Since the World Cup began in 1930, every single host nation – from Chile to South Korea – has managed to qualify unscathed from the group stage. However, this regular occurrence is by no means guaranteed this year, with hosts South Africa the second lowest world-ranked side in the competition.
Placed in arguably the most competitive group, the Bafana Bafanas are rank outsiders to reach the last sixteen. Mexico, Uruguay, and France are all tough opponents, but it must be taken into account that South Africa are the ‘home’ side, with the altitude certain to play a key role. Reaching the last sixteen would be seen as a successful outcome by Carlos Parreira and his side, especially for a nation with such a negative history and representation.
First up for South Africa are Mexico, a side renowned for quick passing and attacking flair. To take points from this encounter, the Bafana Bafana will have to maintain possession and break down any attacks immediately, as Mexico have the pace and style of play to turn a defensive role to a goalscoring opportunity rapidly. Five days later, South Africa take on Uruguay, a side of similar stature to Mexico. Neither side is likely to be over-affected by the altitude levels, although South Africa’s dominative and aggressive style of play may see Uruguay find chances limited. In the last group game, the Bafana Bafana take on 2006 Runners-up France. France are a side who are nowhere near as good as their previous descendants, and some would argue that they don’t even deserve to be in South Africa. However, this is an opportunity for South Africa to win, as France have been known to struggle with pressure and may wilt in the harsh African climate.
The Last Sixteen?
Even if South Africa qualify from Group A (a big if), it is unlikely that they will do so as winners. In this case, they would most likely play the might Argentina in the last sixteen, overwhelming favourites to win Group B. Here is where I believe South Africa’s journey will come to an abrupt end. Argentina are simply too stylish for the African minnows, with the likes of Messi and Di Maria a class apart from Mokoena and Modise. Still, reaching this round would be a huge accomplishment for South Africa.