The waiting is almost over. The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ begins on Friday when the tournament hosts take on Group A rivals Mexico in the magnificent surroundings of Soccer City in Johannesburg, the first match to be staged at this impressive arena.
No host nation has ever lost their opening game in the world finals. Though this is new territory for the South Africans, the Mexicans have had the honour of opening up the competition on four previous occasions (1930, 1950, 1958 and 1970), although they failed to win any of those games.
The Bafana Bafana have only one previous FIFA World Cup win - against Slovenia in 2002 - and go into the game with the weight of a nation’s expectations on their shoulders. Hopes have been buoyed by an unbeaten run of 13 games under Carlos Parreira, including notable wins over Colombia and Denmark. Led by the in-form duo of Steven Pienaar and Katlego Mphela, the hosts have not looked stronger in recent years.
If their impressive 2-1 warm-up defeat of world champions Italy is anything to go by, the dynamic Mexicans are sure to provide the home favourites with a stern test. El Tricolor offer up a compelling blend of youth and experience, with the likes of Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela dovetailing to perfection with old hands such as Gerardo Torrado, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Rafael Marquez. On this form, they might just break their Opening Match hoodoo.
Much of the Bafana Bafana’s creativity originates from the classy Everton midfielder. His confidence high after an exceptional season in the English Premier League, Pienaar can be expected to shine in front of his home fans.
One of the men out to stop him will be Mexico skipper Marquez, who has been employed in a holding midfield role by coach Javier Aguirre. Should the Barcelona stopper fulfil his mission of snuffing out the threat posed by Pienaar, he will have gone a long way to helping his side prevail in this opening skirmish.
3 - The number of times these two teams have met, all of them on neutral territory. Los Aztecas hold sway with two wins to South Africa’s one, although the Bafana Bafana did win the most recent meeting, at the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup, in which both sides fielded experimental line-ups.
What they say
“People always say the local team invariably does well but I can tell you we’re focusing only on the game against Mexico. If we can get a good result we can set the tournament alight. We need to show as much mental strength as we can. That’s the key to us having a good run,” Steven Pienaar, South Africa midfielder.
“It’s a great opportunity but at the same time facing the hosts is a tough challenge. The whole world is looking forward to this game and that’s something we’re very aware of. I think the most important thing for us is to not let nerves and pressure get the better of us. That way we can perform to the best of our ability,” Carlos Vela, Mexico forward.
Voice of the fans
"South Africa might not win the first game but they will show why no host nation has failed to advance from first round in the WC. Some Mexican fans on FIFA.com say they will have an easy win, I say beware of the power of the vuvuzela," FIFA.com user litowadowice.
Will the South Africans get off to a winning start?