South Africa vs Mexico on First Day of World Cup

South Africa vs Mexico on First Day of World Cup

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 ohannesburg — Hosts South Africa open their 2010 FIFA World Cup Group A campaign against a strong Mexican side at Soccer City in Johannesburg on Friday.

The doom and gloom that surrounded Bafana Bafana just a few months ago has lifted after an impressive 12-game unbeaten run, and has been replaced with an outpouring of national pride and support for Carlos Alberto Parreira's men.

Indeed, the Brazilian tactician must be thinking that his preparations for the tournament could not have gone much better since his return to the helm of the side in November last year.

Camps in Durban, Brazil and Germany were all deemed a success and he has a team playing with confidence, scoring goals and getting results.

He has no serious injury problems to worry about, with perhaps the only slight disappointment being the loss of the experienced Benni McCarthy from the final 23. That decision was all down to the coach though, and on the face of it appears to have been the right one.

He also has a settled unit and is clear in his mind about the XI players that he feels work best as a unit for Bafana.

It seems inconceivable at this stage that Parreira will deviate from the tried and trusted formation that he has used virtually ever since he started coaching in the late 1960s.

It is a very "Brazilian" style of play, with four defenders, two "holding" midfielders, three attacking midfielders and one striker - a 4-2-3-1 formation.

The full backs must push forward and join in the attack, while at the same time being mindful of their defensive duties. The holding midfielders must retain possession of the ball and help to break up the attacks of the opposition.

Itumeleng Khune will be in goal, with Siboniso Gaxa at right back, the only possible question being whether Lucas Thwala can retain his left back position ahead of Tsepo Masilela.

Captain Aaron Mokoena will be partnered by Bongani Khumalo at centre back, with two defensive midfielders in front of them, Kagisho Dikgacoi and Reneilwe Letsholonyane.

The three attacking midfielders pick themselves at this stage and will be Teko Modise on the right, Siphiwe Tshabalala on the left and Steven Pienaar through the middle.

The lone striker role is also a certainty, with Katlego Mphela having netted fve goals in his last five games.

This side is essentially the one that performed so well in the final warm-up match against Denmark, and back-up defender Matthew Booth says the players are now thinking only of the second round.

"All the players are confident of making it to the knockout stage. With the euphoria that will come after that in South Africa, anything is possible," Booth says.

He adds that the question is not one of whether South Africa will beat Mexico in the opener, but rather one of how. "Once we've beaten them the momentum will push us," he says. On Mexico's win over world champions Italy last week, he says you cannot read too much into warm-up results.

"I don't look too hard into results before the World Cup. Mexico beat a sluggish Italian team who gave them far too much space. Friday's game will be at a different level. We are professional enough and mentally tough enough to take that challenge on."

The Mexicans, for their part, are brimming with confidence and believe that they can better their best finish at previous World Cups. They made the quarterfinals on home soil in 1970 and 1986.

They have been boosted with the return to fitness of talismanic skipper Rafael Marquez. Their young star, Carlos Vela, who plays for Arsenal in the English Premiership, says the team have enjoyed their preparations.

"We're ready. We've prepared really well. It's not every day you get to play against opponents like England, the Netherlands and Italy," he told Fifa.com. "We played well against the first two but weren't able to win, which is why it meant so much to beat the reigning world champions. It was a real confidence-booster ahead of the World Cup.

"Our philosophy is to always make good use of the ball. With that in mind, I think that (coach) Javier Aguirre has called up the right kind of players: ones who are quick and comfortable on the ball. It's easier to work with a team like that and we're improving step by step. We've already beaten the world champions, why shouldn't we dream of winning the Trophy ourselves?"