South Africa

Population: 43,500,000
Area: 1,219,912 km²
Capital: Pretoria
Language: English, Afrikaans

South Africa qualified undefeated from the CAF group 5. Closest rival Zimbabwe was four points behind.
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Participations: (1) 1998
Best placing: First round 1998
Topscorer: Shaun Bartlett, 2 goals

Jun 02 - RSA v PAR  in Busan
Jun 08 - RSA v SLO  in Daegu
Jun 12 - RSA v SPA  in Daejeon

Shaun Bartlett scored twice for South Africa in the last World Cup and will probably be the dangerman yet again alongside Benny McCarthy.

WCA VERDICT: First round exit
South Africa haven't showed anything so far to indicate something else than bottom position in this group. They might get a point from one of these teams, but not enough to put two teams behind them.


by Matthew Monk

    Of all the African contenders for the 2002 World Cup the strongest and most sustained challenge should come from the continents most southern outpost - the Republic of South Africa. In this land still hideously scarred by centuries of institutionalised racism and Apartheid there exists (unlike anywhere else in Africa) modern, developed infrastructure, western style banking and commercial operations and a relatively stable social and political structure. More than this, football is the real people's game in a sport mad country that is home to some of the best rugby and cricket players in the world.

    So why then are South Africa going to be eliminated from the first group stage of the World Cup, with barely a hope of scoring goals, let alone challenging for qualification?

    South Africa have the least chance of making the Second Round of any of the African qualifiers, even though they are in a comparatively weak group (according at least to FIFA's bizarre ratings system). For South Africa to progress they will have to eliminate two from Slovenia, Paraguay and Spain - a not impossible task, but one that is highly improbable. Pointers to this impending failure were readily available for all to see this January in Mali, when South Africa failed to qualify for the semi-finals of a poor African Nations Cup. Usually to be eliminated by the host nation at any major championship would not be seen as a big upset. But in a fractured continent such as Africa where the nations are not competing from the same starting point, when a regional superpower such as South Africa loses to a tiny country (in comparison) like Mali questions have to be asked as to why. Consider for a moment that as a comparison the equivalent result in the European Championship would be Italy losing to Wales or Belarus, and the deep mire South Africa is in becomes clear.

    This is not to argue that South Africa have a divine right to win the African Nations Cup because they have larger financial resources than Mali or Senegal, or because they have the best stadia and transport infrastructure on the continent. Rather, South Africa are competing in Africa from such a high starting position that they should be beating smaller teams regularly. And by now (ten years after their return from international isolation) South Africa should be competing competitively on the world stage in the same way Nigeria or Cameroon do. Anything else for the only nation in Africa able to even think of itself as becoming more developed is failure, and as such does not bode well for the 2010 World Cup when it will surely host the tournament.

    A major problem South Africa has is that most of its' big stars (Pierre Issa, Eric Tinkler, Shaun Bartlett) are not playing for even second tier European teams and have no real experience of playing even in the UEFA Cup, let alone of the Champions League. This is something that cannot be underplayed. Far from saddling the top European players with too much football, the Champions League is exposing the world's best footballers to each other on a regular basis, and is allowing innovative coaching systems to be created seemingly all the time. Look at how England, France and Spain can now fill out their teams with 20 to 25 year old players and still expect to come close to winning the World Cup, something unthinkable even ten years ago. Players like Gaizka Mendieta, Raul, Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera, David Beckham and Michael Owen have developed into world class players three or four years before their counterparts in the 1970s and 1980s did simply because of their exposure to international quality football week in, week out.

    And no South African player is exposed to anything like this high level of competition, so is not advancing at the same rate. Even the likes of Quinton Fortune (of Manchester United) who is eligible to play in the Champions League is lucky to get a game against Lille or Nantes and is not even considered when big games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Bayern Munchen or Juventus come around.

    South Africa is instead having to draw the majority of its squad from struggling English league teams, as well as from its' own league system - and quite simply these players are not good enough. Coach Carlos Queiroz has little chance to find new talent this close to the finals and instead may go back to old stagers like Phil Masinga and Mark Fish - that is of course if Queiroz himself is still in charge in June.

    All in all, South Africa only have four truly talented players that could be considered a threat to Spain, Paraguay or Slovenia. In goal, Hans Vonk is a big, competent performer for Heerenveen in Holland, and he has been the subject of repeated interest from several Serie A clubs. But it is in attack that South Africa hopes to offer some resistance in Korea. Captain Shaun Bartlett can be an effective attacker for Charlton in England. In qualifying he proved South Africa's main weapon and finished up with four goals. More than this (as he has proved in England) he is capable of scoring amazing individual goals. Nonetheless, it is to Sibusiso Zuma of Udinese and Benni McCarthy of Celta Vigo that most South Africans will look - both players are fast and have the necessary ball skills to threaten opposing defenders.

    These players proved more than enough to see South Africa through a weak group containing Zimbabwe, Malawi, Burkina Faso and Guinea. In fact South Africa were easily the best team, dropping only two points - and that was away in Ouagadougou against Burkina.

    But will the challenge of playing in the company of Raul, Mendieta, Zahovic and Chilavert prove too much for South Africa as it did when they met Zidane and friends in 1998? Unfortunately for the millions of Bafana-Bafana fans, I think that it very much will be.


by Jan Alsos

    South Africa made their World Cup debut four years ago and came away with two draws against Saudi Arabia and Denmark and a loss to eventual winners and hosts France.



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