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Bafana eager to show numbers mean nothing

sports Updated: Jun 10, 2010 18:34 IST

DPA
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When South Africa take on Mexico in Friday's football World Cup opening match in Soccer City, the outcome should be clear.

Mexico is ranked the 17th best country in the world and can look back at a World Cup history that has seen them participate at the finals 13 times before. The last time they failed to advance past the first round was back in 1978.

Their run-up to Friday's game has been impressive with just two defeats - against England and the Netherlands - in the 12 matches they played this year.

And last week they beat the reigning world champions Italy 2-1 in their last friendly ahead of the World Cup.

But if all of that counts in favour of Mexico, there is plenty that sways the odds back in South Africa's favour.

Even if they are ranked just 83rd in the world, the biggest factor in their favour will, of course, be the 90,000 plus crowd in Soccer City, the overwhelming majority of whom will be behind the hosts.

South African goalkeeper Itumuleng Khune is aware that the crowd, most of whom will be blowing their traditional African trumpets called vuvuzela, will be a boost to Bafana.

"Our fans are special and are going to play a key role. Our loyal supporters will play their part. We are not looking at a draw - we want three points for a win and kick off the tournament in style.

"We know how important it is to win and while Mexico are not going to make it easy for us, we are going to make it as tough as possible for them," he said earlier this week.

South Africa themselves go into the game on the back of an unbeaten run of 12 matches and even though the majority of opponents were not exactly considered amongst the super-powers of world football, victories against Colombia and Denmark has taken confidence and expectations sky-high.

Their Brazilian World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has had the luxury of being able to work with the majority of his squad for more than three months as the South African league ended early and he selected a squad consisting mainly of locally-based players.

The key players for the home side are striker Katlego Mphela and midfielders Teko Modise and Steven Pienaar.

Everton's Pienaar can use the World Cup to showcase his talents and impress bigger clubs to lure him away from the Toffees, while for Modise a move away from South African cub Orlando Pirates could be the reward at the end of a successful World Cup run.

Forward Mphela, whose world-class goal against Denmark gave South Africa the 1-0 victory last weekend, is peaking at the right time and six goals in South Africa's last four matches would suggest that he will be the danger man upfront.

He said the hosts would not be underestimating the Mexicans, though. "I have watched the Mexicans against England, Netherlands and Italy and they are good," he said after a training session.

"If I get a chance to score I will, as the last five matches have done wonders for my morale and that of other players. We are ready for Mexico."

Mexican coach Javier Aguirre will be hoping that captain Rafael Marquez, 31, who is probably playing in his last World Cup, will not be found wanting for pace at the back for the El Tri, as the Mexican team is called.

Upfront the coach can call on Javier Hernandez, whose seven goals in 12 international matches have earned him a move to Manchester United at the end of the World Cup.

Aguirre, who himself played in the 1986 World Cup finals, can also use Arsenal's Carlos Vela upfront and although he is used rather sparingly by his club coach Arsene Wenger, his nine international goals show that he is a lethal finisher.

With France and Uruguay the other two sides in the group, a good result is important for both sides, possibly even more so for Bafana Bafana as the opening game will probably set the tone for the rest of the tournament - both on and off the field of play.