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South Africa World Cup fans dream of a surprise victory as the host country

South Africans are hoping to showcase their "rainbow nation" and stun the world with a successful Cup — on and off the field.

A South African fan wears a Makarapa fan hat and blows a vuvuzela during a soccer match between Thailand and South Africa in preparation for the World Cup at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa, on May 16, 2010. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

South Africa World Cup Team Statistics: Group A

Status: Knocked out round 2

World Ranking: 83

Wold Cup 2010 Results:  1-1-1

Total goals scored: 3

Total goals scored against: 5

South Africa World Cup Schedule: June 11 - Mexico (1-1 draw); June 16 - Uruguay(0-3 loss); June 22 - France (2-1 win).

South Africa World Cup Soccer 2010

For all the progress South Africa aims to put on display, the nation remains deeply segregated — and sports is no exception. While Afrikaners cherish the national rugby team, residents of the black townships embrace soccer, filling the stadium for the Soweto derby, the Kaizer Chiefs vs. the Orlando Pirates.

In a country that proclaims itself “The Rainbow Nation,” monochromatic crowds at sporting events remain an embarrassment. Last year the Confederations Cup — something of a dress rehearsal tournament — attracted the most diverse crowds in the nation’s history. That’s the face of a nation South Africa hopes to showcase in this World Cup.

Read all of GlobalPost's World Cup 2010 coverage

And while nobody really believes the soccer team can replicate the miraculous success of the World Cup rugby squad 15 years ago, a few inspired efforts should generate great excitement across color lines.

South Africa World Cup History: Banned for many years because of its apartheid government, South Africa qualified for the ’98 and ’02 World Cups, but both times failed to reach the second round.

South Africa World Cup Schedule: June 11 - Mexico; June 16 - Uruguay; June 22 - France.

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South Africa World Cup Conventional Wisdom: South Africans are dreaming that homeland magic — as it did for its rugby team in 1995 — will enable the soccer team to stun the world. But only one of 32 tournament teams ranks lower than South Africa. And despite a helpful top seed, the fix wasn’t in; South Africa drew two former number-one seeds, France and Mexico, into its group. The Cup will be deemed a success on the field if the Bafana Bafana isn’t the first host team ever to crash out in opening round.

South Africa World Cup Team Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira

Few wept when Parreira resigned this post in 2008. But after his successor flopped, fans hailed the Brazilian’s return as a rescue mission.  Parreira won the World Cup at the helm of Brazil back in ’94. He has garnered lucrative contracts — but found little success — with soccer minnows Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

South Africa World Cup Team Strength: The team is counting on its 12th man — thousands of vuvuzela-blowing fans — to ratchet up emotions and propel the high-energy team to new heights.

South Africa World Cup Team Weakness: Defense was supposed to be the biggest problem, but the team has displayed an alarming lack of firepower. Local columnist Carlos Amato likened its attack to soft porn: “lots of silky touches, plenty of positional awareness, zero penetration.”

South Africa World Cup Key Player: Steven Pienaar

With Benni McCarthy, who scored in both South Africa's previous World Cups, out of shape and off the team, the Bafana Bafana are short on experience in their attack. Pienaar, who has played in the Dutch, German and now English Premier League, will assume much of the responsibility for orchestrating the offense. With Everton, he is known as a high-energy player who always seems to be around the ball. With South Africa, the 28-year-old who has suited up 46 times for his country, will have to be on the ball in every sense if the host nation is to have a breakthrough performance.

 

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