Start with the positives for the Bafana Bafana. They will play every game with a decided homefield advantage, and by homefield advantage I mean ten thousand vuvuzelas farting away from the kick to the whistle, the now infamous South African horn blown without sequence, order, rhythm, or rhyme at any time during the game.
FIFA had considered banning the instrument, but relented when they realized a.) they would have to ban other quirky national crowd habits, and b.) separating an SA fan from his vuvuzela would be a rude and dangerous proposition for all concerned. Combined with the mariachi bands bold enough to make the trip across the globe to the opening match between South Africa and Mexico, the din should be enough over the television to send your dog into the next room whimpering.
The other positive? They're the hosts, and thus automatically qualify.
Outside of these advantages, the South Africans are looking at experiencing some very rough treatment at the hands of their guests. Only competing internationally since 1994 due to apartheid sanctions, the squad is competing in only its third World Cup and its first since 2002 in Japan/Korea. Ranked 90th in the world, they trail Haiti in international rankings, and have in fact dropped over the past few years in international stature. In their World Cup history they have scored eight goals in six matches.
A Confederations Cup uptick did happen on home soil in 2009, but claiming a win over New Zealand and a draw with Iraq does not a confident bettor make here, especially when crusty Brazilian veteran coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has described their bid in a group with France, Mexico, and Uruguay as akin to climbing Mount Everest. A team stricken with a chronic case of offensive anemia in a group with some very good squads, South Africa is likely not long for the tournament without a surprise burst of offensive competence or some extraordinary luck. The first is unlikely, and the second a matter of random misfortune for their opponents. If one is going to happen, let's wager on the second, especially in the case of the ever-bizarre French squad and their ability to implode against inferior competition.
How They Got Here
The magic of automatic qualifying, thank you very much. As hosts the Bafana Bafana get the instant invite, though they did take the slightly unusual option of playing in the African qualifying matches anyway. They did not make it through the first group stage, though they did show Equatorial Guinea what's what by beating them soundly twice. Equatorial Guinea is ranked 141st in the world. Without the automatic bid, it is very unlikely they would be at the '10 Cup. Their two wins this year came against Jamaica and Zimbabwe. While that's good, it ain't, you know, good.
How They've Fared Before
Not well. Let's put it this way: winning one game would double their total for their World Cup history, since a 1-0 victory over Slovenia in 2002 is their lone victory in the event. The other numbers aren't pretty, either: 8 goals scored to 11 against in six matches lifetime.
Steven Pienaar is the class of a South African team that failed to qualify for the 2010 African Cup of Nations. (Photo Content © 2010 ZumaPress All rights reserved.)
Players To Watch
Steven Pinaar on the wing, who in his civilian clothes plays for Everton and is a quality distributor with genuine creativity. Ancient 32 year old striker Siyabona Nomvete, who despite his age has been playing well recently. Goalie Itumeleng Khune, who will have to be in top form if a longshot team like South Africa is to make a respectable showing in the group stage. Striker Kermit Erasmus, whose name is "Kermit Erasmus" and is therefore worth watching
How Far Can They Get
Getting out of their tough group draw would be one of the real potential triumphs of this Cup. They'll need every card a fluky team can play: a locktight performance by Khune, a few lucky goals, and the generous assistance of the other team. As I said in the intro, France is always a good candidate for this, but counting on Mexico and Uruguay to do so, as well? Now we're talking single bets on the roulette table.
|Fernandez, Rowen||32||23||0||Arminia Bielefeld (Germany)|
|Josephs, Moeneeb||30||14||0||Orlando Pirates (South Africa)|
|Khune, Itumeleng||22||21||0||Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa)|
|Walters, Shu-Aib||28||0||0||Maritzburg United (South Africa)|
|Booth, Matthew||22||26||1||Mamlodi Sundowns (South Africa)|
|Fransman, Bevan||26||14||0||Maccabi Netanya (Israel)|
|Gaxa, Siboniso||26||33||0||Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)|
|Khumalo, Bongani||23||6||0||Supersport United (Soith Africa)|
|Masilela, Tsepo||25||27||0||Maccabi Haifa (Israel)|
|Mdledle, Innocent||24||6||0||Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)|
|Mokoena, Aaron||29||99||2||Portsmouth (England)|
|Moon, Bryce||24||15||1||POAK F.C. (Greece)|
|Ngconga, Anele||22||2||0||K.R.C. Genk (Belgium)|
|Sangweni, Siyabonga||28||3||0||Golden Arrows (South Africa)|
|Thwala, Lucas||28||17||1||Orlando Pirates (South Africa)|
|Cale, Franklin||27||3||0||Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)|
|Davids, Lance||25||17||0||Ajax Cape Town (South Africa)|
|Jali, Andile||23||2||0||Orlando Pirates (South Africa)|
|Khuboni, Thanduyise||24||5||0||Golden Arrows (South Africa)|
|Letsholonyane, Reneilwe||28||3||0||Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa)|
|Modise, Teko||27||44||9||Orlando Pirates (South Africa)|
|Mokoena, Lebohand||23||5||0||Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)|
|Moriri, Surprise||30||28||3||Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)|
|Pienaar, Steven||28||46||2||Everton FC (England)|
|Sibaya, MacBeth||32||52||0||Rubin Kazan (Russia)|
|Tshabalala, Siphiwe||25||40||5||Kaier Chiefs (South Africa)|
|McCarthy, Benni||32||83||35||West Ham United (England)|
|Mphela, Katlego||25||25||8||Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)|
|Nomvethe, Siyabonga||32||74||16||Moroka Swallows (South Africa)|
|Parker, Bernard||24||25||7||FC Twente (Netherlands)|
South Africa World Cup Team Data Card
SB Nation Soccer will be distributing team cards for each of the World Cup's 32 entrants. Here is South Africa's:
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