Bafana peaking at right time
© Getty Images

A jump of seven places in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings is one of several timely boosts for the hosts of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in recent weeks. With the country one week away from the opening match of the tournament at Johannesburg’s Soccer City, South Africa have had an upturn in fortunes after a strict, and, at times, Spartan training regime imposed by experienced Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.

Bafana Bafana are now up to 83rd in the latest rankings, after winning two and drawing the other of three preparatory matches during the ranking period. They beat Jamaica 2-0 at the end of their three-week camp in Germany, and they then returned home to beat Thailand 4-0 in a match that marked the opening of the new Mbombela Stadium.

It was followed by a bustling 1-1 draw with a strong Bulgarian side in a match that Parreira described as the best they had played over the last months, despite the result ending in a stalemate. Two subsequent wins, as the team continued to build momentum and fine-tune their squad ahead of the start of the tournament, are likely to lift the country even further up the rankings when the next poll is released just days after the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. Bafana beat Colombia 2-1 in the first international played at the newly revamped Soccer City stadium last week and on Monday, they racked up a record 5-0 score line in dismissing the challenge of Guatemala.

South Africa are still a long way off their all-time highest ranking - 16th place achieved in August of 1996 - but the jump is a welcome change after their steady slide down the rankings over the last years. Bafana Bafana have had a difficult few years in terms of results but now seem to have found confidence and form at just the right moment. Parreira took a squad of domestically based players for lengthy training camps in both Brazil and Germany where they have worked on their physical fitness and played various match-ups with tough club and national team opponents.

South Africa’s Premier League closed early in March to allow Parreira to work with the best players, a decision now seemingly paying dividends. In the last weeks he has also integrated the team with those based at European clubs, although he surprised many observers by omitting striker Benni McCarthy from the final 23-man squad for the World Cup. It is a strong message that the host nation will be all business when they kick off the finals against Mexico on 11 June.