Thursday, 29 April 2010

Victory over Jamaica, but do South Africa have a host of a chance?

WHISPER it, but the World Cup hosts may not be the pushover everybody's expecting in South Africa this summer. Last night, on neutral soil in Germany, the South Africans beat Jamaica 2-0 at Offenbach's Bieberer Berg Stadion—a much-needed triumph over a side 11 places above them in the latest FIFA rankings.

The Rainbow Nation's favourite whipping boys Bafana Bafana (Zulu for "The Boys, The Boys") went ahead after 52 minutes through a goal by the veteran striker Mohlomolleng Surprise Moriri, 30, and the even more experienced Siyabonga Nomvete, 32, added the second goal five minutes from the end.

Neither can expect to start South Africa's first World Cup clash against Mexico at Soccer City on June 11 if controversial West Ham striker Benni McCarthy, also 32 (above), gets the call from his homeland after weeks of speculation.

But last night's performance—without their overseas stars—was certainly an improvement from the lowest-ranked side ever to host a World Cup. Though they have qualified for two World Cups since resuming their FIFA membership in 1992 and won the African Nations Cup in 1995, the South Africans have declined rapidly in recent years.

Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter was expressing his fears earlier in the week after a drab 0-0 draw against fellow qualifiers North Korea over the weekend. He said, "If South Africa go on to play like they did against North Korea they won't qualify for the knock-out stages. No goals, no going forward."

But their fourth win in 16 attempts, and two goals after a considerable drought, raised hope of qualification from Group A, which also includes formidable France and unsung Uruguay.

Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, whose side dropped from 88th to 90th in the FIFA rankings announced this week, purred: "That was much better. I enjoyed the game.

“They never gave us any time to rest throughout the match. I must say that perhaps in the last 12 matches we have played—including Paraguay—this was the most difficult and I appreciate it."

A weakened Jamaica were drafted in at the last moment when China pulled out as friendly opponents for the South Africans, who have been struggling to find worthy opposition on their pre-World Cup tour.

Parreira, who has yet to add overseas stars like Everton's Steven Pienaar, Maccabi Haifa's Tsepo Masilela, Portsmouth's FA Cup finalist Aaron Mokoena, and Fulham's Kagisho Dikgacoi to his squad, added: “My boys were ready for the challenge that was posed by Jamaica and we dealt properly with them, especially in the high balls and dead ball situations in which they are good.

“The game was very tough, but all in all I am happy with the performance of the team. It was much better than the one we put out against North Korea."

The one problem? Midfielder Teko Modise—the popular Orlando Pirates midfielder often linked with a major move to Europe—picked up a wrist injury. As he left the stadium with the limb heavily bandaged, he said, "I think I have a fracture but it still needs to be checked. It is very sore."

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