'Even the vuvuzelas won't help us'
Carlos Alberto Parreira on Saturday likened Bafana Bafana's incredibly tough World Cup draw to climbing Mount Everest, but promised that his much-doubted team would strive to "make South Africa proud" next year.
Parreira will have had a long evening on Friday following a nightmare of a draw which pitted his team against France, Uruguay and Mexico, but as he addressed the media Saturday morning, he looked pretty content, while most South Africans continue to harbour misgivings about their team's ability.
"I have done a lot of thinking since (Friday). We now have a big challenge, a difficult group. It's the reality. This is Mount Everest, but we will survive. We are not scared and we will reach the top of the mountain," Parreira said.
The "top" in Bafana's case is progression to the knockout phase of Africa's first World Cup, and Friday's draw only served to instill more fear among Bafana fans - but Parreira admitted that getting there would require drastic improvement rather than the repetitive rhetoric which characterised the previous Joel Santana era.
"The only way for us to qualify is to work hard, not just talk. We have to be well-prepared. If all we do is talk, even the vuvuzelas won't help us.
"The world is full of people who are good at talking, but you're judged only on what you achieve, not what you say. We have to be prepared to reach our destiny and conquer. I'm more than ready for this challenge," Parreira said.
A man who's been to seven World Cups, winning one of them, could certainly not be expected to suffer palpitations ahead of next year's finals, but Bafana's limitations are so glaring South Africans could be excused for not immediately sharing Parreira's buoyancy.
By his own admission, "90 percent" of Bafana's foreign legion can hardly win a place on the bench at their clubs, something which poses a huge fitness challenge in Parreira's ambition of climbing up Everest.
With camps planned for Brazil and Germany in March and April, the Bafana coach vowed to personally request the release of the likes of Elrio van Heerden and Benni McCarthy at Blackburn Rovers, and Aaron Mokoena, of Portsmouth, so as to get them into shape before the finals.
"Those who want to play for Bafana must be fit. I was looking at the France squad and they have 11 players all playing in the Uefa Champions League. We'll seek to speak to some European clubs to release the players, especially for the camp in Brazil, but we know we may not get much help."
Parreira revealed that he was hearing only a single message from South Africans whenever he goes shopping around Johannesburg. "Everywhere I go, when the people see me, they always say, 'Coach, make South Africa proud'. This is what we have to inculcate in the players. They need to know that they must make South Africa proud."
Turning to Bafana's opponents, Parreira said he was glad all three of them prefer to play the ball on the ground, and thus the Group A matches would provide some entertainment next year.
"Mexico are physically strong, that's why we need to get the fitness right when we play them in the first game. France too are good. They reached the final of the last World Cup. Uruguay also have a great style of play...no high balls, keep it on the ground and we too are like that. We want to enjoy the game."
In another departure from the Santana madness, Parreira said Bafana's failure to qualify for the African Nations Cup, kicking off on January 10 in Angola, robbed his team of what would have been invaluable preparation.
He said plans were in place to secure friendlies with big teams, such as Germany and England, but the two matches against Chile and Jamaica have been cancelled due to a demanding pre-World Cup itinerary.