South Africa desperately seeking improvement

JOHANNESBURG - Hosts South Africa are desperate to emerge from the doldrums to ensure there will be local interest to add to the atmosphere at next year's World Cup finals.

Elaborate preparations appear to have backfired with the team on a morale-sapping spiral of defeat and needing a boost, according to the coach.

Experienced Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira took charge this month for the second time, aiming to plot a revival of the country ranked 86th in the world after winning five out of 18 matches this year.

"We were desperate for a win because we have to try and boost morale," said Parreira after seeing his side draw 0-0 in friendlies with Japan and Jamaica.

The World Cup warm-up programme was originally designed by Parreira during his first spell as coach.

He quit in April 2008 to look after his sick wife before returning to replace compatriot Joel Santana.

Matches against tough opponents such as Chile, Germany, Ireland, Serbia and Portugal over the last year, all of which ended in defeat, have drained the confidence of South Africa's players.

The team's losing run cost Santana his job a few months after the hosts had run eventual winners Brazil close in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in June.

"We should take that as a reference of the ability of the side," said Parreira. GOOD SHAPE

"When the key players are in good shape and fit the standard of the team will improve quickly; I have no doubt about it."

Sitting heavily on the shoulders of the side is the expectation that they must do well in the 2010 finals, as hosts.

Sepp Blatter, president of football's governing body FIFA, and local organising committee chief executive Danny Jordaan have expressed concern over the standard of the South African team and implied an early exit would spoil the tournament.

"I don't buy that," said former England goalkeeper Gary Bailey, now a television analyst in his native South Africa.

"At the 2008 European Championship joint hosts Austria and Switzerland went out early and that did not detract from a good tournament.

"When South Africa are eliminated the locals will switch to supporting the other African teams. It is not a South African World Cup after all but rather an African World Cup," added the former Manchester United player.

The hosts are cutting short their league season to allow Parreira to begin working with his team in March.

The coach said if the players were fit and in good mental shape they had every reason to believe they could do well in the finals.