Favourites Spain start their campaign, hosts South Africa back
Johannesburg: Bookies` favourites Spain finally begin their World Cup campaign with an easy-looking match against Switzerland on Wednesday when the vuvuzela decibel levels will soar again for hosts South Africa`s second game.
The local Bafana Bafana (Boys) team face a stubborn Uruguay in their second Group A match, but are on a 13-match unbeaten run and brimming with confidence after a spectacular first goal in their draw with Mexico that opened the tournament.
"Our goal is to get into the knockout round," said defender Bongani Khumalo. Reaching the second stage would indeed be a triumph for South Africa who fear the ignominy of being the only World Cup hosts in history to go out at the first hurdle.
From Cape Town`s spectacular Table Mountain to Johannesburg`s famous Soweto township, the nation will again come to a halt to back Bafana Bafana with noise and passion.
"We want to hear those vuvuzelas!" said South Africa`s Brazilian manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, relieved FIFA has rejected pleas to ban the ubiquitous noisy plastic trumpet.
Spain`s Long Wait
While South Africa would be happy just to reach the next round, nothing short of lifting the cup would satisfy Spain.
They have an extraordinarily talented side and even if striker Fernando Torres and midfielder Andres Iniesta miss out due to fitness doubts, they should be able to brush aside unfancied Switzerland in the Group H clash in Durban.
Marginally bookies` favourite ahead of Brazil, the Spanish are painfully aware that past great sides have flopped at the World Cup but hope their Euro 2008 win will be a good omen.
Brazil`s Samba Boys made their first appearance in the tournament on Tuesday night, struggling at first to break down the ultra-defensive North Koreans but then notching two goals with moments of flair from Maicon and Elano in the second half.
The North Koreans, who went on a famous run to the quarter-finals in England in 1966, scored at the end in a highly creditable 2-1 defeat to the five-time world championes.
Goals have not exactly been flowing in South Africa.
The net has bulged 23 times in the first 14 games, a relatively low average of 1.64 goals per match and below the 2.30 at Germany 2006.
Prolific marksmen Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba were unable to hit the net in Portugal`s 0-0 draw with Ivory Coast, also on Tuesday. Fellow outsiders New Zealand and Slovakia managed a goal each, however, in a 1-1 draw that gave both nations their first ever World Cup point.
Chile and Honduras will have the first chance to up the tournament`s goal tally in Wednesday`s opening game of Group H at Nelspruit.
Chile are playing on the 48th anniversary of their last World Cup victory when they beat Yugoslavia in the third-place playoff while hosting the 1962 tournament.
Since then, they have not won a single game in 13 matches over four more World Cups. But Chile defender Gonzalo Jara said minds were not focussed on history.
"Getting the three points and playing like we want to play that`s the important thing," he said.
As well as the lack of high-scoring games, empty seats have been a disappointing feature of the World Cup.
World soccer`s governing body says, however, that attendance levels are the second highest in World Cup history behind the United States in 1994, and blame ticket-holders who have not turned up for leaving seats empty.
There was an horrific twist to the World Cup in Somalia where Islamist militants killed two people and arrested dozens more for breaking a ban on watching games on TV.
Most Somalis love football, but the Hizbul Islam group, which follows a strict interpretation of Islami, were unforgiving against spectators in Afgoi district.