World Cup Preview: South Africa vs. Mexico

Bafana Bafana open up their World Cup against a tough El Tri


What: South Africa vs. Mexico, Group A, match 1

When: Friday, 10 am ET

Where: Soccer City, Johannesburg

TV: ESPN, Univision

This is it—the start, the kick off, the beginning of the story for the 2010 World Cup. Hopefully, it’s not also the beginning of the end for hosts South Africa. Bafana Bafana have a 12-game unbeaten streak in pre-World Cup matches and the support of a nation—a whole continent, even. But the question remains if they have the talent to satisfy all that support. In Mexico, they face an opening opponent who has the ability and the ambition to rain on the South African parade right from the start.

South Africa

Captain Aaron Mokoena perhaps stated it best when he said, “We need [this] game badly and we will make it difficult for Mexico.”

WATCH: SOUTH AFRICA TEAM PROFILE

“Making things difficult” might end up being their best tactic against the CONCACAF powershouse. The work rate of midfielders Steven Pienaar and Teko Modise will have to upset the established Mexican midfield, while Mokoena’s leadership in the back will be tasked with countering El Tri’s dynamic attacking force. Can he keep the back four organized enough to handle the likes of Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela?

Mexico

After nearly two months of training, El Tri enter this tournament with their usual high expectations—and the usual questions about how to actually match those expectations. Longtime midfield generals Rafael Marquez and Gerardo Torrado—both World Cup veterans—are certainly capable of dealing with and taking advantage of the early high-energy push South Africa will most likely attempt.

WATCH: MEXICO TEAM PROFILE

But the key is the attack, which has the potential to explode at any moment when the young colts Dos Santos and Vela start running at the defense. And if all else fails, there is always ageless wonder Cuauhtemoc Blanco, formerly of the Chicago Fire, who seems to have a knack for inspiring the side late in games.

Key Players

South Africa: Steven Pienaar. Relentless and driving, the corn-rowed midfielder is the heart and soul of Bafana Bafana. It will be his role both to create chances for the strikers and to stop Mexico in the midfield. A tall order.

Mexico: Carlos Vela. The Arsenal youngster appears ready for a breakout. It’s about time for the 21-year-old to fulfill the potential he showed when leading Mexico to the 2005 U-17 world championship.

Final Analysis

International goodwill and the vuvuzela-blowing crowd at Soccer City will help South Africa, but the lack of top-tier talent could be too much to overcome against a unified Mexican side.