Mexico vs. South Africa: Who’s got the edge in the World Cup opening game?

World Cup stalwart Mexico should hand South Africa its first defeat, but don’t underestimate the power of homefield advantage. Mexico vs. South Africa kicks off at 10 am EST.

Jorge Silva/Reuters
Mexico players kicked the ball around Thursday in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium.

On paper, Mexico should beat South Africa with ease.

The soccer-mad US neighbor is a force to be reckoned with in every World Cup, whereas South Africa has rarely been seen in the World Cup and is only able to compete in this one because they are hosting it. Mexico vs. South Africa kicks off at 10 am EST (see schedule).

Few believe South Africa could have emerged among the top five African countries that made the World Cup if they had to compete in the continent’s competitive qualifiers.

COVER STORY: Where South Africa stands 16 years after apartheid.

Mexico outmatches South Africa in terms of players with top-level international experience, and El Tri – as Mexico’s team is called – is expected to control the midfield with Gerardo Torrado, Rafael Marquez, and Efrain Juarez. (Read more about what Mexicans think of their prospects.)

But conventional wisdom has its shortcomings. (Just ask a Wall Street stockbroker about the Fall of 2008.) And when El Tri step on the field at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium, they’ll be taking on the country of Nelson Mandela – a tense, vibrant, regional power with enough pent up energy to fuel Iran’s nuclear program twice over.

The Bafana Bafana – or “The Boys, The Boys,” as South Africa’s team is known – will be playing with passion, pride, and the all-important desire not to get embarrassed in front of the world.

Plus, how could they not be pumped up after Thursday night’s opening ceremony? Colombian rock star Shakira sang “This time for Africa” (see official video here), US R&B singer Alicia Keys belted out “Let’s hear it for Joburg,” and a range of other elite pop stars bounded about the stage in tribute to the Rainbow Nation.

Homefield advantage did wonders for an average South Korean team that stunned the world in 2002 when it reached the semifinals. It also served Mexico well. El Tri made it to the quarterfinals both times it hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986. It hasn’t performed as well outside of Mexico.

So, the question is: Will South Africa’s boisterous fans and the incessant drone of their vuvuzelas – or long plastic horns (get used to that word, you’ll hear it a lot) – do for the Bafana Bafana what a sea of red clad Korean fans chanting in unison did for South Korea in 2002?

Host teams have played in opening games seven times, and have never lost.

We’ll soon see if Mexico can put an end to that.

COVER STORY: Where South Africa stands 16 years after apartheid.


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