Coaches Parreira & Verbeek confident

South Africa's head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira during team training, at Mark's Park ground, in Johannesburg.-AP

Both the South African and Australian coaches are happy with the way their teams are shaping up as D-Day nears for South Africa 2010. Over to K. Keerthivasan.

It's not just on the organisational front that the host is fighting battles. On the field too, the task hasn't got any easier. But South Africa's coach Alberto Parreira is confident that his team would do well in the World Cup, contrary to expectations.

Parreira, who guided Brazil to gold in USA 1994, has emphasised that his team is shaping well and that it was only the third time Bafana Bafana (the nickname — meaning, ‘The Boys,' — of the South African national football team) had managed to net four goals in a friendly game, this time against Thailand. The last time South Africa did so was against Chad, three years ago.

What would be more pleasing to Parreira, though, is that his side managed to put up a polished and fluent performance despite the fact that some of the regulars were either sitting on the sidelines or were still out of the country.

Midfielder Steven Pienaar has been given time off and captain Aaron Mokoena was travelling from England following his sterling performance for Portsmouth in the English FA Cup final. Star defender Tsepo Masilela was in Israel and Benni McCarthy watched the Thailand game from the stands after being urged to regain full fitness before the World Cup.

“We are the underdogs in the World Cup, no one expects us to win our group. As a team, we are improving,” Parreira said.

Team-spirit fantastic

We've often read reports of differences of opinion among players or ego clashes among stars in the lead up to a major competition. But this Australian football team has no such problems, if coach Pim Verbeek is to be believed.

“My players are the most professional players I've worked with,” said Verbeek. “Mark Schwarzer of course, Lucas Neill, Vince Grella, Timmy Cahill just to mention a few who just bring something extra into the team.”

Verbeek lavished praise on the team's punctuality. “In my two-and-a-half years (with the Socceroos), I've never had one player come late to the bus, or too late for whatever it was. You can say that's normal. In the football world I promise you that's not normal.”

Verbeek spoke about player-power albeit in a positive light. “So far in the last two-and-a-half years, I haven't had to do so much because my players control the dressing room.” Verbeek hopes that this team spirit will carry the squad through.

Rooney has future sorted out

While one is not sure whether England striker Wayne Rooney would be match fit for the quadrennial event, the star has already thought about his future. Speaking at a function, Rooney said that he hopes to move into management once his playing days are over. The Manchester United star, who scored 34 goals this season, will be crucial to England's World Cup hopes this summer.

“I would like to step into management,” Rooney said. “I joined Everton when I was nine years old and football has been a massive part of my life. When I do stop playing, I want to be involved in football. I started doing my coaching badges this year, and probably did not do as many classes as I would have liked. Hopefully I can continue them next year. Rooney reiterated his love for football. “I love football and enjoy football — I can't see myself running a restaurant, I want to be in football. But now I am only 24. Hopefully I can progress and the best years are still ahead of me.”

Villa predicts Spain-Argentina final

Spanish striker David Villa, who is one of the favourites to claim the Golden Boot Award in South Africa, has spoken of his admiration for Messi, the 2009 FIFA ‘World Player of the Year,' but believes a Spain-Argentina final would be a fitting tribute to the greatest game in world football. “A Spain against Argentina final would be good, and may the best team win,” said the Valencia star.

“We (Villa and Messi) are hoping that we play against each other in South Africa, but we would like it if we both got to the final, without meeting each other in the early stages,” the 28-year-old said.

Should either one of the two sides fail to top its group but still qualify in second place, then Spain and Argentina would be set on a collision course for the final.

Villa is one of the brightest stars in the World Cup and could turn out to be one of the star players. He has all the credentials to grab the honours. Having made his international debut in 2005 against San Marino, Villa has since participated in two major tournaments, the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. He scored three goals at the 2006 World Cup and was top-scorer at Euro 2008 with four goals. He is the second top-scorer of all time for Spain, behind only Raul Gonzalez.

Ballack to miss World Cup

This is one blow from which Germany would find it difficult to recover. It was announced that German captain Michael Ballack would take no part in the World Cup owing to an ankle injury suffered in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth recently.

The Chelsea midfielder, Ballack, was forced off the field before half-time in the club's summit clash. The German international took a heavy blow to his right ankle from Portsmouth midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng and left Wembley wearing a protective boot. A scan later revealed the severity of the ankle injury thereby ruling him out of the World Cup.

Ballack condemned the tackle, which has now ruled him out of the festivities in South Africa. “It wasn't a good tackle,” he said. “I've seen it on TV and it didn't look a good tackle and when I was on the pitch, I knew it would be really difficult to carry on. I tried, but it wasn't possible.”

After starring in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, the 2010 edition was expected to be the last one the 33-year old would take part in. Certainly not the kind of farewell Ballack would have hoped for.