South Africa, the hosts of the 2010 World Cup, face the unenviable prospect of becoming the first home nation not to qualify from the group stages.
Facing France, Mexico and Uruguay in Group A could prove too much for a team ranked 83rd in FIFA’s rankings, the lowest of any nation in the competition.
With 15 goals in 29 international appearances, Mphela has an impressive scoring record for South Africa, two of which came against reigning European champions Spain in last year’s Confederation’s Cup (including one 30 yard free-kick).
As impressive as Mphela’s goal record is at national level, the 25-year-old’s club career hasn’t yet taken off. Now at his fifth club, Mphela plies his trade in his home country with Mamelodi Sundowns, scoring 17 goals from 30 games last season.
Helping Bafana Bafana reach the knockout stage would undoubtedly be the highlight of Mphela’s career to date and inevitably cue interest from abroad.
While many note that Mphela has yet to fulfil his potential, it could be the World Cup that brings out the best in the raw forward. Quick and direct with a powerful shot, Mphela has the attributes to become a respected centre-forward, whether he can handle the pressure of performing at the highest level is debatable.
Mphela himself believes that while South Africa have struggled in the build up to the first World Cup in Africa, his team are determined to prove people wrong.
“Results haven’t been so good for us and everyone is expecting the worst from South Africa at this World Cup we are determined to prove the critics wrong,” he said. “A team on a mission with the support of the nation can get us through to the second phase at least.”
Whatever the outcome for South Africa on the pitch this summer, the country as a whole must prove to the world that they are more than capable of handling such a massive event.
Spain, the favourites for the 2010 World Cup, go in to the tournament with only one loss in their last 48 matches.
In what can only be described as the ‘Golden Generation’ for Spanish football, the European Champions aim to repeat the feat last achieved by France in 1998 and 2000 by winning back to back major international tournaments.
Winger Jesus Navas probably couldn’t have imagined that he would ever make an impact on the international scene. The 24-year-old suffers with anxiety problems and quit international football in 2004, sighting that he couldn’t bare time away from his home in Seville.
However, in August 2009 Navas expressed a desire to overcome his condition and has accepted a place in Spain’s 23-man squad for this summer’s tournament in South Africa.
“To play for your country is the greatest thing and I hope to be able to, too,” said Navas.
His connections to Seville are such that a multi-million pound move to Chelsea in 2006 broke down due to Navas’ unwillingness to move away from home. A young and exciting talent, while Navas has spoken of his determination to overcome his anxiety problems for a shot at international football, it’s unlikely the wideman will ever move away from his home town club.
A late-comer to the squad he may be, but Navas is doing his best to win a place in Vicente Del Bosque’s first XI with some impressive performances in Spain’s warm-up matches. The latest of which included an impressive 25-yard goal against South Korea.
With the majority of the Spanish midfielders selected by Del Bosque ‘ball players’ so to speak, Navas could offer a genuine alternative to what La Furie have to offer. Skilful, athletic and quick, Navas has also been singled out for his ability to find the final pass, or unlock a defence with a piercing run.
Such attributes will mean that Navas is likely to be used from the bench in South Africa. Nevertheless, with defences likely to tire late on in matches, the 24-year-old could be a perfect weapon for the Spanish in order to finish off the opposition.