Long odds don't worry South Africans

South African President Jacob Zuma expects nothing less than victory at the World Cup....

South African President Jacob Zuma expects nothing less than victory at the World Cup. (REUTERS/Radu Sigheti)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:05 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG – They are the 83rd-ranked team in the world.

Jacob Zuma doesn’t care.

Their opponents in Group A – Mexico, Uruguay and France – make their chances of escaping the preliminary round, at least on paper, very remote indeed.

Jacob Zuma doesn’t care.

Bookmakers list their odds of winning the world’s most-watched sporting event at 150/1.

Jacob Zuma doesn’t care.

In the mind of the South African president, the home team should aim to win it all.

And, earlier this week, he told the players exactly that.

“The Cup has landed in Africa for the first time and it landed in South Africa,” Zuma advised the team. “It should stay here.”

Millions of vuvuzela-blowing South Africans couldn’t agree more.

In the history of the World Cup, no host team has ever failed to emerge out of the first round. If Zuma has his way, that record shall remain unblemished this time around, too.

Like the beloved country he represents, Zuma has embraced Bafana Bafana with open arms, posing for photos with the players while scoffing at the critics who insist their hopes for a title are futile.

Of course, there might be some method to his madness.

After disposing of Denmark in their final tuneup game, South Africa carried a 12-game winning streak into the highly-anticipated World Cup opener against Mexico Friday at the beautiful Soccer City stadium.

And if ever a team enjoyed a home-field advantage at a World Cup, it should be Bafana Bafana.

Call it the Power of the Vuvuzelas.

From the moment media and fans alike stepped off their planes this week at Johannesburg’s OR Tumbo airport, they were met by the wails of the vuvuzela horns, which make the type of sound that can be quite irritating.

If you let it.

That was the case a year ago during the Confederation Cup tournament here in South Africa. Once his team had captured the title, Brazilian coach Dunga whined to FIFA that the vuvuzelas distracted his players and should be banned, a silly plea that thankfully fell on the deaf ears of president Sepp Blatter.

The vuvuzelas, FIFA determined, would stay.

Besides, no one feels sorry for Dunga, given he arguably has the most talented roster in the tournament. Why he is already is trying to make excuses, who knows?

The Mexicans are all too familiar with playing in front of rowdy throngs. Their home pitch, after all, is the cavernous 105,000-seat Azteca Stadium, which has the fifth-largest capacity of any soccer venue in the world.

Once again, Jacob Zuma doesn’t care.

Have we pounded that point into you yet?

“I’ve been saying Bafana Bafana would surprise people and I think we are ready,” Zuma informed the players. “We are ready to go to war and conquer.

“I’ve come here to meet you on behalf of the country to say to you good luck, we are behind you. No South African has any doubt and we will support you to the end. We are ready for the world and ready to surprise them.

“Keep in mind that everybody is with you. They can’t all speak to you but I can on their behalf.”

The South African hierarchy has done its homework, thoroughly scouting its Group A foes during the various tune-up games the past few weeks. While the Mexicans are ranked 17th overall according to FIFA, Bafana Bafana do not seemed intimidated.

Nor are the other African nations.

Whether it be South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast or any other African-based team, the locals here are becoming more and more optimistic that one of these sides can ride the wave of support to, perhaps, shock the world and clutch the World Cup trophy at the conclusion of the title game at Soccer City on July 11.

Now that is something Jacob Zuma does care about.

Especially if it involves Bafana Bafana.

MEXICO vs. SOUTH AFRICA

Friday, 10 a.m. (EST)

Soccer City, Johannesburg

ALL-TIME SERIES: Mexico has two wins, one loss.

FREE KICKS: The Mexicans enter a hornet’s nest, with the entire country of South Africa going nuts over their beloved Bafana Bafana. But do they have the horses to seal the deal?

OF NOTE: Will the Mexicans require ear plugs to keep all those vuvuzela horns from making them bonkers?

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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