At 27, South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena will be one of Bafana Bafana's key players as they attempt to deal with the pressure of making an impact as hosts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. With this week's news of Carlos Alberto Parreira's shock departure, the side's task may have just become more difficult. But, as anyone who has seen the 'The Axe' in full swing knows, the Blackburn Rovers midfielder is never short of commitment and positive energy.
Carlos Alberto Parreira resigned as coach of South Africa this week. You had expressed a lot of admiration for him. What is your reaction to the news?
Aaron Mokoena: To be fair, it was a shock to everyone connected to the team - and the South African people as well. It was a development we never expected to happen, but in the end, we just have to realise it's one of those things, a situation that is out of our hands. It's unfortunate that we're going to have to move forward now without Carlos as coach, but we are committed to keep moving forward.
*Did you enjoy working with him? *To have played for someone of his calibre is an honour for me actually. But honestly, it's good that we had him for a bit rather than never. And he has already started the process of building a foundation for the Nations Cup (also in 2010) and the World Cup for whoever takes over. It was good to have a coach that we wanted to have for a very long time so that we could get things going in the right direction. It is undoubtedly disappointing to only be able to work with him for a short period, but he will remain to help development from a higher level as technical director, and the coaching staff will stay the same.
*Joel Santana is the new coach. How will he replace such a legend? *It will be difficult. But we, as players, and the South African people as well, need to get behind the new manager to help him achieve our goals. Of course it's not easy to take over from Carlos Parreira and to deal with the high expectations the people have for Bafana Bafana, so it's a tough situation. But I am sure the new coach will be prepared to take over and deal with these things. I don't think it will be too much of a difficult transition, but players obviously need time to adapt to larger changes.
*What does the team need to do in the next two years to have a team that can make an impact at the 2010 FIFA World Cup? *Our biggest weakness right now is the physique of the players. We're talented, we're quick, but we need more of a physical presence. That's the one thing South Africa doesn't have. If we build that up, we could show other countries what we are made of because we have confidence in our talent. Yes, it's all about winning the game in the end, and that's the next step to pleasing our supporters.
*Do you think that part of the problem is that there are fewer South Africans playing in Europe? *Actually, that's a very good point. If you look at a lot of African countries, they are doing well with their national teams because almost all of their players are playing abroad and they bring that experience back to their countries. I know that the South African league is one of the strongest in Africa, but - and I'm talking from the experience of coming to Europe at a young age - it really, really helps your development as a player. We have too few players here, and that's a disadvantage in dealing with the toughest situations as a team.
What are your expectations for South Africa in 2010?
It's my dream to win the World Cup. We don't want to go and make up the numbers. We are hosting, and right now we are building with everything we've got for 2010. To me, we have to want to win the tournament. That's it. Obviously we have to take it from where it is now, but we want to raise the flag for our country. And that's my ambition. It's pretty straightforward: I just want to win the cup.
And what about being hosts - what does that mean to you?
To be the first African country to host the World Cup means a lot to me as a South African. It's something we've wanted as a country for a very long time. We just want to it to be successful, and to make it an World Cup with an African vibe.
This World Cup will show people that things happen for a reason. You know, it's easy to forget that South Africa used to be the country that nobody would ever think to visit as a black person. It used to be a problem saying that you were from South Africa, but for me, being part of this team makes me so proud. Especially with a national team of all races, it will be great to see this and it shows how far we've come putting racism where it belongs - in the past.
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