Improving South Africa give Santana hope

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa coach Joel Santana said recent nightmares are now turning to sweet dreams after an apparent upturn in the fortunes for the 2010 World Cup hosts.

Brazilian Santana, who took over from as coach in May from compatriot Carlos Alberto Parreira, saw his side chalk up a fourth successive win on Wednesday as they edged out Cameroon 3-2 in a friendly at Rustenburg, some 200km northwest of Johannesburg.

But the Brazilian warned that South Africa still have much work to do to prove competitive at the World Cup finals, now some 18 months away.

"It was very good result with strong performances in all the key departments and a big boost for our confidence," he told Reuters on Thursday.

"My nightmares are now turning into sweet dreams."

The recent results contrast starkly with the embarrassment of early elimination for Bafana Bafana, as South Africa's national side are nicknamed, from the qualifiers for the 2010 African Nations Cup finals in Angola, results which threatened to prematurely end Santana's tenure.

South Africa won just one of their first seven matches under the former Flamengo coach, and plummeted down to 85th in the world rankings.

But they have since had a much-needed boost in confidence, amid growing fears they would prove uncompetitive at the 2010 event and take away much of the lustre of the first World Cup in Africa.

South Africa next play Chile and Norway in February and March and have a planned fixture against a so far unnamed major European power in April, South African Football Association chief executive Raymond Hack said.

The team participate in June's Confederation Cup, the eight-team tournament which serves as a test event for the World Cup finals. The draw is being made in Johannesburg on Saturday.

In the second half of the year, Santana is to take his team on the road to test their potential against several high profile opponents, including Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.

"It is a good feeling for us to win but we have to still take this project step by step and with tranquility. We cannot stop working now," Santana added.