We preview the 2010 FIFA World Cup, set for June 11-July 11 in South Africa.
Last time there: 2002, exited in first round
Best performance: Has never advanced past first round
Never has a host failed to qualify for the knockout phase at the World Cup. We've had a number of "fringe" soccer nations host the event recently, with the United States in its relative soccer infancy in 1994, and then Japan/South Korea in 2002 (Japan was especially considered an underdog). All the hosts have at least made the second round, however.
This is probably the best shot in a while at a host not advancing.
While South Africa has worked hard to build to this moment, the reality is that they have yet to show they're ready. They didn't have to qualify for the World Cup, but still played qualifying matches in an unsuccessful effort to make the 2010 African Nationas Cup.
Preparations have included some big-time friendly matches, many of which have turned out poorly for the hosts. Their qualifying draw was virtually disastrous, as they were met with Mexico, France, and a side from Uruguay that is likely to make life difficult for all their opponents.
If South Africa can show up in good form, they might have a shot at an upset.
Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is in his fifth World Cup. He won the event with Brazil in 1994. There is no question he brings the hosts the kind of confidence they'll need to advance.
Bafana Bafana ("The Boys") have two players who stand out on their roster. Steven Pienaar is the midfield playmaking wizard on the team. He will be the main setup man for the offense, along with Aaron Mokoena, who can help get things going from his defensive position. The other main player to watch is Siphiwe Tshabalala, an offensive-minded midfielder who is emerging as a top threat for this side.
With the home support they will have, South Africa certainly has a chance to maintain the streak of hosts advancing to the knockout phase. It will take at least one upset -- if not two -- to make that happen, but it's far from impossible.
June 11 vs. Mexico (Johannesburg -- Soccer City)
June 16 vs. Uruguay (Pretoria)
June 22 vs. France (Bloemfontein)