By RON FANFAIR
Defeating Mexico in their opening match is crucial to reaching the second round of next year’s soccer World Cup,” says South African international, Siphiwe Tshabalala.
Host country South Africa kicks off the 2010 World Cup against Mexico in Johannesburg’s 90,000 seat Soccer City stadium on June 11.
“The opening game will be exciting but important because we will greatly enhance our qualifying chances if we win,” said Tshabalala. “Mexico is the key game in the group as the first match is always important and, if we can win, we will get momentum for the remaining two matches.”
Former South African star, Mark Williams, who scored both goals in his country’s 2-0 win over Tunisia in the 1996 African Nations Cup final, agreed.
“It’s not going to be easy, but the Mexico clash will be the turning point because we will have one foot in the second round if we win,” he said. “Playing at home will help us a great deal as it is a great way of giving the players confidence, and when you put on the jersey, you just want to do it for the nation.”
South Africa meets two-time winners Uruguay in Pretoria and France in the first round.
South Africa’s Brazilian coach, Carlos Parreira, has already likened qualifying from Group “A” to scaling Mount Everest, while constantly stressing the need for hard work. The republic has never reached the second round at a World Cup and its form leading up to next year’s tournament has been disappointing.
The South Africans have scored just one goal in seven matches and posted one win in their last 11 contests.
Meanwhile, Eritrea’s national team failed to return home after a tournament in Kenya last weekend.
The team plane landed back home with just the coach and an official after the country was knocked out of the competition for East and Central African nations.
Sources say this is the third time a team has failed to return home after an international tournament.
“The Eritrean federation has done its best to bring a team to the competition but, unfortunately, these boys had other ideas,” said the country’s soccer federation head, Nicholas Musonye. “Definitely they are in Nairobi because we have so many Eritreans there. They must be somewhere.”