CAPE TOWN, December 3 – Supporters of hosts South Africa will be anxious onlookers Friday evening when the 2010 World Cup draw is made here before a 3,000-strong audience including President Jacob Zuma.
Former national team and Leeds United captain Lucas Radebe summed up the feelings of most countrymen on the eve of the 90-minute ceremony by admitting he hopes Bafana Bafana (The Boys) are placed in a weak group.
"We are hoping for a weak group although none of the 31 qualifiers are going to be pushovers," the man who led South Africa in their first World Cup appearance 11 years ago told a local radio station.
"It is going to be hard no matter which three teams Bafana get in the draw and, ultimately, they have to rely on themselves," the former defensive marshal added.
The fears of South Africans ahead of the 1700GMT draw at the International Conference Centre in this south-west city are well founded with their team the lowest placed at 86 of the 32-strong field in the November world rankings.
That grim statistic stems from a run of 11 matches since June that delivered just one win, and that came in the mining town of Kimberley by a solitary goal against African lightweights Madagascar.
Yet because they are hosting the four-yearly international football showcase, South Africa were placed among the top seeds Wednesday with Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Spain.
France, 1998 winners and 2006 runners-up, and Portugal, fourth three years ago, were the chief casualties as they joined an all-Europe pot completed by Denmark, Greece, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.
South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who guided his native Brazil to the 1994 World Cup title, insists he is losing no sleep over which countries the first African hosts of the tournament come up against.
"I don’t want to choose any opponent as I want my team to be exposed to every team. The mission is clear and that is getting to the group stage," Parreira told AFP.
But he must face one side from the all-Europe pot and given a choice between France or Portugal and Denmark or Slovenia would surely plump for the Scandinavians or East Europeans as Bafana have good records against both.
South Africa collected their first point at the 1998 World Cup in France by drawing 1-1 with the Danes and beat the Slovenians 1-0 at the next edition in South Korea four years later to record a first and only triumph.
Bafana also forced a 1-1 friendly draw in Copenhagen, although Parreira and his team will be aware that the Danes topped a 2010 qualifying group that included the star-sprinkled Portuguese.
And while most South Africans would prefer Slovenia, they probably did not see the outsiders impressively eliminate Guus Hiddink-coached Russia in a play-off.
The South Africans, who will feature in the June 11 opening game of 64 spread over 10 venues and 31 days, are also certain to face one of Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, who scraped past Costa Rica in another play-off.
All the South Americans have played a friendly in South Africa with Chile winning 2-0 in Polokwane, Uruguay forcing a 0-0 draw at Ellis Park in Johannesburg and Paraguay crashing 3-0 in Atteridgevile near Pretoria.
Although Paraguay would seem the preferred choice, they are notoriously poor friendly performers and facing a Uruguay outfit heavily reliant on Diego Forlan for goals might offer the best chance of three points.
The final Group A opponents of South Africa must come from a motley mix comprising Australia, Japan, North and South Korea, New Zealand, Honduras, Mexico and the United States.
New Zealand might be the best draw given that hosts South Africa defeated them 2-0 at the 2009 Confederations Cup while the Australians, Mexicans and Americans would be best avoided.