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South Africa target Mexico

By Piers Edwards
BBC Sport, Johannesburg

Siphiwe Tshabalala
Siphiwe Tshabalala says Mexico match is the key to the second round

South Africa international Siphiwe Tshabalala says beating Mexico in their opening clash is the key to reaching the second round of the World Cup.

Hosts Bafana Bafana kick off the 2010 finals on 11 June against the Central Americans in Johannesburg's 90,000 seater Soccer City stadium.

The World Cup hosts then meet two-time winners Uruguay in Pretoria five days later, before finishing their group against 1998 champions France, on 22 June.

"The opening game will be exciting but important because we'll greatly enhance our qualifying chances if we win," the Kaizer Chiefs star told BBC Sport.

"Mexico is the key game in the group, as the first game is always important, and if we can win we'll get momentum for the remaining two matches."

The view is shared by former Bafana Bafana star Mark Williams, who scored both goals as South Africa won the 1996 Nations Cup on home soil - beating Tunisia 2-0 in the final.

"It's not going to be easy but the Mexico clash will be the turning point because we'll have one foot in the second round if we win," he told BBC Sport.

"Playing at home will help us a great deal, as it's a great of way of giving the players confidence, and when you put on the jersey you just want to do it for the nation."

South Africa's Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has already likened qualifying from Group A to scaling Mount Everest, while constantly stressing the need for hard work.

It will be nice sharing a pitch with players like Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Patrice Evra but it will be even nicer if we beat them to make the next round

Reneilwe Letsholonyane

And with some three months to prepare his local players in the run-up to the finals, Bafana Bafana should be ready like never before.

One man who will be doing extra homework is goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who has only recently returned from injury.

That is because the final group games will pitch the South African defence against some of the world's top strikers, like Uruguay's Diego Forlan and French duo Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka.

"I've been following Forlan in La Liga for a while now and it's not going to be easy for me or whichever goalkeeper may play," says Khune, who faces competition from Moeneeb Josephs and Rowen Fernandez for his place.

"He likes taking shots from outside the box and that's what I like most as a keeper, when players take shots from afar. He's a good striker but it's our job to stop him."

And though the World Cup offers South Africa's local players a rare chance to compete against some of the world's best, victory is the sole objective.

"It will be nice sharing a pitch with players like Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Patrice Evra but it will be even nicer if we beat them to make the next round," says Chiefs midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane.

And for most of the squad, last week's World Cup draw - described as fair by most Bafana Bafana players - truly brought home the fact that football's greatest event is coming to town.

"After the draw in Cape Town, that's when I saw that the World Cup really is coming," dreadlocked winger Tshabalala explained.

"Everything is so real now, there's very little time left and we have to start preparing."

South Africa's recent form has been disappointing, with just one goal in seven games and one win from their last 11 matches.

Having never reached the second round at a World Cup, Bafana Bafana will hope to do so when hosting Africa's first finals.

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see also
Bafana fans wait for 'miracle'
03 Dec 09 |  African
SA goal drought continues
18 Nov 09 |  African

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