Last test before the big time

2010-06-05 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — The Bafana Bafana bandwagon hits Pretoria today with another sell-out crowd for the World Cup warm-up game against Denmark — and realistic prospects of an 11-match unbeaten run being extended.

It will be the final dress rehearsal for the host nation before they tackle formidable Group A adversaries Mexico next Friday, when the curtain rises on the four-yearly international football showpiece.

Mexico must face a 90 000-plus crowd blowing plastic vuvuzela trumpets at Soccer City stadium on the southern outskirts of Johannesburg, while Denmark are going to get off lightly as the Super Stadium in Atteridgeville holds only 28 000 fans.

As South Africa stumbled from one loss to another last year under Brazilian coach Joel Santana, even complimentary VIP tickets to home fixtures were disparagingly declined.

Santana was fired after eight defeats in nine outings, Parreira came back for a second spell in charge of Bafana, and the ugly ducklings slowly but surely transformed into beautiful swans.

That is not to assume South Africa are about to sweep all before them come the June 11-July 11 tournament. A second round spot from a group also including France and Uruguay will be fantastic and a last-eight slot miraculous.

Colombia created worrying big gaps in the heart of the defence without exploiting them fully, and the host nation could do with a penalty-area predator like Uruguayan Diego Forlan.

Although Parreira says the performance is more important than the result against a Danish side 47 places above Bafana on the Fifa rankings, veteran striker Siyabonga Nomvete pinpoints the need for a victory.

“This is our last warm-up and we cannot afford to finish with a negative result,” said the humble Durban-born footballer plucked from obscurity a few months ago after three years in the international wilderness.

Fellow striker Katlego Mphela struck a similar cord: “This is the last opportunity for Bafana to capture the hearts of all South Africans, so we must go for the kill on Saturday.”

South African footballers, notorious for creating pre-tournament bonus storms, have struck a deal with football officials which rewards wins and draws, and there is the $125 000-dollar “carrot” per goal when the team wins.

Denmark lost their first tune-up in South Africa 1-0 to the Australian Socceroos last Tuesday in a match where both teams struggled with the 1 800-metre altitude of a western Johannesburg suburb.

Coach Morten Olsen expects a big improvement from his attack: “To come away with a positive result we must do much better in front of goal. We had a lot of possession against Australia, but that does not matter in football.”

While conceding Netherlands are favoured to top the Group E table, Olsen believes second place ahead of Cameroon and Japan is a realistic ambition that could set up a second-round showdown with defending champions Italy.

South Africa’s 1996 African Nations Cup-winning captain, current AmaZulu coach Neil Tovey, said Bafana are in for a test against the Danes.

“Denmark are a totally different side to those we have played,” Tovey said. “They play a completely different style of football in that they are deadball experts and are good at keeping the ball, able to defend and play simple, direct football.

“We have traditionally struggled against sides like Denmark in the past.

“I have been impressed by Bafana’s progress so far, but this match could be the most difficult in their warm-up programme.

Tovey commented on the improvement Bafana have shown since Parreira’s return to replace Santana in November.

“The fact Parreira has had the players for the past five months has helped the squad gel as a unit,” he said.

“The 23-man squad he announced this week comprises mainly those players who have been with him since January, with the exception of a couple of overseas based players.”

Parreira is expected to bring No.1 goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune back in place of Moeneeb Josephs. — Sapa-AFP.

On TV

Kickoff: 2.15 pm – live on SABC1

Parreira still has tough decisions for starting XI against Mexico, page 59

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