SA inspired by chance to make history
The second round beckons for Bafana Bafana if Carlos Alberto Parreira's team can beat Uruguay in Pretoria on Wednesday. On a national public holiday to commemorate the day the brutality of the apartheid regime reverberated around the globe, the World Cup hosts will have an opportunity to make their own history by securing second-round qualification.sports Updated: Jun 16, 2010 16:17 IST
The second round beckons for Bafana Bafana if Carlos Alberto Parreira's team can beat Uruguay in Pretoria on Wednesday. On a national public holiday to commemorate the day the brutality of the apartheid regime reverberated around the globe, the World Cup hosts will have an opportunity to make their own history by securing second-round qualification.
Youth Day commemorates the 1976 Soweto uprising. Protests by more than 20,000 pupils ended in more than 700 deaths including that of Hector Pieterson, captured in an iconic photograph.
"Tomorrow is important, especially for the youth," said the South Africa captain, Aaron Mokoena, following his team's final training session at the Lotus Versfeld ground in Pretoria, a rugby stronghold. "It is a really special day for everyone and it would be great to win for everyone on the day. It's a day South Africa always remembers, the 16th means a lot."
Amid a maelstrom of emotion and patriotic fervour, the coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, must steer his side to victory against a Uruguay team who looked solid in their opening match against France. When Parreira was reappointed in November, following a disastrous run of results under the man he recommended as his replacement, the mood was close to mutinous among the South African media and public. But the Brazilian has engendered a spirit and introduced a style that took them on an unbeaten run that now stretches to 13 matches following Friday's opening draw with Mexico that sparked wild jubiliation across the country.
He did so by focusing first on young, hungry, domestically-based players before making it clear to his overseas stars that similar standards would be expected of them. "If we are to succeed in this competition, our strength is the technique," he said. "We can't go for physical contact, we don't have these kind of players."
The organisers have repeatedly spoken of the importance of Bafana Bafana progressing and the country is again reaching fever pitch. Flags flutter from cars and the yellow Bafana Bafana shirt has become a national uniform.
A series of three pre-World Cup camps helped Parreira pare down his squad and remove potential sources of discord. He has had to balance the home-based players at the peak of fitness with overseas stars who joined the squad after exhausting seasons with their clubs.
He was effusive in his praise for one of those home-based players, the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala. Tellingly, as well as praising his "world-class" talent and affording Friday's goalscorer the ultimate compliment of likening him to a Brazilian, he paid tribute to his work ethic. "He deserves it, he works for it. I like to see people in life work for it. He never missed one single training session in the whole three months of preparation. That is why he is in top shape, the best shape of his career."
Parreira must now use the huge sense of excitement in the country to inspire his team without letting the weight of expectation crush them. He believes all teams will begin to cast off their defensive shackles as the groups progress. "You have to win one of the two games otherwise you are out. We have to take some risks, otherwise you go nowhere. You finish with three draws and you're out of the competition."
But he acknowledged the threat of a Uruguay side that France found impossible to break down in a dour Cape Town encounter. "The way they played the last game they were very strong in defence, with the wide players who can break very quick. It's going to be a battle to penetrate their solid defence."
The coach confessed to nerves, despite his calm exterior. "This morning I woke up at 5 am. I am not stressed, I am not panicked. But there is uncertainty, of course there is. I know the whole country is behind us and expects us to deliver."
The wily Brazilian, managing in a record sixth World Cup, said he would make "one, maybe two" changes to the starting lineup. Tsepo Masilela is likely to come in for Lucas Thwala at leftback. He promised to encourage his team to attack, to "take a risk", but acknowledged the threat of the prolific Uruguay strikers Luis Surez and Diego Forln, who have 70 goals between them this season.
For Mokoena, qualification for the second round would cap an extraordinary season that has encompassed bankruptcy and relegation at Fratton Park, a losing FACup final and now captaining his country at the first African World Cup. "We want to hear those vuvuzelas. We would like the fans to get behind us more," he said.
Parreira had no complaints about either of the big talking points the flight of the ball and the honk of the vuvuzela of a so far underwhelming first round of matches: "We love them both."
Steven Pienaar, Everton's player of the year, who has a vital role at the attacking point of Perreira's fiveman midfield, has spoken of his tiredness after a long season. "Pienaar is paying the price for playing too many games. He played 27 games in two and a half months," said Parreira.
But if the thought of inspiring his team-mates to a victory that would make them favourites to qualify from a tight group is not enough to make him forget his heavy legs, nothing will. Unlike the rest of the country, Parreira is keeping his cool. But he said appearances could be deceptive: "Apparently I'm calm. But inside I'm burning."
First Published: Jun 16, 2010 14:37 IST