BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa: A big win against a scandal-hit France side on Tuesday might not be enough for South Africa to meet a nation’s wild expectations but is the only way they might avoid making unwanted history.
Victory with plenty of goals could save South Africa from becoming the first World Cup hosts not to reach the second round, providing Mexico and Uruguay do not settle for a draw that would put both of them through to the knockout stage.
South Africa’s promising start in their opening 1-1 draw with Mexico were short-lived and a 3-0 defeat by Uruguay soon exposed Bafana Bafana’s obvious limitations.
One of the weakest sides in the finals, at least on paper, South Africa can at least count on a partisan vuvuzela drone to fire them up from the stands of the Free State stadium.
At the other end will be France, who also have a point from two games, with brilliant individuals incapable of behaving as a team and their morale crushed by the Nicolas Anelka saga.
“France are coming into the game looking to win, hoping like us that they can still go through but we’ve decided not to concern ourselves with them, just to go out and play and win for our people, our fans,” said the hosts’ fullback Tsepo Masilela.
Missing from the France lineup will be Anelka, sent home in disgrace on Saturday after insulting coach Raymond Domenech at halftime of the 2-0 defeat by Mexico last week in Polokwane.
The France players, under a cloud of fan and media criticism since their Euro 2008 flop, have a long way to go to redeem themselves.
Distrustful of the outside world off the pitch and totally lost on it so far, they did nothing to boost their popularity when they boycotted training in support of Anelka on Sunday.
South Africa’s Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has his own worries with Itumeleng Khune suspended after being sent off against Uruguay, meaning Moeneeb Josephs should be in goal.
Otherwise, apart from the midfield berth vacated by the suspension of Kagisho Dikgacoi, Parreira was not expected to change the side he has kept faith in over the last month.
Domenech, by contrast, could field a revamped team, with Thierry Henry likely to step in for Anelka up front, Sidney Govou possibly leaving his role on the right wing to Franck Ribery and Yoann Gourcuff winning back playmaking duties.
Whether France will find the mental strength to give South Africa a true challenge remains doubtful but their coach has urged them to fight until the very end.
“Being competitors means fighting all the time, even for the slightest of chances,” Domenech, hoping for a burst of pride from his rebellious players, said shortly before Sunday’s chaos.
“We want to keep our hopes alive for as long as we can,” he added. “It’s all about pride. A World Cup is a dream and you have to pursue that dream all the way, even when you’re under a cloud like we are now.”
BDST: 1101hrs, June 21, 2010