South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira hailed his squad ahead of a 2010 FIFA World Cup™ warm-up against non-qualifiers Bulgaria on Monday.
"This is the best bunch of footballers I have worked with and that includes Brazil," said the man who led his country to World Cup glory in the United States 16 years ago. "These boys are motivated, hard working, committed and determined to do well despite being written off. Believe me when I say we are going to cause surprises at the World Cup. I accept we are the underdogs in a difficult group. I am not asking them to win all three matches, but I have told the squad to perform well and the results will follow," he said.
Although no host nation has failed to reach the second round, South Africa are outsiders in Group A against Mexico and former winners France and Uruguay ahead of the 11 June - 11 July spectacle.
Parreira told reporters he would retain the all-local team that started a 4-0 friendly win over Thailand last Sunday for the floodlit fixture at Orlando Stadium in the township on the south-west outskirts of Johannesburg. Orlando was the home of South African football during the apartheid era and hosted the first major rugby union match staged in the township Saturday when Northern Bulls defeated Canterbury Crusaders in a Super 14 semi-final.
A bigger test
Parreira says he will test some of the 11 foreign-based professionals during the second half of a match that promises to test Bafana Bafana (The Boys) more than timid Thailand did.
The Asian squad, coached by former Manchester United and England captain Bryan Robson, made the long journey from strife-torn Bangkok at short notice and some clubs refused to free national stars. The result was a one-sided affair dominated by the World Cup hosts who scored a record-equalling four goals and matched their biggest win since returning from apartheid-induced isolation 18 years ago.
Striker Katlego Mphela from Pretoria-based Mamelodi Sundowns derived most satisfaction from the outing in the north-east city of Nelspruit, terminating a goal drought with a brace. Was it a flash in the pan? A Bulgarian team unlucky to lose a friendly in Belgium 2-1 last Wednesday should reveal much more about the state of a star South Africa are banking on for World Cup goals.
Bulgaria, whose best World Cup showing was reaching the 1994 semi-finals, lost star Dimitar Berbatov this month when the 29-year-old Manchester United striker retired from international football. South African football followers are avid viewers of the English Premiership so the Bulgarian they will recognise instantly is Aston Villa midfielder Stilian Petrov.