[PORTRAIT] Hapless host South Africa is suddenly looking like a force to reckoned with at the World Cup. Bafana Bafana are unbeaten in 12 games since Carlos Alberto Parreira returned as head coach. And their star has been their lone striker, Katlego Mphela, whose killer form -- six goals in his last five games -- is directly attributable to Parreira's training regime.
Mphela hails from the poor Oukasi township outside mineral-rich Brits in the North West province, where he earned the nickname "Killer" for a goal he scored as a youth. He was first spotted by former New York Cosmos player Jomo Sono, who signed him to his Jomo Cosmos.
Mphela had a short stint in France with Strasbourg and Reims but returned to South Africa because of homesickness and has spent the rest of his career at home with SuperSport United and Mamelodi Sundowns, for which he was the ABSA Premiership's leading scorer and most valuable player in 2009-10.
Parreira took domestic-based players on extended training camps to Brazil and Germany.
"I think I have never been this fit in my whole career, thanks to all the training in camp," he told kickoff.com.
Mphela shed more than 10 pounds.
"It has helped me get even quicker and it looks simple when I pass the defenders," he added, "but it is not that simple. It is because of all the training in the national team. I'm lighter now and ready for our opponents."
Mphela believes he can exploit his pace in Friday's opener against Mexico.
Based on his time in France, Mphela also has an opinion on the 2006 World Cup runners-up whom South Africa meets in its final group game.
"I don't think France are strong," he said. "I watched their last game and their players are old."
The sudden success of Bafana Bafana -- up until recently considered the weakest team to ever host the World Cup -- has raised the spirits of South African fans and has been credited with helping boost World Cup ticket sales in the final push to sell out stadiums.
Mphela has become a hero back in Brits, where his mother Maki Maggy Monyeki told church-goers on Sunday that through “the Grace of God and our earnest prayers that our boys will conquer the world."