Young Bafana side need to be on fire
A BRIGHT sunrise yesterday penetrated the dense smog that hovered above Sao Paulo a day before Bafana Bafana's friendly international against Brazil.
It was clearly going to be a scorcher for the South Africans' final training session at the venue of today's game, the 67000-seater Estadio do Morumbi, home of Sao Paulo FC.
And it's going to be hot on the field for Bafana, too, against the five-time world champions and Fifa's 12th-ranked side.
It might be Brazil's National Day, and the game part of a symbolic handover from the 2010 World Cup hosts to those of 2014, but don't expect too much charity from the Selecao on the field. Brazil have named a full-strength team and are eager to put behind them an uncomfortable rebuilding period with two years to the hosting of the World Cup. But not everyone in the world's fifth-largest country is satisfied with the work of coach Mano Menezes and the players.
The absence of Kaka and Ronaldinho from the team highlights its transitional nature.
Kaka has barely made the Real Madrid starting XI recently. After a long period out of form, Ronaldinho has had some scintillating performances for new side Atletico Mineiro this season, and the club top the Brazilian standings.
Still, the premature decline of the two best Brazilian players of the past decade has made the transition phase all the more difficult for Menezes.
The former Corinthians coach has been tasked with weaning the Selecao off an over-dependence on the counter-attack under predecessor Dunga, and has been largely successful.
He failed to nail down the one major international trophy that still eludes Brazil, the Olympics, losing to Mexico in the final last month, but notched five wins, scoring three goals in all five previous matches. Romulo has emerged as Brazil's new organiser in midfield.
Paris Saint-Germain's Thiago Silva is a world-class central defender, with Dede of Vasco Da Gama and Chelsea's David Luiz competing to partner the Brazil captain.
Up front, Hulk, who has just signed for Zenit St Petersburg from FC Porto for about £32-million, and Internacional's Leandro Damiao, provide the muscle to complement the skill of Brazil's newest emerging princeling, Neymar. Throw in Ramires and Barcelona's Dani Alves and Adriano, and it's an intimidating line-up.
South Africa have not lost by more than a goal against Brazil in three internationals, though all of those were at home. The last meeting was the 2009 Confederations Cup semifinal, where Bafana matched the Selecao blow for blow until Alves' 87th-minute freekick.
New Bafana coach Gordon Igesund has brought a new-look side to Brazil and will hope the gamble won't backfire. Orlando Pirates full-back Thabo Matlaba, who has one cap, is earmarked for right wing in a 4-3-3 formation.
New caps Dean Furman and Dino Ndlovu were set to start in defensive midfield and at striker.
The new faces have brought a new energy to a young squad, but hopefully they won't be overwhelmed. Their naïvety internationally might just provide the raw confidence and hunger needed to give Brazil a go today.