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Mokoena feels strain of South Africa hosting

10 June 2010 15:25

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Aaron Mokoena will lead hosts South Africa out on Friday against Mexico at Johannesburg's Soccer City as they kick-off the first World Cup to be held in Africa and admits he is feeling the pressure of having to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup.

Of the 32 countries competing in South Africa, North Korea are the only country lower than the Bafana-Bafana on FIFA's ranking system.

And with South Africa, ranked 83rd in the world, drawn in a tough group comprising France, Mexico and Uruguay, they could become the first host nation in World Cup history to exit at the first hurdle.

Portsmouth midfielder Mokoena is well aware of the implications of an embarrassing early exit for his country - especially as President Jacob Zuma expects South Africa to lift the trophy.

The South Africa captain said: "We are all aware we need to do well and there is a degree of pressure but we need to prepare ourselves mentally and physically so we can perform.

"We started our preparation three years ago. We are trying to let people talk so we can do the business on the field - that is what is important to us.

"I know the statistics are there, many coaches and people have opinions but it is just going to depend on the event and how we perform in each game.

"We have players who want to show the world what they are capable of and who need this more than anything. Players who want to go out and do the country proud.

"We have talent in South Africa and a unique style of football. It is important we are ready.

"It is about building, taking it game after game. We want to get to the quarter-finals and from there the sky is the limit.

"The President did tell me to go and win the World Cup, and he was being serious, but that shows you just how much it means to the people of South Africa and how important the next few weeks are going to be."

Mokoena has also dismissed claims the Rainbow Nation are unable to adequately host the tournament, pointing towards the success of the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the Cricket World Cup in 2003 and last year's Confederations Cup.

Mokoena added: "It is going to be a World Cup with an African vibe and atmosphere, as this is the first on the continent.

"There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the build-up from some places but I always say look at the Rugby World Cup, the cricket, the British Lions and the Confederations Cup.

"This is going to be a big event, probably bigger than all of those, but it is possible and we need this World Cup in how much it is going to bring to the continent."

Mokoena remains a divisive figure in his homeland with some fans even celebrating an injury he picked up with Portsmouth earlier in the year, claiming it was a blessing in disguise.

But having won his 100th cap for his country in the pre-tournament friendly against Guatemala, Mokoena is the elder statesman of the national game and his leadership will be crucial as to whether the team succeed or fail.

Mokoena believes the moment when he leads the team out against Mexico on Friday will mark the proudest achievement of his career.

Mokoena said: "I have tried not thinking about it too much but it is difficult to ignore, that moment will come of putting my head and my mind into it.

"Seeing the crowds and the celebration of the start of the tournament will be a beautiful moment and one that will surely live with me forever.

"It is about building on what we have. We showed during the Confederations Cup what we are capable of by reaching the semi-finals and we have to take something from that and become better and stronger and make South Africa proud."

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