South Africa - World Cup

Bafana Bafana-rama ahead of the big game

Reuters

With the football World Cup kicking off in South Africa on Friday, RFI has tried to answer five key questions fans across the globe have been debating in the last few weeks.

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1) How will the hosts fare?

Many people expect the team ranked 83rd in the world to crash out at the group stage. But following a long unbeaten run in the lead-up to the tournament, South Africa have a newfound confidence.

With success comes pressure, however, and the Bafana Bafana know that no host nation has ever lost the opening game of a World Cup.

The host team has also never failed to reach the second round, so South Africa manager Carlos Alberto Parreira will be hoping the law of averages doesn’t dictate that his team will become the first to do so.

2) How will the other African teams fare?

The first World Cup to take place on the African continent is strangely taking place without Africa’s best team.

Egypt have won the last three Africa Cup of Nations, but they haven’t qualified for a World Cup during that period.

Of the African teams that did qualify, most have been hampered by injuries. Ghana will be without Chelsea star Michael Essien, while Nigeria have been deprived of the services of his clubmate Jon Obi Mikel because of injury.

Algeria reached the semi-finals in January’s Africa Cup of Nations, but their form since has been alarmingly poor and they too have injury problems.

Cote d’Ivoire look the most impressive African team on paper but, for the second World Cup, running they’ve been drawn in an extremely tough group.

In 2006 they had to play Argentina, the Netherlands and Serbia and this time they’ll have to overcome Brazil and Portugal.

That task will become all the more difficult if their talismanic striker Didier Drogba fails to sufficiently recover from an elbow injury.

Ghana’s young squad reached the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations and their under-20 side were crowned world champions last year. But they don’t have an easy group either and will need to hit the ground running against Serbia.

Cameroon will hope that Samuel Eto’o can find form in their opener against Japan and will be dreaming of going even further than in 1990, when they reached the quarter-finals.

3) Is there any hope for the minnows?

At every World Cup there are a few teams who are just happy to be there, and this time two countries are 2000/1 to win at the bookmakers.

North Korea’s campaign has already got off to an embarrassing start. Their coach Kim Jong-hun decided to name only two regular goalkeepers in his squad and selected striker Kim Myong-won as the back-up.

But Fifa rules stipulate that each team must name three keepers, and North Korea have now been told that Kim will only be able to play as a goalkeeper.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ll be facing Brazil, Portugal and the Cote d’Ivoire in the group stages.

Another team expected to struggle are New Zealand, who qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1982 following the decision to move Australia into the Asian qualifying section.

This meant that New Zealand’s toughest game en route to the finals was a two-legged play-off against Bahrain – not exactly one of the big names in football.

They earned some valuable experience with an appearance at last year’s Confederations Cup in South Africa, but lost 2-0 to the hosts, were hammered 5-0 by Spain and could only manage a draw against Iraq.

4) Who will be the dark horses?

Recent World Cups are littered with examples of teams who upset the form-book and went further than everyone thought they could.

In 1994, Sweden and Bulgaria – inspired by players like Hristo Stoichkov and Yordan Letchkov – reached the semi-final stage.

In 1998, Croatia were only stopped by hosts France in the semis, while in 2002 South Korea and Turkey were one step away from the final.

Likewise, few would have expected Italy and France to be the finalists in 2006. So who’ll be the surprise packages this time around?

It seems strange to be putting Germany in the dark horses category, but they have been largely unheralded.

If their young team clicks, however, they could go far. It would be foolish to write off defending champions Italy, too, and with some exciting attacking talent at their disposal, Uruguay could also surprise a few people.

It will also be interesting to see if the likes of Denmark, Chile and Paraguay can follow up on their impressive form in qualifying.

5) Who’s going to win?

If we knew that we’d be very rich indeed, though Spain and Brazil are the clear favourites with the bookies.

Brazil won the Confederations Cup in South Africa and, along with Argentina, they’re the only country that has won the World Cup outside their own continent.

Argentina certainly have the talent to win the competition, while under Fabio Capello England have looked a lot less fragile than in the past.

With explosive attacking talent like Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder in their squad, the Netherlands also have the firepower to go all the way.

They’re also likely to have the backing of a lot of people in South Africa, who have links to the country.

There are a few good reasons why Spain are favourites, however. They have only lost one of their last 48 games and put to bed their chokers tag in emphatic fashion by winning the 2008 European Championships.

In attack, they can call on David Villa and Fernando Torres and in Iker Casillas they also have one of the world’s best goalkeepers.

They also have an abundance of riches in a midfield spearheaded by Cesc Fabregas. No European team has yet won the World Cup outside Europe but this Spanish side is made to break records.

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