Inspired SA, Mexico clash in opening day encounter

SA have improved dramatically under Parreira's guidance

South Africa's dramatic improvement over the last six months, Mexico's new-found self belief and France's erratic build-up will make Group A one of the closest fought in the opening stage of the World Cup.

With inconsistent and unpredictable Uruguay completing the quartet, Friday's World Cup opener between the hosts and Mexico at Soccer City, already the focus of the world's attention, has assumed even greater importance for both sides.

South Africa have improved dramatically since Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira returned as coach in November.

Last week's 1-0 win over Denmark in their final warm-up, stretched their unbeaten run to 12 matches and speculation that Bafana Bafana would become the first host nation not to survive the opening round is beginning to fade.

Parreira said on Sunday his team now "fear nobody".

"Everyone has to respect us. I believe the team has shown itself ready for the World Cup. We will go into the tournament with confidence and now we can start to dream about a position, about achieving something," he said.

Image: South Africa's Teko Modise controls the ball during a training session as coach Carlos Alberto Parreira (left) looks on

But they will face a severe test against Mexico who have also been impressive in the final stages of their preparations.

Although they lost 3-1 to England at Wembley Stadium last month, the Mexicans played some superb football and gave another solid performance when they beat world champions Italy 2-1 in Brussels last Thursday.

Coach Javier Aguirre has confidently said in recent weeks: "This is the best Mexico squad we have ever had at a World Cup."

Victory over South Africa in the opener would give Mexico's growing self-confidence extra steel and set them up for an intriguing second match against France in Polokwane on June 17.

Image: Mexico's Ricardo Osorio (left) and Guillermo Franco go through the gring during a practice session