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Could South Africa be the worst team to host the World Cup?

  • Story Highlights
  • Fortunes of the South African national team have plummeted since 2004
  • Team falls to as low as 80th on the Fifa rankings
  • No host nation has ever failed to make the second round
  • Can "Bafana Bafana" confound their critics? Have your say
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By James Montague
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- It is an unwritten rule of all World Cups: if the host nation fails on the pitch, interest in the competition dies off the pitch.

South Africa crash out of the 2006 African Cup of Nations without scoring a single goal.

South Africa crashed out of the 2006 African Cup of Nations without scoring a single goal.

As the 500 day countdown to the 2010 World Cup begins, most commentators have focused on South Africa's preparedness, with the country's vast unfinished stadiums causing concern in some quarters.

But far more worrying for the country's fans is the state of the national football team. "Bafana Bafana" -- or "The Boys" - have recently plummeted down the Fifa rankings.

Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Chile in a friendly game at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in South Africa, and the lackluster form the team showed have led many to wonder whether they will be the worst host nation in the tournament's history.

Bafana Bafana has gone from being one of Africa's great hopes in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and winning the African Cup of Nations in 1996, to not qualifying for the 2006 tournament in Germany. Since then, they appear to have been on to a losing streak.
Photo See South Africa's rocky road to 2010. »

In 2006, they exited the African Cup of Nations without scoring a single goal. Another early African Cup of Nations exit followed in 2008 before the team failed entirely to qualify for the 2010 regional tournament.

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The failure was even more embarrassing given that the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had decided to run simultaneous qualification for both the 2010 African Cup of Nations, to be hosted in Angola, and the World Cup.

Although South Africa automatically qualified for the 2010 World Cup as hosts, the team still failed to make it to the final qualification stage.

Will "Bafana Bafana" make it to the World Cup second round? Have your say

It was a low point for the team. After hitting 16th on the Fifa rankings in 1996, their highest ever, 2008 saw the team plummet to 80th.

The decline can be attributed, at least in part, to a constant revolving door of managers and a decline in the number of players plying their trade at the highest level. Since 1997, South Africa has gone through 12 managers in 12 years, with some of the best in the game failing to get the best out of their charges.

Philippe Troussier, who guided Japan to the finals, and Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese national coach, have both floundered. Brazilian World Cup winner Carlos Pereira fared no better, before quitting last year due to family problems.

"The biggest threat to [the] 2010 [World Cup] is the anemic state of the national football team," explained Achille Mbembe in his column in South Africa's Sunday Independent when news broke that South Africa had fallen to 80th on the Fifa rankings.

"If the current downward spiral persists, the nation's performance in 2010 will be an embarrassment for Fifa and a source of shame and humiliation for the entire continent ... the truth is that South African players are simply not good enough to make it on the world stage," he added.

The team's failure is even stranger given that the game is hugely popular and the national Premier Soccer League is the richest and best organized on the continent.

And yet all hope is not lost and some small, fragile green shoots of recovery are poking through. Current coach, the Brazilian Joel Santana, had presided over five straight victories, before Wednesday's loss to Chile, two of which were against regional powerhouses Cameroon and Ghana. This gave them a boost in the Fifa ranks and they now stand at 74th in the world.

A handful of the team's star players are also beginning to hit form.

Everton's Steven Pienaar has arguably been one of the best players in the Premier League this season, Blackburn's Aaron Mokoena has excelled in a struggling team. Striker Benni McCarthy has been brought back in from the cold after regular arguments with a succession of coaches at both national and international level.

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But more will have to be done if South Africa wants to avoid becoming the first nation to be thrown out of their own footballing party.

What do you think? Is South Africa the worst team to ever host the World Cup Finals?

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