Mokoena: A huge moment
Aaron Mokoena believes South Africa will have to peak at the right time to excel at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, but he has warned the team's detractors not to underestimate them. "Certainly there is hope, I can see the light at the end of this tunnel," said the Bafana Bafana captain.
Joel Santana's side, still under reinvention from a turbulent period that included a string of inauspicious results, will be under pressure to perform on home soil. With their opener against Asian champions Iraq at Ellis Park, Johannesburg only six months away, there is little time for experimentation, and Mokoena knows success in next year's FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ is required to inject enthusiasm into the South African supporters.
The Blackburn Rovers player insists the team have been working on a bold plan to emerge as a force on the world stage. "We have had to be honest with ourselves, we have had to tell the truth, ask ourselves some tough questions," he explained. "We can't tell our supporters that we will win the World Cup, but I know that we will do our best, we will try. In fact, I know that the guys are willing to put their bodies on the line for both tournaments. It's such a huge moment for our country and I can't really describe the feeling in words."
The temptation to compare Mokoena's tenure as South Africa captain to those of legends Neil Tovey and Lucas Radebe has always been there. It is a consequence of the standards set by the retired pair.
Tovey, who led Bafana Bafana to glory at the Africa Cup of Nations 1996, where they beat Tunisia 2-0 in the final, was a street-wise leader who inspired his troops with motivational words and a soldier-like spirit. Radebe, by contrast, commanded immense respect in the dressing room, was adored for his gravitating personality, and admired for his achievements and dedication. Despite succeeding such icons, Mokoena has risen to the challenge.
He took over the armband when South African football was experiencing problems on the field, and, despite some criticism, remains determined to lead the team to success. "I'm not Lucas and I'm not Tovey. I respect both players, they are icons in South Africa, but I think it's unfair to compare the three of us. We are different in many ways," he said.
The Blackburn star added that the hosts are eager to live up to expectations at the two prestigious FIFA finals. "The bigger picture is what is motivating us, it is what makes us work extra harder and push ourselves," he added. "We want to make a good impression. We want to make our country proud."
"South Africa is a great country to live in. I have played in many countries, but there is no place like home. I know that people will love it there, it's a great place to visit. However, what I would like to see is an African side winning one of the two tournaments. We, as Africans, need to make a statement; we need to show that we can play football. The fact that it's on our home soil is an added incentive for us."