South Africa aim to end European curse
Since defeating Slovenia through an early Siyabonga Nomvete goal at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, the 2010 hosts have fallen to Spain, England, Iceland, Germany, Scotland and Italy. After winning in Germany last month for the first time since 1936, the Scandinavians bring the same team to South Africa under colourful new coach Egil Olsen confident of inflicting further misery on their hosts.
The same evening a Christian Grindheim goal stunned Germany in a Dusseldorf friendly, South Africa received a football lesson from Chile in Polokwane and were lucky to escape with just a 2-0 defeat. A record five consecutive wins against largely second-string African rivals lulled Bafana Bafana into believing they were on track for an impressive showing when they stage the FIFA Confederations Cup during June.
However, the pace and pressing of Chile left South Africa bewildered and once again raised fears that come 2010 they are in danger of becoming the first hosts not to survive the opening round. Adding to the problems facing Brazil-born national coach Joel Santana ahead of Norway, and another friendly against Portugal in the Swiss city of Lausanne next Tuesday, was the failure of leading scorer Benni McCarthy to appear.
Blackburn Rovers claim the player was fit to travel but McCarthy disagreed, saying he is still experiencing pain from a hamstring injury suffered against West Ham last weekend. The South African attack tends to be a blunt instrument without McCarthy and with 66-year-old Olsen preaching blanket defence and swift counter-attacks, the home team could face a frustrating time.
Former Manchester United championship-winning defender Henning Berg is a fan of compatriot Olsen: "His defensive structure is the most important thing. He will focus on making Norway more difficult to beat."
The friendly doubles as the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge fixture, which has been won six times by South Africa, twice by Senegal, once by Brazil, Egypt, the Netherlands and the United States and drawn twice. It is also the first match at the revamped FIFA Confederations Cup and FIFA World Cup venue west of Johannesburg with increased seating, improved floodlights, added security and new roads on trial.