SA counts down to kickoff

2010-06-11 11:18

Africa’s first World Cup kicks off this afternoon when South Africa

take on Mexico.

The opening match will be played at Johannesburg’s Soccer City in

front of 95 000 spectators. Former president Nelson Mandela will, unfortunately,

not be among them following the death of his great-granddaughter in a car


Mandela will be mourning 13-year-old Zenani Mandela, who died in a

car crash while being driven home from a pretournament concert.

The tragedy casts a shadow over an event that is about far more

than just soccer.

South Africa’s pride in making history as the first African host

has shone through as the nation rides a wave of euphoria last seen when

apartheid collapsed.

What the organisers fear now is that the South African team –

ranked 83rd by Fifa – will become the first World Cup host nation in history to

fail to progress through the group stages.

It will not be easy for Bafana Bafana in a group including 1998

winners and 2006 runners-up France, and World Cup old hands Mexico and


Steven Pienaar, one of South Africa’s stars, said the players would

be as excited as the fans when the match started at 4pm.

“We have waited so long for this moment,” said the midfielder, who

plays for Everton in the English Premier League.

“As children, we dreamt of the day South Africa would play in the

World Cup.”

Captain Aaron Mokoena said: “Some South Africans do not give us a

chance at this level. We are desperate to prove them wrong and hold our own. I

believe we can surprise some people by qualifying for the second round.”

France’s talented but inconsistent team open their Group A campaign

against Uruguay in Cape Town in the opening day’s other fixture tonight.

The talismanic Zinedine Zidane has retired, and Franck Ribery,

Nicolas Anelka and Patrice Evra will be keen to avoid the humiliation of

France’s defeat to minnows Senegal on the opening day of the 2002 tournament in

South Korea.

The signs are not promising. Poor results in build-up matches and a

tussle between the team, the French media and eccentric coach Raymond Domenech

have created an uneasy atmosphere around the French camp.

The brightest


The action this

afternoon starts a 64-match bonanza featuring the brightest stars of the


On Saturday, the fabulously talented Messi and his Argentine

teammates, coached by the unpredictable Diego Maradona, enter the fray against

Nigeria, and Wayne Rooney leads England in search of their first world crown

since 1966.

England’s Italian coach, Fabio Capello, is confident that Rooney

will prove that he can be one of the tournament’s leading players when England

take on the United States in Rustenburg.

“He is in a good moment. He trains very well and he scores goals

during training, which is important for him,” Capello said. “I think he will

play a fantastic World Cup.”

European champions Spain, bidding to lift the World Cup for the

first time in their history, were due to arrive in South Africa today, the last

of the 32 teams to do so.

Bookmakers have installed the gifted Spanish team of Fernando

Torres, Andres Iniesta and Xavi as the favourites, but they have failed at this

level before, and many observers believe Brazil could add a sixth title to their

record haul.

Kaka and his Brazilian teammates open their challenge against

surprise qualifiers North Korea on Tuesday, while Spain take to the pitch for

the first time on Wednesday against Switzerland.

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