South Africa to Santa Barbara: Day 1

Millions focus on Jo'berg as host South Africa eyes Mexico.


Follow the 2010 World Cup with the men's and women's UCSB soccer programs all tournament long on UCSBgauchos.com. "South Africa to Santa Barbara: The Cup is Coming" will provide daily commentary on the day's biggest storylines, featuring video interviews with Gaucho soccer players and men's head coach, Tim Vom Steeg.

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Life is a stage. Perform.

When Bafana Bafana takes the field against Mexico on Friday morning, millions of soccer fans across the globe will have their sights set squarely on Soccer City stadium in Soweto, a stage the South African Football Association has been setting since FIFA awarded it the Cup six years ago.

Five new stadiums. Billions of dollars invested in upgrades to existing venues. Improvements in the public transportation system aimed at preventing clogs in South Africa's railways and streets. It won't only be the players feeling the pressure when they finally take the pitch on June 11, but the nation as well.

"South Africa has an incredible amount of pressure on them," said UC Santa Barbara men's and women's assistant coach Stuart Dobson. "We will have to see if that team can match the hype that's going on down there right now."

Slated with matches against Mexico, Uruguay and France, the hosts face the undesirable reality of possibly becoming the first team to fail to advance to the second round in the tournament's history. Despite the end result, what South Africa has already accomplished by preparing itself to host the Cup is remarkable.

"People always think that African countries cannot host a World Cup because it is such a big event," said UCSB midfielder and Ghana native Waid Ibrahim, "South Africa has shown that they have the security, they can build the stadiums, and they can build the infrastructure to deal with it."

As hosts of the 2010 College Cup on Dec. 10-12, the UCSB soccer programs are familiarizing themselves with what it takes to host a premier soccer event. Over $1 million dollars have been invested in improving the press box, building a new scoreboard, and upgrading the field turf at Harder Stadium. In Soccertown, U.S.A, as Santa Barbara is affectionately referred to, the Gauchos count on being in the College Cup come December.

"For South Africa, getting out of their group would be an accomplishment," said UCSB men's head coach Tim Vom Steeg. "In our case, the expectation is to do everything we can to make it to our own final four."

Playing in front of a raucous crowd at Soccer City, South Africa has its chance to shine on the world's biggest stage. Come December, the Gauchos will have their opportunity as well.

"Hosting the College Cup is great, I do not see it as having any pressure," said UCSB midfielder Machael David. "UCSB has been around the globe and this is a prime opportunity to expand our name beyond."

Keys to the game:

South Africa - With all-time leading goal scorer Benni McCarthy left off the final roster, it will be left to Steven Pienaar to create dangerous scoring opportunities as attacking central midfielder in coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's 4-5-1. Katlego Mphela has 15 goals in 31 games for South Africa, the last 11 coming on his home soil. Considered to be one of the worst teams in the tournament, South Africa must ride the unbridled joy of its countrymen if it is to steal a point from Mexico. Keep in mind that hosts have gone 10-0-2 in the group stage over the last three World Cups.

Mexico - Despite Mexico's rich soccer history, El Tri has advanced to the quarterfinal stage only twice in the tournament's existence- in 1970 and 1986- while the Cup was being held on home soil. Coach Javier Aguirre has an eclectic mix of young talent in Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela to pair with the experienced Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Rafael Marquez. Nearly unbeatable in Azteca Stadium, situated high atop the mountains in Mexico City, El Tri may have an advantage over other nations given the altitude of the venues in South Africa. This Mexican team has shades of the U.S. team that used a mix of young and old to surprise the world by making the final eight back in 2002; and with their familiarity with playing in thin air, Mexico might just be the team to watch out for in Jo'berg.

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