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South African players admit to pre-World Cup nerves

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -- South African players have admitted a growing nervous anticipation as the opening match of the World Cup against Mexico approaches on Friday.

Four squad members, paraded before reporters on Tuesday, spoke of the burden of expectation suddenly placed on the team amid a growing fervour in the country.

"As it gets nearer to kick off, the nerves are beginning. All we have in mind is not to disappoint," said striker Bernard Parker.

"There are times now when you get really nervous but having the nation behind us means a lot to the squad," added winger Siphiwe Tshabalala, who is expected to start Friday's match against Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg.

"I don't know how we are going to feel on the bus on the way to the opening game," said defender Matthew Booth.

Having gone from being perceived lightweights, after several years of poor form, the team known universally as Bafana Bafana suddenly find themselves catapulted to the status of a team with potential and the possibility of creating some World Cup upsets.

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"We are all aware of the importance of winning the first game," said goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.

"We have the advantage of home support and with the whole nation behind us there is a real energy. But there is a little bit of nerves while we wait."

The streets of Johannesburg are awash with an outpouring of nationalist sentiment which South African President Jacob Zuma on Monday described as an unprecedented event uniting the country's different racial groups.

He predicted its effect would be felt for many years to come.

Booth said the euphoria had the potential to help the team go much further in the World Cup than originally predicted or could be expected given its 83rd ranking.

"We are not looking much further than the Mexico match but once, not if, we beat them, we know the momentum will push us through. All the players are confident of making it to the knockout stage.

"With the euphoria that will come after that in South Africa, anything is possible."