SOUTH AFRICA 2010 WILL MAKE HISTORY NOT ONLY AS THE FIRST WORLD CUP HELD IN AFRICA BUT ALSO, IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, AS THE FIRST IN WHICH THE HOME TEAM DIDN'T ADVANCE TO the second round. South Africa might be the only country on the continent with the infrastructure necessary to host a World Cup, but in strict soccer terms it isn't close to the level of other African nations such as Ivory Coast, Cameroon and even Egypt, which didn't make this Cup. In fact, in qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations, Bafana Bafana had an embarrassing three losses, two wins and a tie.
Two things, however, give the South Africans reason to hope. The first is a respectable performance at the 2009 Confederations Cup, in which they lost to Brazil in the semifinals by just 1-0. The second is their dazzling number 10, Steven Pienaar, who stars for Everton in the English Premier League.
This is Bafana Bafana's biggest liability. Forwards Bernard Parker and Katlego Mashego may be strong, but they don't score much. On the bright side, center forward Katlego Mphela, who came off the bench at the Confederations Cup and scored twice against Spain, could be a breakout star at this World Cup. But look for pressure to build on Pienaar not only to assist his teammates up front but also to do the finishing himself.
Teko Modise's speed on the right flank may surprise more than one team, while Siphiwe Tshabalala brings strength and skill to the opposite side. The main problem is Bafana Bafana's inability to recover the ball in the middle of the pitch.
The weakest links are goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who is prone to whopping mistakes, and side backs Siboniso Gaxa and Tsepo Masilela, who don't tackle with the same zeal with which they attack. The strongest link is captain Aaron Mokoena, South Africa's most capped player, who is known as the Axe for his lethal tackles. But even he will have a hard time keeping top opposing forwards from finding the net.
At its best South Africa recalls Colombia's 1990 World Cup team, with its passing and ability to slip defenders. But unlike the Colombians, Bafana Bafana has trouble finishing, and its back line is vulnerable. South Africa will struggle to walk away from the first round with a point.