Expectations will be high when hosts South Africa launch their 2010 Soccer World Cup countdown with a friendly against neighbours Zimbabwe on Wednesday.
It is the first and only confirmed warm-up game for Bafana Bafana ahead of the June 11 tournament opener against Mexico at the revamped 90 000-capacity Soccer City stadium on the outskirts of Soweto.
South Africa did play a non-cap training match against African football pygmies Swaziland in this Indian Ocean city last Saturday, but a 6-2 win may have inflicted harm as well as good.
Bafana supporters are glass-half-full theorists, always looking on the bright side as the team they worship have slumped from 1996 African champions to one that failed to make the biennial tournament this month in Angola.
“Bring on the World Cup,” screamed some fans after Swaziland were routed, conveniently forgetting that it is Mexico and former champions Uruguay and France who await the host nation in Group A come mid-year.
Other supporters celebrated the “biggest victory” by South Africa since they returned to international football in 1992 after almost three decades in an apartheid-induced wilderness.
Unfortunately, the match will not be recognised by world governing body Fifa, so a 4-0 victory over Chad in a 2008 Nations Cup qualifier remains the high point of Bafana prowess.
But the two-week Durban camp for local footballers that concludes with the Zimbabwe fixture has been a useful exercise judged by some of the finishing against the Swazis.
Gone was the bad old South African habit of trying to walk the ball into the net, and in its place some ferocious shooting from players like Gert Schalkwyk and half-time substitute Franklin Cale.
The latter was a revelation as a wide midfielder, adopting a shoot-on-sight policy so lacking last year when South Africa managed an embarrassing return of 10 goals from 18 outings.
While predecessor Joel Santana was obsessed with negativity in midfield, favouring destroyers over creators, replacement and fellow Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is keeping his engine-room options open.
Apart, that is, from Everton wide man Steven Pienaar, who is going to play a pivotal role if South Africa are to avoid becoming the first World Cup hosts eliminated after the mini-league first phase.
Zimbabwe coach and former star defender Sunday Chidzambwa has chosen a mix of local and South Africa-based players for the latest instalment in a long-running, always competitive, rivalry.
Esrom Nyandoro from Pretoria-based Mamelodi Sundowns will lead a Warriors squad that includes tigerish midfielder Tinashe Nengomasha and consistent scorer Cuthbert Malajila.
The South African Premiership resumes next week and finishes on March 6 with Parreira taking a squad to Brazil for the rest of that month and to Germany in April. — AFP