JOHANNESBURG - South Africa and Mexico are likely to go on the attack in the opening game of the World Cup on Friday, hopefully ending a run of cagey and often dour starts to the finals.
Against a backdrop of fevered enthusiasm and the deafening noise of vuvuzelas at Johannesburg's cavernous Soccer City, an entertaining tone for the tournament is likely to be set by two teams who are much better going forward than defending.
Impressive results and performances from both sides in their warm-up games suggest a capacity crowd of almost 90,000 could be treated to a memorable opening to the 64-match event.
South Africa are the third African side to play in a World Cup opener, the two previous matches ending in shock triumphs for Cameroon over Argentina in 1990 and Senegal against France in 2002.
A home win on Friday would not be as big a surprise, such has been the hosts' vast improvement in form, but it would still be a boost for South Africa and its tournament.
Disappointing form over the last few years threatened to put a damper on the 2010 World Cup, a concern even expressed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter who openly criticised Bafana Bafana's performances.
But a run of 12 unbeaten matches since November has turned the team from a potential embarrassment to strong outsiders.
"It is important that as the host country we go out to win all the games," said South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune. "We can go out there and upset these countries," he added also referring to Uruguay and France who make up Group A.
South Africa's improved results have not only galvanised the players and inspired new-found confidence but have also led to a massive outpouring of nationalistic sentiment.
South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira spoke again this week of the intimidatory effect he hoped the cacophony of an enthusiastic home support blowing plastic trumpets might have on their Mexican opponents.
"There is no doubt this can be our 12th man," he said.
But Mexico will be able to counter that with confidence built from a win over defending champions Italy in Brussels last week and good performances against England and the Netherlands in friendlies over the last few weeks.
"Our philosophy is to always make good use of the ball," forward Carlos Vela said on www.fifa.com. "With that in mind, I think that (coach) Javier Aguirre has called up the right kind of players: obnes who are quick and comfortable on the ball."
Mexico look vulnerable at the back and have squandered numerous chances but South Africa have been guilty of doing the same thing in their warm-up matches. Both sides are also familiar with the effects of playing at altitude.
Mexico striker Guillermo Franco has overcome injury to increase the attacking options available to coach Javier Aguirre. He could be partnered on Friday by Manchester United's new signing Javier Hernandez.
Their 31-year-old defender Rafael Marquez returned to training this week, leaving both sides at full strength.
Mexico have already played in four World Cup opening matches, the last of which was a goalless draw with the Soviet Union at home in 1970. They had lost the previous three, conceding 11 goals in the process.comments