Confederations Cup Preview: South Africa

Peter Pedroncelli assesses the hosts' prospects ahead of this summer's tournament...
Bafana was the continent’s finest team in the mid-nineties, winning the African Nations Cup and impressing in international friendlies against some of the world’s top teams before giving a decent account of themselves at the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. The quality of the team dipped somewhat after that period, and a failed attempt to qualify for the 2006 version of the global showpiece was enough to kick start a revival which has seen an interesting crop of youngsters carrying the flag for the 2010 hosts.

South Africa were fortunate enough to be drawn in the kinder of the two Confederations Cup groups. National team coach Joel Santana was all smiles as Bafana were paired in Group A with European champions Spain, Iraq and New Zealand when the draw for the FIFA Confederations Cup was made in Johannesburg last year.

The team and country will be under the spotlight come the Confederations Cup tournament, and the man on the street is quietly confident that a semi-final place may be on the cards. Bafana will use the competition as a warm up for the 2010 event, where they will need to perform well and carry on the tradition of host nations impressing and going past the group stages.

How they got here: 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts


South Africa did not book their place at the continental competition in the traditional way, as they are not champions of Africa, but they are the host nation of next year’s FIFA World Cup and therefore have an automatic place in the competition, as well as the Confederations Cup.   

Coach: Joel Santana

The man trying to lead South Africa to glory, or at least to pride in front of the world’s audience, is Joel Santana. Santana was brought in for close friend Carlos Alberto Parreira after his fellow Brazilian resigned last year for family reasons. His early games were somewhat of a disaster, but he seems to be getting through to the players and his methods have resulted in a few impressive wins over teams that seemed to be better than the South Africans on paper.

The Team

The South African team is made up of many European based players, while also retaining a local identity with some talented members of the squad plying their trade in the country's top clubs.  

Bafana have always been blessed with a wealth of fantastic goalkeepers, with numerous world class number ones available for the national team. Rowen Fernandez, Itumeleng Khune, Moeneeb Josephs, Brian Baloyi and Calvin Marlin are all in with a chance of representing South Africa on the world stage, with Fernandez or Khune likely to get the nod when injuries are kept at bay.  

The back line is an area where the team have traditionally struggled, but the current squad are more solid with a mix of players from the domestic league such as Siboniso Gaxa and Morgan Gould, gel well with European based defenders like Bryce Moon of Panithinaikos, captain Aaron Mokoena, Nasief Morris of Recreativo Hulva, while the Russian league’s Matthew Booth and German Bundesliga veteran Bradley Carnell compliment the rear guard with their presence. Israel based players Bevan Fransman and Tsepo Masilela also add to the squad list of defenders.

Skilful home grown stars Kagisho Dikgacoi, Siphiwe Tshabalala and Teko Modise add youth and inspiration to the midfield, while seasoned players Siyabonga Nkosi, Macbeth Sibaya and Lance Davids balance things out in the centre. The midfield has an abundance of talent ready to conduct the play at this year’s Confederations Cup. Everton playmaker Steven Pienaar and classy right winger Elrio van Heerden of Blackburn Rovers are two of the finest examples of South African success stories in Europe.

In attack the team boast the services of up and coming youngster Bernard Parker. Thembinkosi Fanteni in another striker which may prove to be a key element in the forthcoming tournaments, as his Israeli league experience could be useful. Katlego Mashego and Surprise Moriri complete the South African attacking line-up.

Rising Star: Bernard Parker

The impressive young striker began scoring for the national team from his Bafana debut and registered a brace in their 3-0 win over Malawi, while also contributing the winning goals in victories against African powerhouses Ghana and Cameroon. He was the South African top flight's leading goal scorer before deciding on a move to Red Star Belgrade in Serbia.

Confederations Cup History

1997 –
Group Stages

 
Prospects

The squad is aware that they have been drawn in the easier of the two groups, but it will by no means be a walk in the park. A tough match against European champions Spain will be their most challenging encounter, while wins against New Zealand and Iraq would allow the hosts to pass through to the semi-finals. All is possible with the advantage of home support, but the target remains a place in the last four.

Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com