It has been more than a decade since South Africa tasted glory at major football finals. However, the country's youngsters are now determined to arrest this statistic at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009.
Bafana Bafana's triumph at the CAF African Cup of Nations in 1996 brought a euphoric feeling to a country that had just conquered apartheid. Winning the tournament was said to be the start of a revolution at the tip of the African continent, but this has not transpired.
And while it would take a minor miracle for South Africa to emerge triumphant from a field including the world's elite, in-form playmaker Mandla Masango believes they are capable of pulling off upsets. "One thing for sure, we are going there to compete, we are going to give it our all," he told FIFA.com. "We are aware that it's not going to be easy, but we are determined to succeed and that is what matters.
With an attack-conscious defence and an inventive midfield, South Africa's biggest flaw is their blunt spearhead. Still, they did enough to upset Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria at the CAF African Youth Championship, and ran eventual champions Ghana close in a memorable semi-final.
"We are a good side, we have a lot of talented players and I think we can cause some upsets during the tournament," Masango continued. "For most of us, this is going to be new experience, but we are looking forward to it. We want to learn a lot and achieve as much as possible."
South Africa have lost back-to-back matches in preparation for Egypt 2009, but coach Serame Letsoaka is quick to point out that results are not the priority in the tournament build-up. "We wanted to test new combinations, we have some new faces in the team and we had to give them a run," he explained. "I think it will be naïve for anyone to judge our capability based on our friendly matches. We are going to Egypt to compete and people will see that."
What might be comforting for the South African coach is the return to top form of some of his most trusted youngsters. Masango has been a revelation at Kaizer Chiefs this season and is seemingly enjoying his new role on the right flank. Thulani Serero has also been in fine form for Ajax Cape Town.
For a while now, forward Kermit Erasmus has been hailed as the country's next great No9. Now on loan at Excelsior from fellow Dutch side Feyenoord, he is one of the most potent weapons at Letsoaka's disposal. If he can rediscover the form that drew him comparisons to Benni McCarthy and Wayne Rooney, maybe South Africa can realise their ambitious goals on Egyptian soil.