What better way to begin our journey to the 2010 FIFA World Cup than with the host team, the team with the biggest home-field advantage against the other 31 nations?
Country: South Africa
Team: Bafana Bafana
Colors: Yellow and green
Being the host country confers at least two advantages: one, no matter what stadium you play in, you’re always the home team; and two, you automatically qualify for the first stage of 32 teams. The automatic bid may be the only reason South Africa is in the tournament—FIFA ranked them dead last and predicted they’d be the first team to get knocked out.
That dismal outlook won’t stop South Africa from having some fun as they attempt to shake things up and make their way out of the group. The team has talent, and if they start hitting a positive stride, anything can happen. Remember when South Korea co-hosted the tournament in ’02? The experts thought they’d never even make it out of the group stage. So what happened? They took down powerhouses Italy and Spain on their way to the semi-finals.
Key Players: Steven Pienaar, Benni McCarthy and Aaron Mokoena. Pienaar is having a dominating season with club team Everton, helping to rebuild that team with key crosses leading to goals. The combo of Pienaar and McCarthy on the left side can be dangerous, and Benni is Bafana Bafana’s all-time leading goal scorer. As long as captain Mokoena and the rest of the defense give a solid effort in the back four, all bets are off in a 90-minute match, especially with the home crowd rooting for them.
Key Matchup: South Africa vs. Mexico
It’s the opening match of the tournament, and the whole world will be watching. This match could set the tempo that South Africa will need to make it out of the group stage. Win or tie, picking up points in the first game is an absolute must before they move on to the French—a team looking to regain their honor and prestige.
Prediction: Despite being the home team, South Africa is unlikely to advance. They are placed in a strong group, having to face a tough Mexican team on opening day, then the 2006 World Cup runner up. However, the nation of South Africa has already won in a way—they’re expected to rake in 7.4 billion dollars, which will undoubtedly pump up the country’s struggling economy.
Related link: World Cup 2010 Countdown