Mexico 'mountain' for SA
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – As Bafana Bafana battle various forms of disarray in the three-month lead-up to the FIFA World Cup opener against Mexico, their opponents for the distinguished occasion at Soccer City on June 11 are contrastingly getting their ducks in an increasingly neat row.
GALLERY: Bafana v Namibia
The situation only heightens the disparity between these nations, rivals in Group A, already so starkly apparent in the world rankings gulf between them – 15th versus 81st.
While South Africa fumbled their way to a come-from-behind 1-1 draw with minnows Namibia (ranked 111th), marking the official opening of Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Wednesday, the Mexicans stepped up their own preparations more ominously by beating fellow-qualifiers New Zealand 2-0 in a friendly in Pasadena, California.
Substitutes Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela netted early in the second half before Mexico reportedly stepped off the pedal a tad – as so often happens in friendly internationals these days – and settled for that margin.
Vela, the 21-year-old Arsenal striker, is developing a nice little line in scoring for his country: he now sports nine goals in 22 appearances.
Mexico are a consistently street-wise soccer nation who have qualified for every World Cup finals tournament since 1994 and boast 13 appearances at the event overall.
Before the New Zealand triumph, they had thrashed Bolivia 5-0 in a friendly, despite being without their big quota of European-based players for that fixture.
And while coach Carlos Alberto Parreira seems more hell-bent on a “camp” environment for his fragile Bafana troops in the lead-up to the big kick-off in Johannesburg – South Africa are headed for stints of that type in Brazil, Germany and then back on home soil – Mexico have already scheduled a succession of stiff friendlies against several teams similarly South Africa-bound for the World Cup.
Their opponents over the next few weeks will include North Korea and Chile at home, and then England at Wembley before dates against the Netherlands and Italy immediately before the tournament.
Parreira confirmed after the gloomy outcome against the Namibians, where some of South Africa’s notorious old “sideways” and pussyfooting habits came depressingly back to the fore, that he still sought at least four friendlies against top-calibre countries.
So far, though, the only confirmed match is against Denmark at Soccer City six days out from an opening encounter against Mexico that seems more than ever like a mountain rather than a hill to climb for Bafana.
With several locally-based players failing abjectly in their quest to impress Parreira, there was at least the crumb of comfort that the national line-up to open South Africa’s biggest sporting extravaganza ever will differ by at least 80 or 90 percent, you would think, from Wednesday night’s cold-tea combination.
Dump the whole lot and you’d hardly have a riot on your hands, come to think of it …