Print and Go Back ESPN.com: World Cup 2010 [Print without images]

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Team preview: South Africa

By Brent Latham
Special to ESPN.com

The pressure of history will weigh heavily on Bafana Bafana as they fight to avoid becoming the first home team to miss out on the second round at a World Cup. It will be an uphill battle, with a squad of mostly local stars facing a difficult group, but the South Africans may have the tools to scrape through with a little luck.

As host, South Africa didn't have to qualify for the World Cup, but it did play the first round of the African qualification tournament in search of a place in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, crashing out well ahead of schedule. A slew of friendlies against third-tier squads and participation in the 2009 Confederations Cup, all with mixed results, are all that's left through which to judge the team's form, which has been mediocre at best.

On the positive side, recently installed coach Carlos Parreira has added his influential Europe-based players to the domestic group with which he has been working this year, improving hopes of a surprise in front of the home crowd.

Coach: Carlos Parreira

Five-time World Cup veteran coach Parreira knows exactly what awaits Bafana Bafana in June. He has guided a range of teams, from Kuwait to Brazil, through World Cups, winning it all at USA '94. Against each opponent, the veteran skipper can be expected to put a team on the field with the optimal chance of performing.

Style of play

With South Africa, Parreira seems to prefer a 4-4-1-1 formation, differentiating between an out-and-out striker and a supporting forward in the hole closer to midfield as well as emphasizing wing play. But South Africa lacks depth and quality wide in midfield and may be hard-pressed to fill those roles. It does have some solid offensive weapons in the center and can surprise with the speed and creativity of its attack, particularly with Steven Pienaar pulling the strings. There has been some evidence in recent friendlies that Parreira may opt to go with his strength by packing the midfield and trying to congest the attacking third for Bafana Bafana's group opponents.

Players to watch

1. Siphiwe Tshabalala. Some at home consider the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder the best player South Africa has -- quite a complement considering the presence of Pienaar. The man whose name easily could be turned into a catchy tune will have South Africans singing his praises if he can live up to those expectations.

2. Steven Pienaar. Unquestionably South Africa's midfield maestro, Pienaar is a world-class creator and also can score in several different ways. Much of Bafana Bafana's attack will filter through the Everton man, and as he goes, so will go South Africa's chances.

3. Katlego Mphela. Another locally based player, Mphela looks to have beaten out Holland-based Bernard Parker for the withdrawn striker role.

Who's hot

Reneilwe Letsholonyane. The Kaizer Chiefs' midfield destroyer has been solid in extended action for Bafana Bafana this year and may have won a starting role ahead of two Europe-based players -- Fulham's Kagisho Dikgacoi and Rubin Kazan's MacBeth Sibaya.

Who's not

Matthew Booth. The towering defender caused a sensation at last year's Confederations Cup but was lucky to make the team for 2010 after dropping substantially in the pecking order following Parreira's insertion as coach.

Three key questions

1. Which relatively unknown South Africa-based players will shine? South African has a number of home-based players who look capable of stepping up their games at the World Cup. The locals are making it hard for some Europe-based team members to find spots in the starting lineup. If players like Mphela, Tshabalala and Teko Modise can perform, their days in the South African league also will be numbered.

2. Can the wing midfielders stay wide? To get his best 11 on the field, Parreira likely will use players on the wings who are more accustomed to a central role. In friendlies, his wide mids have tended to wander toward the middle of the pitch, which could leave South Africa exposed to the wing play of group opponents Mexico and France.

3. How much will home-field advantage be worth? On paper, South Africa would find it very difficult to get out of this group. It has the raw materials to at least put up a fight, but it will need that extra push from somewhere -- the home crowd or perhaps some "fortuitous" refereeing -- to get to the second round.

Projected lineup

G Itumeleng Khune, Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa)
D Siboniso Gaxa, Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)
D Bongani Khumalo, SuperSport United (South Africa)
D Aaron Mokoena, Portsmouth (England)
D Tsepo Masilela, Maccabi Haifa (Israel)
M Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa)
M Kagisho Dikgacoi, Fulham (England)
M Siphiwe Tshabalala, Kaizer Chiefs (South Africa)
M Teko Modise, Orlando Pirates (South Africa)
M/F Steven Pienaar, Everton (England)
F Katlego Mphela, Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)