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."
|Barcelona release injury-hit Cuenca|
|Suarez appeal rejected|
|La Decima a reflection of Di Stefano - Perez|
|Buoyant Mazzarri eager for Inter success|
|Mandzukic joins Atletico|
|Van Gaal criticises third-place play-off|
|Halilhodzic yet to decide future|
|Mandzukic eager for Simeone link-up|
|Davies hoping for Hull deal|
|Poyet hopeful over Altidore fitness|
|Diego close to ´dream´ Fenerbahce move|
|Inter loan out youngsters|
|Fired-up Cole can inspire Villa, claims Lambert|
|Hughes hailed for winning over Brit doubters|
|Hajrovic signs for Bremen|
|Hull can buck Europa League trend, says Meyler|
|Mertesacker talks up German chances|
|Swansea reveal Tottenham contact over Davies, Sigurdsson|
|Lloris pens five-year deal at Tottenham|
|Fernandinho: ´The pain is big´|
|MLS Preview: Portland aim for swift revenge against Seattle|
|Sabella: Germany have an advantage|
|Second Argentine journalist dies in Brazil|
|Aguero: Argentina defied critics|
|Impressive Mascherano thrilled with final´s berth|
|Zuniga offered protection by Colombia|
|Germany vowed not to ´humiliate´ Brazil|
|Hong resigns from South Korea post|
|Third-choice Vlaar ´wasn´t nervous´|
|Van Gaal: I wanted Krul in the shootout|
|Argentina: Key factors in reaching the final|
|Sabella revels in semi-final win|
|Proud Robben feels pain of World Cup exit|
|FIFA World Cup: Netherlands 0 Argentina 0 (after extra time, 2-4 on penalties)|
|Susic signs two-year extension with Bosnia-Herzegovina|
|Hummels in race to make World Cup final|
|Scolari still baffled by Brazil collapse|
|Spendlhofer and Benedetti leave Inter|
|Neymar ´recovering well´ from injury|
|Villarreal sign Jonathan dos Santos|
|Arteta happy at Arsenal, insists agent|
|Birsa makes Chievo loan switch|
|FIFA suspends Nigeria over political interference|
|Di Stefano funeral held in Madrid|
|Hangeland scathing of ´difficult´ Magath|
|Thiago Silva in fan plea|
|Isgrove earns fresh one-year deal at Southampton|
|Morata edges closer to Juve switch|
|Nugent pens two-year extension at Leicester|
|Gomez delight with ´perfect´ Germany|
|Costa Rica to discuss Pinto future|
|Arfield agrees Burnley extension|
|Allardyce targets four more signings|
|K.League Review: Jeonnam close gap on Pohang, Jeonbuk|
|Maradona: Thrashing damages Brazil´s image|
|Kasami makes Olympiacos move|
|Chelsea complete Pasalic signing|
|Helenius makes temporary Aalborg return|
|Higuain set for Napoli stay|
|Basta targets return to Europe with Lazio|
|Lewandowski willing to adapt for Bayern|
|New Hull deal for Jakupovic|
|Atletico agree Mandzukic deal, claims Sammer|
|Fulham seal Stafylidis loan|
|Alves pens new Valencia deal|
|Ochoa to take time over future|
|Brown could miss three months|
|Adams: Norwich will not overspend|
|Gundogan unsure when rehab can step up|
|Stoke chairman wants long Begovic stay|
|Brazilian media reacts to semi-final exit|
|Icardi vows to remain at Inter|
|Robben is player of the World Cup, says Kluivert|
|Klose focused on final after breaking record|
|Prandelli takes aim at Balotelli, Rossi|
|Schweinsteiger sorry for Brazil battering|
|Brazil scarred for life, says Fred|
|Sabella: Argentina ´have already won´|
|Muller stunned by rout|
|Low lauds ice-cool Germany|
|Tearful Luiz apologizes for semi-final loss|
|Scolari sorry for ´catastrophic´ Brazil hammering|
|Brazil join sport´s biggest chokers|
|Reality kills Brazilian dream on a surreal night|
|FIFA World Cup: Brazil 1 Germany 7|
|Linfield 1 B36 Torshavn 1 (agg 3-2): Feeney´s dream start continues as Linfield progress|
|Clinical Klose smashes World Cup record|
|Klose breaks World Cup goal record|
|UEFA Champions League Review: Goalkeeper Casals provides late Santa gift|
|Demichelis ready to get under Robben´s skin|
|Pukki hits three as Celtic rout Linz|
|Everton complete Barry deal|
|Lucas stars as PSG ease to friendly win|
|Netherlands sweat on Van Persie and Janmaat|
|Nike to end United sponsorship|
|Roma let Dodo go to Inter|
|Juninho backs Brazil despite Neymar blow|
|West Ham confirm Poyet deal|
|Mascherano calls for calm ahead of semi-final|
|Palermo chief looks to emulate Atletico|
|Southampton snap up Tadic|
|Pioli calls for dedication|
|Cocu: Depay should stay at PSV|
|No fears for Irvine over Morrison and Brunt|
|Miranda quashes Atletico exit rumours|
|Aurier keeping options open|
|Samuel set for Sampdoria switch|
|Dudgeon pens new Hull City deal|
|Serero extends Ajax deal|
|Napoli come out in support of Zuniga|
|Prandelli: Mancini helped sell Galatasaray to me|
|Deportivo sack Vazquez|
|FIFA World Cup Preview: Netherlands v Argentina|
|Valverde issues challenge to midfield after Herrera exit|
|Yattara pens Lyon extension|
|M´Vila set for Inter move|
|Fletcher relishing testing pre-season|
|Enrique raring to get started|
|Caballero seals City switch|
|Villa chief executive steps down|
|McCormack completes Fulham switch|
|Monk hoping to make Swansea additions|
|Low: Mertesacker was not ill versus France|
|Mancini: Italy job would be an honour|
|Hughes anticipates Stoke sales|
|Garcia returns home to Perth|
|Luis Garcia heads to India|
|Langerak staying at Dortmund|
|Sakho delighted with support|
|Liverpool, Roma target Yedlin focused on Seattle|
|No Arsenal commitment from Vermaelen|
|Guidolin deserves Italy job, says Di Natale|
|Scolari giving nothing away|
|Ferguson pays tribute to Di Stefano|
|Drulovic backs Markovic´s Liverpool move|
|Brazil to report doctors over Neymar final claims|
|Luis Alberto takes lessons from Liverpool experience|
|Thiago Silva slams Zuniga´s ´coward´s tackle´|
|Low warns referee of Brazil´s brutality|
|Amarildo: Neymar absence could be a blessing|