JOHANNESBURG - The Mexican national team is tucked away in a sprawling compound just south of this city.

The lodge - Thaba Ya Batswana - is closed for Mexico's exclusive use; you can find it by following a winding road into the hills and then up a cobblestoned path made not for a Fiat but for an off-road vehicle.

The team's confined setting is completely opposite where it will find itself only two days from now: opening the 2010 FIFA World Cup against the host nation, South Africa.

The exclusive hideaway is likely shielding Mexico from the frenzied support surrounding South Africa's national team.

South Africa's national team, affectionately nicknamed "Bafana Bafana" - "the boys" - is ranked only 83d in the world (Mexico is 17th). But it is talking as if it is a contender to win the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Joining Mexico and South Africa in Group A are France and Uruguay. Only a few months ago, Mexico and France were considered the sure-thing selections to advance out of group play.

But in the months since, South Africa has played 12 unbeaten matches, including Saturday's 1-0 victory over Denmark in its final World Cup warm-up game.

"I have watched the Mexicans against England, Netherlands, and Italy and they are good," South African striker Katlego Mphela told reporters after Saturday's victory. "If I get a chance to score, I will, as the last five matches have done wonders for my morale and that of other players. We are ready for Mexico. Our opponents can be sure of one thing: They are heading for a tough 90 minutes."

South Africa's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, has his team playing a ground game, maintaining possession, and doing its best to keep the ball out of the air. On Saturday, he told reporters his team was "buying into my plan" for the tournament.

Now, South Africa is talking as if advancing isn't a question.

"I'm not promising that we'll win the World Cup, but as soon as we reach the second round, every game becomes a knockout and then anything is possible," Parreira said.

Parreira said that Mexico is a "brilliant team" but that his guys don't fear Mexico.

On Monday, a local paper, the Sowetan, reported that the South African players have reached an agreement with the South African Football Association (SAFA): If Bafana Bafana win the World Cup, each player will receive approximately $500,000 and a new Mercedes-Benz.

While Bafana Bafana is absorbing all this local glory - billboards, flags, radio shows, and hype - Mexico remains the superior side, having recently defeated Italy, 2-1.

"This is the best Mexico squad we have ever had at a World Cup," coach Javier Arguirre told reporters in recent weeks, while midfielder Andres Guardado said his team has better ball skills than South Africa.

"We can cause them a lot of damage," Guardado added.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.