This is the first of a series in which I will be featuring one of the 32 teams taking part in this summer’s World Cup every day for the next few weeks. Today we start with the hosts, South Africa.
The lowest ranked team (88th) to be taking part in this summer’s tournament, the host’s prospects look relatively bleak as the Bafana Bafana aim to make a significant impact on home soil.
Despite possessing what is a fairly threadbare squad, South Africa are certainly not without star quality, the likes of Steven Pienaar, Benni McCarthy and captain Aaron Mokoena giving the team not inconsiderable potential. 25 year-old Mamelodi Sundowns striker Katlego Mphela is also an exciting prospect having made a good start to his international career with eight goals in his first 24 games for the national side, including two strikes in the Confederations Cup third-place playoff clash with Spain last year.
Though the South Africans may be able to pose questions to their Group A opponents offensively, the team has a number of weaknesses in defence which may prove problematic. Players such as Siboniso Gaxa at full-back and the colossal centre-half Matthew Booth may be strong defenders at club level in South Africa, but over-reliance on them may well show itself to be costly at the game’s highest level. Indeed, a lack of experience against top-class opposition amongst the squad’s defenders could well prove to be the team’s undoing as they come up against the attacking prowess of group rivals Mexico, Uruguay and France.
The team’s Brazilian Word Cup-winning Coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, was only installed for his second spell with the South African national side in October, and so has had a relatively short period of time in which to assess his squad and impress his tactical vision upon the players. To compound the Brazilian’s problems, many of the Bafana Bafana’s big-name players have been unavailable during the four friendlies he has been at the helm for, Parreira often having to select squads filled with inexperienced players who ply their trade in the South African professional leagues.
That said, Parreira has shown a clear preference for a 4-4-2 formation, giving his wingers limited defensive duties which sees the team take on a rudimentary 4-2-4 formation in attack, with Everton’s Pienaar and Teko Modise of the Orlando Pirates giving an added potency to the regular strike partnership of McCarthy and Mphela as the team looks to break. This approach makes South Africa a dangerous opponent for teams, but a lot hinges on Aaron Mokoena’s ability to break-up the attacking threat of the opposition and hold together what is a relatively fragile back four. This could be a difficult tournament for the Bafana Bafana.
Probable starting XI: Khune (Kaizer Chiefs); Gaxa (Mamelodi Sundowns), Booth (Mamelodi Sundowns), Mokoena (Portsmouth), Masilela (Maccabi Haifa); Pienaar (Everton), Modise (Orlando Pirates), Dikagchoi (Fulham), Tshabalala (Kaizer Chiefs); McCarthy (West Ham United), Mphela (Mamelodi Sundowns).
The Road to South Africa: Qualified as hosts
World Ranking: 90th