Sunday, 16 May 2010

Aaron Mokoena relishes his role as the battling underdog as the World Cup looms large

SOUTH AFRICA captain Aaron Mokoena left Wembley on Saturday night beaten but not broken, wearing a t-shirt saying “Thank you Pompey”. Fans on the south coast of England may consider reciprocating with tops emblazoned with “Thank you Mbazo”. Earlier he sported the Nike effort you can see on the right.

Having seen his penniless Portsmouth come within a missed penalty of shocking Chelsea’s millionaires, the 29-year-old "Axe" now prepares to engineer an even bigger upset. Helping his baffling Bafana Bafana – 80th in the latest FIFA rankings – emerge from Group A against Mexico, Uruguay and France.

As he contemplates a move to a club which can actually afford to pay their players,Mokoena is already turning his mind to the big kick-off at Soccer City on June 11. After a 1-0 defeat which saw penalties missed at both ends, Mokoena said: “There are a lot of similarities between that FA Cup final and the World Cup for me. People never thought Portsmouth would even get to the final because of all the things happening at the club.

"We all know that a few players will leave because of the club's problems and the fact that a lot of players are on loan. Next season will be totally different and at the moment I don't know what the future holds.

"Most people wrote us off, but we showed the character that we have in our dressing room. The pride will remain. We feel so proud because we gave it our all."

And of course, giving his all is what Mokoena does so well. An early block denied Nicolas Anelka a clear shot on goal, a double block on the half-hour saved the courageous goalkeeper David James and generally the former Blackburn defender enhanced his market value – though he committed the “foul” which provided the free-kick for Didier "The Diver" Drogba’s only goal.

But the boy from Boipatong takes it all on the chin. Looking ahead to his next monumental task – the odds on South Africa progressing from Group A area about the same as you could get on Pompey winning on Saturday – he said: "I think it's good to be underdogs. I said before the Confederations Cup (last summer) not to write SouthAfrica off and we surprised people then.

"I'm going to say exactly the same thing again. Don't write off Bafana Bafana before we've even kicked a ball. The important thing is that there is nothing impossible in life. Do you want to take the easy way out or do you really want to fight it through?"

Mokoena will arrive in South Africa too late to join Bafana Bafana for today's friendly against Bryan Robson's Thailand in Nelspruit. But his presence in the backline, judging from this FA Cup performances, can only improve South Africa's chances.

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