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Mokoena: World Cup will leave big legacy

By Ben Wyatt, CNN
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South African captain on CNN
  • Captain Aaron Mokoena is confident South Africa will stage a successful World Cup
  • He believes his country showed its capability by hosting the Confederations Cup
  • The defender hopes the tournament will leave behind a positive legacy

(CNN) -- South Africa skipper Aaron Mokoena is confident his country will stage a successful World Cup next year -- and that the tournament will leave a positive legacy to help solve some of its problems.

Africa will host football's showpiece event for the first time, starting next June, and the draw will be made on Friday with a star-studded cast including Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron, soccer superstar David Beckham and athletics legend Haile Gebrselassie.

Mokoena, Bafana Bafana's record cap-holder with 92 and youngest ever international debutant at the age of 18 back in 1999, believes that South Africa proved its ability to stage big events with FIFA's Confederations Cup earlier this year.

"I was so pleased with the attendance of the supporters in every game," the 29-year-old told CNN. "It was a big concern before the Confederations Cup whether people would come and be able to afford the tickets to watch the games.

"We hosted the Rugby World Cup, we hosted the Cricket World Cup, and successfully. I don't see it as a problem to host the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. This is going to be a bigger ball game and it's going to take a lot, but I'm sure we can do it."

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The 1995 Rugby World Cup helped herald the birth of the "Rainbow Nation" as South Africa escaped from the grip of apartheid, and Mokoena believes next year's tournament can have a similar impact.

"Football is the No. 1 sport in South Africa -- I think it will really make a difference in bringing people together and changing things in South Africa," he said.

"There are so many situations in South Africa and I'm seeing the World Cup leaving a legacy and changing a lot of things. We have HIV and AIDS, we have corruption -- these are things that are really big concerns, but the World Cup can make a change."

South Africa surprised the football world by finishing fourth at the Confederations Cup in June, losing just 1-0 to eventual winners Brazil in the semifinals and then taking European champions Spain to extra-time before going down 3-2 in the playoff.

Mokoena admits that public expectations have now increased for his side.

"There's a lot of pressure, especially for me as captain," he said. "People are expecting us to do well at the World Cup.

"We had the Confederations Cup where we'd been written off before we'd even kicked a ball. We managed to show people what we are all about. We have what it takes, I'm sure, and the motivation is there among the players.

I think it will really make a difference in bringing people together and changing things in South Africa
--Aaron Mokoena

"It's up to us now to go out there in a bigger event and show that we can perform."

Mokoena is, however, less confident in predicting that an African team can finally win football's major prize.

"There's a mountain to climb. We have fantastic footballers across the world, we have countries who have what it takes to win the World Cup -- but in football, anything can happen," he said.

"I always make the example of Japan and Korea -- who knew that Korea would do so well in the World Cup in 2002? [the co-hosts reached the semifinals]."

Mokoena will go into the World Cup on the back of a difficult season with his new club Portsmouth, who are battling to avoid relegation from the English Premier League.

"It's going to be a hard season, we know that. We have a goal, and that's to do well in the Premier League and give the supporters what they deserve," he said.

"They are so fantastic and they deserve better. I have no regrets to be at Portsmouth. I knew it was going to be a hard season."