Host nation South Africa will face Mexico in the opening game of the 2010 World Cup, and then play two former world champions – France and Uruguay.
Still, South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, was confident the hosts would advance out of the tough group.
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“We will make it,” he said, adding that the key will be the June 11 opener against the 15th-ranked Mexico. “We need to have a win to have that confidence.”
South Africa is ranked 86th in the world compared by will be able to count on strong support in the 87,000-capacity Soccer City stadium.
“I don’t envy the Mexicans who are going to be subject to 90,000 vuvuzelas,” said South Africa defender Matthew Booth, referring to the loud horns that Bafana Bafana fans love to use.
A huge gasp went up from the 3,000-strong crowd when Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron announced that Mexico would play the opener.
Worse was to come for South Africa when France, ranked seventh in the world, was also put in group A. The French will play the often decisive last group game against the hosts.
“Sometimes no comments speak louder than words,” said Theron, the presenter.
South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said inevitably was going to be difficult. “All the groups are tough,” he said. “We have two world champions in our group, and that will give us even more motivation to prepare. Home field advantage only helps if you are well prepared.”
South Africa has only won one game in its history against the three opponents combined, a 2-1 victory over Mexico four years ago.
France has never lost against South Africa and beat it in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup, which it hosted and won.
“We will be proud to face the host nation,” France coach Raymond Domenech said. “We wanted this to fully appreciate the atmosphere of African football.”
Some 30,000 at the Fan Fest in central Cape Town were hoping the country could rise above the mediocre play of the last few years.
“Anything can happen. That is why it is the World Cup,” said 42-year-old Ranks Lehloenya.
Yoliswa Sotsopo, 34, was even more positive.
“It is not a tough one, we are comfortable,” Sotsopo said.
Some of the opening matches have set World Cups off on the right track.
Four years ago, Germany was considered dour and short on attacking flair. After its 4-2 win over Costa Rica, the host rode its momentum into the semifinals and finally finished third.
In 2002, the opener was one of the biggest shockers when outgoing world champion France was supposed to have an easy ride against Senegal. Bouba Diop decided otherwise, leading the Africans to a perfect start with a 1-0 win. France never recovered and was eliminated in the group stage.
It was not the only time Africa made such a splash in the first game. In Milan in 1990, African football truly came onto the international scene when Francois Omam-Biyik scored for Cameroon to beat defending champion Argentina. Diego Maradona and Argentina did recover from the shock and lost the cup only in the last minutes of the final against Germany.
Argentina had a similar start in 1982 in Spain, when it also was the defending champion. That time, Erwin Vandenbergh scored the only goal for an upset Belgian win.
There have also been some awful duds to kick off the World Cup, as three scoreless openers from 1966 to 1974 illustrate.
As host, South Africa was already sure to play the opener at Soccer City.