JOHANNESBURG // In an era when football management is synonymous with smoke, mirrors and mind-games, Carlos Alberto Parreira, the venerated Brazilian coach who has transformed the hopes of the South African national team in little more than eight months, offers a refreshing alternative. Parreira, speaking to a packed-out media room in the final press conference before the host side kick-off the 2010 World Cup this afternoon against Mexico at Soccer City in Soweto, readily revealed his starting line-up.
Were it not for Parreira's pedigree, it could be inferred as foolhardy for the 67-year-old to announce his team 24 hours before the match starts. But having previously coached four different countries - including the UAE - at five World Cups, such is the coach's experience that his premature disclosure instead portrays confidence, assurance and peace of mind. "The players know who will start the match; it will be the same line-up that played against Denmark," said Parreira, who appeared totally at ease, answering questions from the world's media in both English and Portuguese.
"We've been through it all tactically; it will be the same 11 players." The side who started the 1-0 friendly victory over Denmark last Saturday will line-up and make history by beginning Bafana Bafana's campaign in the first World Cup ever to be held in Africa. The entire country is abuzz with excitement and awash with national flags; on Wednesday more than a quarter of a million spectators turned out in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton to wish Parreira's team good luck ahead of today's match.
"I was on the open-top bus," said the coach. "We could feel the happiness and joy of the people. The team know they have to deliver, but they are well-prepared and I don't think there will be a team fitter and in better physical condition than this one. "The opening game of a World Cup is always difficult. There is a lot of pressure whichever team you play, but we will do our best and approach the game with a positive attitude."
Since returning to the South African helm in October after resigning because of family problems, Parreira has turned around the fortunes of a country that looked set for embarrassment on home soil. He inherited a squad that had lost eight of their previous nine matches, yet today they meet Javier Aguirre's Mexico on the back of 12 games undefeated, including recent victories over Colombia and Jamaica.
Aaron Mokoena, the Portsmouth defender and captain of South Africa, paid his respects to the Brazilian and heralded the influence the manager has had on the national side's morale. "The experience of the coach is vital. As a team, we needed confidence and needed to gather the support of Africa. Now we are talking about a Bafana Bafana that has identity and experience - the belief among the boys is certainly there," said Mokoena.
"But now it is about us; it's about what we want - we need a win very badly. The moment of truth has arrived. Until now there has been a lot of talk, now is the time to make the country proud." While Mokoena said South Africa will give their all and do everything in their power to make things as difficult as possible for the Mexicans, Aguirre is adamant his El Tri side are ready to spoil the party, insisting his players are not fazed by the prospect of facing an army of vuvuzela-blowing African fans.
"We feel privileged to play in the first match with millions of spectator watching around the world, the former Atletico Madrid manager said. "It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but my team has come here to play football, not make friends and do some sightseeing. The team that plays the best football will win, not the team with the most support." Aguirre added that he fully understands the pressure and expectations that the South Africa team is facing having himself featured as a player in the 1986 tournament in Mexico - he was sent off in the quarter-finals as the hosts were defeated by Germany on penalties. "I have played in a World Cup at home so I know exactly what it feels like. "I think it's going to be a beautiful party and we're happy to be here, but we want to play well and win the match. "Of course there is a lot of emotion playing the opening game, but once you overcome all the butterflies in the your stomach, I'm sure Mexico will play very well." @Email:email@example.com
Stephen Pienaar Undoubtedly the cog around which the hosts revolve, the Everton midfielder, pictured left, is a creative and tireless driving force at the heart of Carlos Alberto Parreira's side. Katlego Mphela The 25-year-old striker has netted 15 times in 31 games for his country and will lead the attack today. Quick and athletic, he scored twice against Spain at last year's Confederation Cup. Siphiwe Tshabalala The diminutive midfielder is crucial to the host country's hopes. He has pace, a powerful shot and can create scoring opportunities through his trickery.
France 1998 - Brazil 2 Scotland 1 The last time Scotland played in the World Cup, they put up a brave fight against the holders and the likes of Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Only a Tom Boyd own-goal gave Brazil the win. They made the final; Scotland went out at the group stage. South Korea/Japan 2002 - France 0 Senegal 1 This was the last time the holders played the first match, instead of the hosts. France suffered an almighty fall from grace. Papa Bouba Diop scored the only goal for Senegal and France went out in the group stage, failing to score. Germany 2006 - Germany 4 Costa Rica 2 Costa Rica were never going to win the tournament, but the Central Americans often entertain. Six goals in the opener kicked off the host's run to the semi-final. Costa Rica went straight out, scoring three and conceding nine.