THE IMCOSIS ARE HOLDING ALL AVAILABLE THUMBS!!!

Bafana Bafana are ready to roll back the years to 1996 when they last tasted glory and hope a large slice of Madiba Magic will shine on them in the opening World Cup Group A showdown against Mexico at Soccer City on Friday. Kick-off is at 4pm.

A record 94 700 crowd will watch history being made in this, the first ever World Cup match played on South African soil. Never before has so much attention and hype been poured on any sporting event in the country.

The weight of expectation is on Bafana and captain Aaron Mokoena and his boys, have worked tirelessly for the big day.

Mokoena said the 1-0 win over Denmark at the Super Stadium last weekend was the key.

"That win has given us the much needed confidence," he said.

"We beat one of the best teams in the world and it was a massive boost to the players."

Former State President Nelson Mandela, met the players this week for a motivational "chat".

Madiba supported the Rugby Springboks to glory in the 1995 World Cup final at Ellis Park and a year later, was at the old Soccer City to celebrate Bafana winning the African Nations Cup.

Madiba will be the main guest of honour at the new multi-billion rand world class Soccer City. His presence will help inspire the players in the class of 2010 and the capacity crowd of Bafana fans.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, said the reason the world soccer controlling body awarded the hosting of the world's greatest sporting event to South Africa was in honour and respect of what Madiba had achieved in uniting South Africans when he became President of the new South Africa in 1994.

Bafana will need that "Madiba touch" against the 17th world ranked Mexicans who will have experienced the home team's fan support, boosted by the noise of 90 000 odd vuvuzelas.

The crux, however, is to forget Bafana being ranked 83rd in the world. Simply because at this stage they are playing much better than that.

Brazilian head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, has weaved his own magic on the players and they are unrecognisable from the team he inherited last November.

Bafana then were down and almost out, but Parreira has given them back their self-belief and they should be able to navigate their way through a tough group, which also includes two former world champions in Uruguay and France, and reach the second round.

Said Parreira: "When I took over Bafana last November, the people told me to make the country proud. We have worked incredibly hard in the past five months and now we are ready to make the country proud."

Bafana have now earned the respect of the nation by going into the clash against Mexico with a 12 match unbeaten record and a belief they can cause a major upset.

The teams have met three times before with Mexico winning twice, while a third string Bafana caused an upset in 2005 in the Gold Cup played in the United States, winning 2-1.

Soccer City is, to quote Parreira, "one of the most intimidating stadiums I have ever been in" and that atmosphere boosted by 94 000 vuvuzelas, would make most teams buckle.

However, Mexico should be used to volatile and huge crowds and should not be easily intimidated.

Bafana will striving for is an early goal that will fire up the already partisan crowd and deliver a psychological killer blow to the highly regarded Central Americans.

Mokoena and his defenders then will have to neutralise a strike force that could include new Manchester United star Javier Hernandez, Guillermo Franco and the Arsenal ace, Carlos Vela.

In midfield, expect Bafana star Steven Pienaar to show why he is regarded as one of the best players in the world against Giovanni dos Santos.

Pienaar will be backed up by Siphiwe Tshabalala and the rejuvenated Teko Modise who will be loading ammunition for striker Katlego Mphela. - courtesy of Sapa // IOL