South Africa's problem is not that it lacks the funds, the will, or the infrastructure to host the World Cup successfully, or to reduce the crime rate to ensure the safety of the 500,000 fans expected to watch the sporting greatest spectacle in the world. SA will prove its naysayers wrong emphatically.
However, as a soccer lover, one has to be concerned about the performance of the Bafana Bafana. SA's FIFA ranking is 61 and in Africa, SA is rated 13, behind Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Angola. The top five spots are claimed by Cameroun, Cote D"Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana, and Egypt.In recent matches, SA has drawn against Congo, beaten Zambia and Chad. Only the win against Zambia by 1-0 in the CAN 2008 preliminary can be considered encouraging as its FIFA ranking is a comparable 69.
In World Cup 1994, hosts US crashed out of the World Cup in the first round. It was the quickest exit by a host country. Other countries traditionally not considered powerhouses, hosting the World Cup, have either lived up to or surpassed expectations. Chile in 1962 finished third, South Korea in 2002 finished fourth and Japan, the co-host reached the quarterfinals. Mexico, hosts in 1970 and 1986 also entered the quarterfinals. So SA, as the host country will be under a lot of pressure to do well. The question is does SA have the coach and the players to get to a more exalted position than a first round exit and improve on their 1998 and 2002 appearances?
Is Alberto Carlos Parreira the right person to coach SA? I have my doubts. Parriera is a stodgy coach given to playing by the book. His choice of players in the Brazilian squad reveals a defensive ideology and a bias towards age and experience. In the 2006 World Cup, he completely overlooked Robinho, the one player that gave zest and zing to a moribund attack. His poster boy is Dunga, an enforcer, who famously declared the death of the Tele Santana days. Dunga was Brazil's captain when Parreira coached them to their 1994 World Cup win. The win came after a downbeat Brazil completely eschewed their attacking flair throughout the tournament.
Parriera also lacks the charisma of a Klinsmann, who took a German team that lacked self confidence, made them believe in themselves, injected creativity and an attacking flair and shocked his countrymen when he took them to the semi-finals, a position that was thought impossible by 60% of Germans before the World Cup began. He has taken the UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia to the World Cup but they failed to get past the first round. This invites the inevitable comparison to Guus Hiddink who moulded the South Korean team leading them to the 2002 World Cup semis and the 2006 Socceroos who were pipped by the Italians in the Round of 16. Hiddink famously took the Socceroos to their second World Cup when he was hired just four months before the qualifiers. He immediately turned them into a more versatile team with his defensive schemes. In this endeavour he was fortunate to be assisted by Johann Neeskens who played with the great Oranje teams of 1974 and 1978, and was steeped in the total football philosophy which changed the one dimensional Socceroos.
The fit between Parriera and SA seems to be open ended because the present team actually have players with very good defensive capabilities but they seem to lack versatility in the midfield and in attack. Both Aaron Mokoena and Naseef Morris are excellent defenders backed up by a bonafide star in Rowan Fernandes in goal, with Benni McCarthy as their only consistent striker. The midfield is anchored by the capable Steven Pienaar. Parreira has to do what he has never done before, focus on building the attack and create more options. This means developing and managing talent as strikers like McCarthy, Siyabonga Nomvethe, Shaun Bartlett, and Sibusiso Zuma are going to be well over 30 when the World Cup begins. A huge challenge, as Parriera woefully mismanaged the talent of Kaka and Robinho and over-relied on an ineffectual Ronaldinho and an out of shape Ronaldo in the last World Cup. Lebohang Mokoena is a rising talent at 20 and has already established himself as a top striker in the SA Premiership. Will he and Surprise Moriri flourish under Parriera? South Africa has to look to the CAF and friendlies for match practice, so unlike other World Cup qualifying countries, they have an abbreviated schedule. A variation of an infamous quote, " You go to the World Cup with the players you have, not the players you want." Parreira is more noted for doing far less with the talent at his disposal.
Carlos Alberto Parreira: World Cup record in 21 matches
Matches won: 9
Matches lost: 8
Matches drawn: 4
Goals for: 27
Goals against: 29
Guus Hiddink: World Cup record in 15 matches
Matches won: 8
Matches drawn: 3
Matches lost: 4
Goals for: 22
Goals against: 13
Correction: The US made it to the second round of the 1994 World Cup. H/t to Zach for drawing my attention. However, the point is that all World Cup hosts not considered top soccer playing countries have managed to get past embarrassing first round exits.