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Aaron Mokoena: The nerves hit me hard

Bafana starting XI vs Mexico
Bafana starting XI vs Mexico

Aaron Mokoena has recalled the nerves he felt in the tunnel 10 years ago as he led Bafana Bafana out in the opening game of the FIFA World Cup.

On June 11, 2010, the host nation faced Mexico at Soccer City, with Siphiwe Tshabalala famously netting a spectacular opener, only for Rafael Marquez to equalise late on for a 1-1 draw.

‘Mbazo’ admits he could not wait for the game to get going as the significance of the occasion began to kick in.

“The nerves kicked in in the tunnel,” he told TimesLIVE. “I felt‚ ‘This thing we’ve been working for‚ it’s now happening’. Especially as the captain with so much responsibility.

“I felt‚ ‘When is the game starting?’ I just wanted to get my first tackle in.

“It took long from the tunnel to line up for the anthems; President Jacob Zuma with his speech declaring the World Cup open‚ I had to go to the referee to spin the coin. It just took long. But bang‚ to the first whistle‚ and then I felt‚ ‘Now‚ this is the time. I hope we really want this more’.”

Even in the weeks leading up to the tournament, Mokoena has his work cut out in selling his country to the rest of the world.

“I felt the pressure when we were still in the build-up,” he continued. “I think I had over 400 international interviews People would ask‚ ‘Is South Africa safe? Is South Africa going to be ready? Do we live with animals?’

“So I had to educate some people who wanted to come to the World Cup but were not sure. Because when I was in the UK‚ on the BBC they would show your Alexandra this‚ and places people would absolutely be sceptical of in terms of coming to South Africa. I had to educate people and market SA.”

Results ultimately didn’t go Bafana’s way as a heavy loss against Uruguay rendered the 2-1 win against France in the final game meaningless, meaning South Africa became the only country in World Cup history to miss out on progression to the knockout stages.


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