Bafana Bafana head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira put on a brave face but could not hide the fact that South Africa will have their backs to the wall when they kick-off the Soccer World Cup finals against Mexico at the new Soccer City in Johannesburg on June 11.
The draw made on Friday night at the International Convention Centre by Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke and South African-born Hollywood movie star Charlize Theron, did Bafana no favours.
Also in Bafana’s Group A are former world champions France, who won the cup in 1998 on home soil and who defeated Bafana in the opening match of that tournament 3-0 in Marseille, as well as 1934 winners Uruguay.
Parreira, who won the World Cup with his native Brazil in the tournament staged in the United States in 1994, said that Group A was the most balanced group.
”It is the only World Cup we cannot say which is the Group of Death. There is no easy group. It is the most well balanced World Cup in history. We are the only group that has two former world champions in France and Uruguay.”
Parreira, who rejoined Bafana in November after his countryman Joel Santana quit after a disappointing 17-month reign, stated:
”This is the hand we have been dealt and what we will have to face. We have to prepare ourselves in a possible way to make sure we go past the first round. I do not look at the first game. If we get a good result against Mexico and lose against Uruguay and France, it will not matter.
”We have to look at the group as a whole and not focus on the first game. The bottom line is that we face three difficult games and face them in a positive way.”
Bafana have played Mexico three times. They lost 0-4 in 1992 in Los Angeles in a friendly, were beaten in Houston 2-4 in the United States Cup, and then defeated the Mexicans 2-1 in the Gold Cup in 2005.
Mexican coach Javier Aguirre was quietly confident after the draw. But he said it would be tough playing the host nation in the opening game of the tournament.
Bafana are the lowest-ranked team to host the World Cup at 86th in the Fifa rankings, but that is not what concerns the Mexican coach.
”Playing against South Africa will be difficult because they have home ground advantage. They know the weather, the pitches they will be playing on and most importantly, they will have their fans
with their vuvuzelas.”
Another big factor in Bafana’s favour was Parreira, according to the Mexican coach.
”Parreira coached Brazil to the World Cup in 1994 and is a highly respected coach. Also playing against two former world champions is not going to be easy. But we will be ready,” said Aguirre.
Bafana play France in their final group match in Bloemfontein on June 22.
French coach Raymond Domenech said history meant nothing. ”This is not 1998. It will be a totally different game and an open one.”
The French coach refused to comment on the infamous ”Hand of Frog” in which French star-striker Thierry Henry scored the winner after extra time against Ireland in last month’s play-off.
France won 2-1 after extra time, which sparked cries of cheating from the Irish fans and players.
Bafana meet Uruguay at Loftus on June 16. Said Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez: ”We respect all three teams in the group. Mexico had bad results in the qualifiers. But they recovered very well. No one can predict how this group will turn out. June is the moment of truth.”
Bafana assistant coach Pitso Mosimane said he was not scared of the teams in the group, but added that Mexico posed a big challenge.
”Mexico have six players playing in top league in Europe. They have come good under their new coach after a bad start to their qualifying campaign.
”France are a world-class side, we all know that. Their players are household names. Uruguay have some useful players such as their striker Diego Forlan who plays in Spain, and will not be an easy
side to beat.”
”We know that no matter which teams we were paired against that the World Cup draw was not going to be easy. At this level there are no easy teams. We will rise to the occasion like we did in the Confederations Cup where we took on Spain and Brazil and came close to beating them. I believe the World Cup will be like the Confederations Cup and that four points could be enough to see us through to the knockout stage,” said Mosimane. — Sapa