x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

All eyes focus on World Cup hosts

The health of the World Cup will be under scruntiny today when South Africa face New Zealand.

Teko Modise was critical of South Africa's display in their first game against Iraq. The host nation play New Zealand today.
Teko Modise was critical of South Africa's display in their first game against Iraq. The host nation play New Zealand today.

JOHANNESBURG // The health of the World Cup, and not just the Confederations Cup, will be under scruntiny today when South Africa face New Zealand in a match that may have consequences for the host nation, for Fifa and for football. It has long been accepted that a strong host nation is crucial to the success and atmosphere of a World Cup finals and by choosing a team ranked 72nd in the world to stage the 2010 event, Fifa were always taking a gamble, one which will look particularly shaky if South Africa, who drew their opening fixture with Iraq, stumble again in Rustenburg and lose the faith of their restless fans.

With Benni McCarthy omitted from the squad and manager Joel Santana yet to win over the fans it would be difficult to predict a strong performance from the host team next year. That will worry Fifa and its president Sepp Blatter, who has staked his career on making his African dream come true, because the host nation so often sets the tone for a successful World Cup. Six host nations have won the World Cup, two have been runners up, three have lost in the semi-finals, four have lost in the quarter-finals, and three have gone out in either the second round or the second group phase.

Now the fear is that South Africa could be the first hosts to go out in the first round if their form does not improve. They will have to restore the morale in the dressing room, particularly after Teko Modise, their star player, criticised his side's tactics in the goalless draw against Iraq. "I didn't get many chance to create anything because we played very deep, we had too many defenders in our team and couldn't go forward," he complained. "It was really hard. Hopefully we're going to change our style in the next games.

"Hopefully on Wednesday the mindset is going to be different but it's going to be a difficult game for us because it really is a six pointer." The situation for Iraq and Spain, who also play today, is very different. Spain go into the match unbeaten in 33 matches and needing only to avoid defeat in two more games to equal Brazil's record unbeaten streak of 35, so it is hardly surprising that midfielder Cesc Fabregas is confident.

"The secret for us is the winning mentality of everyone in the team," he said. "That's why we have gone 33 games without losing." As for the Iraqis, they have rightly been encouraged by the performance against South Africa in which coach Bora Milultonovic won the tactical battle. "We were happy to take a point in the first game and we believe it is possible to reach the semi-finals," said midfielder Nashat Akram.

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