Assured Mexico will test hosts' fresh confidence

South African hopes are high ahead of today's opener but their opponents are also much improved

"Ready" has been a buzzword put around by the organisers of this World Cup, possibly with fingers crossed behind their backs. But suddenly the South African team at least look as though they are, which represents a huge step forward from the position in October when Carlos Alberto Parreira, world champion with his native Brazil in 1994, returned to replace the hapless Joel Santana, whose side had just lost eight of their previous nine games.

At that stage, and when the draw was made two months later, there seemed little chance of avoiding the humiliation of becoming the first host country not to come through the group stage. Now, however, with the experienced Parreira having rejuvenated the domestic members of his squad and integrated half a dozen players from European clubs, there is a real sense of optimism about the prospects of finishing at least second.

Deservedly defeating Denmark last weekend meant that Bafana Bafana were unbeaten in 12 matches. Yesterday Parreira made a declaration of intent by publicly naming the same side 24 hours ahead of today's opening game and telling them to go forth into the magnificent Soccer City stadium and show the world what they can do.

"It wouldn't be wise to put more pressure on them than there already is," he said. "I just want to tell them to enjoy the game. The opening game is always very difficult and intimidating with the whole world watching."

Parreira has built up team spirit and cohesion during training camps in three different countries, initially only with players from the domestic league. Now his captain Aaron Mokoena, who was a defiant force for Portsmouth in the FA Cup final, has been drafted back into the centre of defence, where he has appeared 101 times. Everton's Steven Pienaar carries many of the hopes in his role just behind the main striker Katlego Mphela, who has been knocking in goals regularly. Mokoena, asked what Parreira had brought to the party, said: "The experience of the coach is very vital.He's been there before [five times] and done it. We had to get the confidence back into the team and win the support of South Africans."

For his part the coach says: "We've given them identity. I believe in technique and skills. It takes time to develop but we encourage that, like we do in Brazil. The players have improved a lot in that respect and there won't be a fitter team than ours in the competition."

It is perhaps unfortunate for his team to be facing Mexico first, a team also just coming on to their game. Unfortunate to lose 3-1 at Wembley recently after taking the lead, they demonstrated their potential in beating Italy last weekend more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline suggested. In a front three familiar to Premier League followers, Giovani dos Santos, once of Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal's Carlos Vela provide youthful vigour on either side of the more experienced Guillermo Franco, who improved after a slow start at West Ham United.

Mexico are expected to deploy Barcelona's versatile Rafael Marquez as a holding player to mark Pienaar in a duel which could heavily influence the outcome. They have an abundance of clever technical players who, as they showed against both England and Italy, can keep the ball for long periods.

As with South Africa, recalling a former coach had the desired effect when Sven Goran Eriksson, always an unlikely fit, was replaced by Javier Aguirre, who had led El Tri to their traditional second round place in 2002. Speaking in the bowels of Soccer City yesterday, he was damning about what he inherited from the laid-back Swede: "I don't know what Mr Eriksson did. What I know is my team were really downhearted. They were feeling down, losing their energy. There was a lot of quarrelling and a lack of order in the ranks. I spoke to them and laid the foundations. Nobody thought we could qualify but we did."

Aguirre, like Parreira, also has a formidable back catalogue from World Cups, with the added advantage in his case of having played in one, in his home country in 1986. He claimed to understand the pressures of being a host nation, without mentioning that his tournament ended with a red card in extra-time against West Germany after his country had for once advanced as far as the quarter-final.

He believes they can do so again: "We feel very confident, we've spent 60 days together and are highly motivated. We're where we wanted to be and I see hunger in their eyes. It's my fourth World Cup and I've had all sorts of experiences. I know what it is to be the host nation and I think it will be a beautiful party."

The watching world hopes these two teams can get it going in the right spirit.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past