Africa against both Uruguay and France although Mexico is the one other team used to the altitude. South Africa will play all three games at altitude.

While it doesn't take much time to acclimate to the altitude it does affect the flight of the ball which carries further. 

Even after a player has got used to the altitude, it can take longer to get the right touch to control crosses and long balls. This was clearly evident as the Danes over hit many balls. 

Then there are the fans. 

Today at noon they celebrated across South Africa a, " vuvuzela moment," as fans flooded the streets dancing, singing and playing those ubiquitous vuvuzela. 

Over 100,000 were outside the teams's hotel in Sandton just north of Johannesburg.  The opening game on Friday against Mexico will be an explosion of noise and passion like no other with the presence of South Africa's talisman, Nelson Mandela adding to the emotion. They will be Bafana's 12th man on steroids.

The noise of the vuvuzela's can drive opponents to distraction. Players have complained that they can't hear each other on the pitch, and the more people complain the louder we play.