South African defender Matthew Booth is looking forward to the World Cup, but isn't letting the excitement of the tournament in his home country cloud the reality of the situation that lies ahead.
According to the stalwart defender, South Africa has a lot of work and preparation to do before it faces Mexico in the opening game of the tournament on June 11 in Johannesburg.
Bafana Bafana recently returned from a month-long training camp in Brazil, home of national team coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. South African has played three international friendly games since March 31: a 1-1 draw with Paraguay, a goalless draw with North Korea and a 2-0 win over Jamaica.
South Africa has been pretty busy, but Booth maintains there's still work to do ahead of the tournament.
"We spent a good month in Brazil. Before that, we spent three weeks in Germany, but only with the locally based players," Booth told CBCSports.ca.
"We've prepared as well as we can, but I think the important stages are yet to come, and that will be in the next month or so, where we're going to be playing against much tougher competition."
To that end, South Africa has lined up a series of exhibition matches, against Thailand this Sunday, Bulgaria (May 24), Colombia (May 27) and Denmark (June 5).
Games such as these, especially against the World Cup-bound Danes, are crucial for South Africa's preparation. Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations tournament in Angola in January, which means the upcoming series of friendlies are the only competitive games the team will play ahead of the World Cup.
The games will also allow the South African players to bond and develop some camaraderie, which is especially important when you consider what the team has been through the past eight months.
'A big boost'
South Africa failed to build on its surprising semifinal showing at last summer's FIFA Confederations Cup, and instead went into a downwards spiral, losing eight of its next nine matches, including setbacks in international friendlies to Norway and Iceland.
As a result, Brazilian Joel Santana stepped down from his post as national team manager last October, leaving South Africa in a dangerous freefall as it prepares to host and compete in the World Cup.
The reappointment of Parreira, the man Santana originally succeeded, was a shrewd move. The Brazilian has a wealth of international experience, having coached four different nations at the World Cup, including leading his native Brazil to the title in 1994.
The players have a world of confidence in Parreira, and Booth believes the Brazilian will whip the team into shape before the start of the World Cup.
"Obviously, it's disappointing to lose our coach, to be partly responsible for [Santana] losing his job," Booth admitted. "But I think Parreira is the best man to take over for continuity sake and for the fact he's won a World Cup before.
"He's going to be bringing vast experience to the team and he's definitely put the players' minds right. … We haven't been doing so well as of late and for a coach of Parreira's quality to come in it puts your mind at ease. It gives the players and the team a big boost."