WORLD CUP HISTORY: 2010 will be South Africa’s third World Cup appearance. They debuted in 1998 as the national program rebuilt itself after decades of apartheid enforced sporting sanctions. Qualifying again in 2002, the nation enjoyed their first World Cup win with a victory over Slovenia, but it wasn’t enough to see them progress from the group phase.
QUALIFICATION: The beauty of being hosts is that you’re automatically qualified for the World Cup, but it does mean that you may not be as battle-hardended as your opponents who have all endured rigourous qualifying campaigns.
KEY PLAYER: Steven Pienaar. The vast majority of South Africa’s squad plies its trade at home, but the one man who the entire nation is looking upon to be their difference maker is based in the English Premier League. Pienaar is coming off a breakout season with Everton. He has the pace and technical ability to star on the big stage, but with question marks over his future with the Toffees – and the weight of the country on his shoulders – the pressure might be the biggest challenge he faces.
EXPECTATIONS: Poor results in 2009 cost Joel Santana his job, though he did lead South Africa to a 4th place finish at the Confederations Cup, which included a tight 1-0 loss to Brazil in the semi-finals. That good run took place at home in South Africa, which suggests that playing on home soil will be a big factor at the World Cup. You can never count out the hosts from causing an upset or two. In a group featuring France, Mexico and Uruguay, it may be a mistake to dismiss Bafana Bafana from making the knockout stage for the first time.