South Africa will be desperate to satisfy an expectant host nation when they battle Asian champions Iraq in the opening game of the FIFA Confederations Cup on Sunday. There is a renewed sense of belief in the Bafana Bafana camp that they will be able to use this competition as a springboard to success, but they face a tough first hurdle against a team determined to atone for their failure to qualify for next year's FIFA World Cup™.
South Africa-Iraq, 14 June, 16:00 (local time), Johannesburg
Iraq will be undeterred by their status as underdogs. After all, they are used to defying the odds, as they did throughout their triumphant AFC Asian Cup 2007 campaign. Forward Younis Mahmoud is the biggest name in a side that prides itself on an impressive work ethic.
In his 14-month tenure at the South Africa helm, Joel Santana has consistently told his doubters to judge him at the FIFA Confederations Cup. Victory over Iraq would be a step in the right direction, and this will likely depend on whether Bora Milutinovic's charges can nullify the genius of Steven Pienaar and Teko Modise.
Steven Pienaar (RSA) vs. Nashat Akram (IRQ)
Since his move to English Premier League side Everton, Steven Pienaar has re-emerged as an exciting playmaker and influential member of the South Africa squad. He will now look to employ his innovation, off-the-ball movement and knack of scoring crucial goals to undo Iraq.
Iraq's hopes rest heavily on rising star Nashat Akram. Boosted by his recent move to Dutch side Twente, he brings stability to the midfield. Talented and industrious, he is expected to provide the likes of Mahmoud with quality passes.
The meeting at Ellis Park will be the first competitive match between South Africa and Iraq.
24 - With an average age of 24 years and eight months, Iraq's squad is the FIFA Confederations Cup's youngest.
Did you know?
The Ellis Park Stadium, nicknamed the 'House of Pain', hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, which was won by South Africa. It will also host the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup on 28 June.
"We have three games and if we win against Iraq, we will have a lot of confidence. That is what we are aiming at," South Africa coach Joel Santana.
"We have tried our best to prepare the team for the FIFA Confederations Cup despite the short period that we had. Our team have good players who are skilful, and I'm really optimistic that we can deliver good performances in the tournament," Iraq coach Bora Milutinovic.