When people converse about ‘World Cup’ legends, its’ fair to argue that the majority of responses involve names such as Pele, Hurst, or – dare I say it – Maradona. But for South Africa, such an influx of quality is unrecognisable. With only eighteen years of international experience under their belt, there has simply been no time for its’ creation – until now. The Bafana Bafana are finally on the big stage, a stage built for somebody to amaze the billions of people watching. But who will this ‘somebody’ be?
South Africa’s defence is expected to be bombarded with attacking intent, especially from the free-flowing South Americans. It seems unlikely that they will be able to withold all attacks in every instance, so Itumeleng Khune will have to be on his toes to increases South Africa’s chance of victory. The 22 year-old ‘keeper has been an ever present since his debut in 2008, and has left local pundits running out of superlatives after his brilliant season with the Kaiser Chiefs. A fantastic shot-stopper with quick distribution, Khune has previously set up many attacking chances and is a crowd-pleaser.
However, Carlos Parreira will be hoping that Khune won’t be forced into frequent Banks-esque saves. Much of this hope rests on the shoulders of Portsmouth’s Aaron Mokoena, South Africa’s captain and most-capped player. After recently picking up his 100th cap against Guatemala, Mokoena is renowned for his no-nonsence approach to defending, often clattering players into the sidelines in order to win possession. However, fans will be hoping that he can find the net a few times as well – Mokoena has only scored twice in 100 appearances.
Much of the Bafana Bafana’s attacking threat will come from Everton’s playmaker Steven Pienaar, who has at times caused havoc amongst defences in the Barclays Premiership. A two-footed winger who can also play in a central role, Pienaar has an unbelievable array of talent and trickery. He scored six times for the ‘Toffees’ this season, although his disciplinary record and short temper should be taken into account. His red card for a stray elbow at Liverpool was unforgivable, and Pienaar will need to stay calm during the World Cup campaign if South Africa are to have any chance of progressing.
There is no point in Pienaar creating opportunities if no-one can put them away, however. Luckily for South Africa, they have quite a goal-poacher amongst their ranks. Partnered with Bernard Parker up front, Katlego Mphela caused a stir during the 2009 Confederations Cup with his unbelievable 30-yard strike against Spain in the dying seconds, a goal that forced the game into extra-time. Voted ‘Player of the Season’ in South Africa’s domestic league, Mphela has quick feet, startling pace, and a creative eye for goal, something that the whole nation hopes can damage Mexico’s, Uruguay’s, and France’s stubborn defences.
However, some would say that despite the Bafana Bafana’s clear array of African stardom, the most crucial factor will be the environment. The passion of the fans’ is represented through the intimidating vuvuzela’s, and many players will be wary of the nation’s frighteningly-high crime rate. But the main factor will be the altitude – can the European sides cope with the high sea levels, especially at Cape Town? Or will Mphela cause such elation once again? Only time will tell.
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