12 June 2009
The 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup will be the biggest football tournament to take place on South African soil since the 1996 African Nations Cup, and fans of Bafana Bafana will be hoping that the national team can recapture the verve and fighting spirit it displayed in 1996, when it won the continental title.
The highs achieved by Clive Barker’s team have, however, long faded into memory, and recent years of middling results will have tempered the hopes of Bafana fans.
Nonetheless, playing a major tournament at home – in familiar conditions and with passionate support – suggests that the team, under coach Joel Santana, could spring a surprise or two.
Under the Brazilian, Bafana Bafana managed five victories in succession in the latter half of 2008, which have led some to believe that a corner has been turned. Recent losses to Chile and Portugal, although they have been followed by wins over Mauritius and Poland, have shown that Santana’s charges still have some way to go before they make a consistent climb up the world rankings from their present position of 72.
Santana appears to have a good idea of which players constitute the core of his squad. Sadly, though, one man who will be missing after yet another instance of letting Bafana Bafana down due to his questionable unavailability for matches against Norway and Portugal is Benni McCarthy.
South Africa’s leading international goal scorer, it seems, has let the side down once too often and there might not be a place for the Blackburn Rovers star in the 2010 Fifa World Cup squad.
The good news is that Bafana Bafana might have a ready replacement for McCarthy in Red Star Belgrade striker Bernard Parker. Earlier this year he moved from Thanda Royal Zulu to Serbia after impressing in both club and international matches.
High on Parker
Mike Makaab, managing director of Prosport International and a Fifa-accredited agent who has many of South Africa’s leading footballers on his books, believes Parker has got what it takes to make a real mark on the game. Makaab is an astute observer of talent and his opinion should count because he knows what it takes to win; in 1995 he coached Orlando Pirates to the African Champions League title.
Interestingly, Parker finished tied for fourth in goal scoring in the Premier Soccer League despite having played only part of the season in South Africa.
Another striker, one who many thought deserved to be in the Confederations Cup squad, Richard Henyekane of Golden Arrows, was one of the most controversial omissions from the line-up.
PSL goal scoring
Henyekane was in superb form throughout the PSL season and topped the goal scoring charts by finding the back of the net 19 times. That’s three goals more than Mabhuti Khenyeza scored for Ajax Cape Town. Khenyeza was in the provisional Confederations Cup squad, but was then axed after running foul of team management.
Instead, Parker will be supported by Orlando Pirates’ Katlego Mashego and Mamelodi Sundowns’ Katlega Mphela. Mashego netted nine times in the PSL season, while Mphela, astonishingly for a man selected to play in the national side as a striker, scored only three times! Coach Santana was questioned about the omission of Henyekane, but declined to discuss individual players.
The other striker among the four selected in the 23-man squad is Maccabi Haifa marksman Thembinkosi ‘Terror’ Fanteni. The former Ajax Cape Town star has ably led the Israeli club’s frontline, but has just two goals at international level.
Lack of experience
Goal scoring has long been Bafana Bafana’s biggest concern, and the lack of experience among the chosen strikers means SA’s strike force is a worry yet again.
Parker, in 14 games, many of them as a substitute, has scored five times. Fanteni has one goal in 16 appearances. Mashego has scored once in seven appearances and Mphela four times in 10 outings. That means that between them the four strikers have earned only 47 caps and scored 11 goals.
Aaron Mokoena will be the leader in defence. The Blackburn Rovers’ man, despite not being a regular starter for his club, has earned 81 international caps, more than any other player in Bafana Bafana history. Experience is a valuable asset in the international game and he will be a key man at the back.
However, he won’t have Nasief Morris, arguably South Africa’s best central defender, alongside him. Morris, in a big shock, was left out of the pared-down 23-man squad, allegedly after he broke the team’s code of conduct.
Coaches are always on the lookout for players able to make things happen in the midfield, and Santana is fortunate in that he has two men who fit that bill: Orlando Pirates’ Teko Modise and Everton’s Steven Pienaar.
Modise is capable of changing a game with both his passing and scoring and is a threat to score from distance with his powerful long-range shots. Pienaar is a silky-skilled midfielder who is able to make things happen with his astute touches.
With both Modise and Pienaar in the line-up, Santana, as is his wont, will likely employ a holding midfielder just in front of the defenders. Golden Arrows’ Kagisho Dikgacoi appears most likely to get the call for such a role. He has previously filled it, along with Aaron Mokoena, who has since returned to defence.
Besides goal scoring, another valid concern about the squad is the lack of playing time that some overseas-based, such as Rowen Fernandez and Bryce Moon, have experienced. Even Lance Davids, since his move to SuperSport United, has not played that much.
Coach Santana, as a Brazilian, likes to use his outside backs – the wingbacks – to attack. In the Confederations Cup, Bafana Bafana will have the opportunity to watch Brazil themselves in action.
The five-time World Cup winners are in Group B and are not scheduled to meet South Africa, unless that happens in the playoffs. South Africa, however, will have to face Spain in Group A – a team loaded with world class talent in every position.
The Spaniards, the European champions, enjoy a record lead at the top of the Fifa world rankings and are unbeaten in 32 matches. Given South Africa’s traditional struggles against European opponents, Spain should have far too much class for Bafana Bafana when the teams meet in Bloemfontein on 20 June.
That will likely leave SA battling Oceania champions New Zealand and Asian champions Iraq for a place in the semi-finals. In the latest Fifa world rankings, Bafana are ranked 72nd, Iraq is in 77th position, and the All Whites are in 82nd place.
The matches between the three teams should be tight and Santana will hope that home advantage against sides of roughly the same standard will help SA win a place in the semi-finals.
It is important that South Africa claim a place in the Confederations Cup semi-final ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. That result would help instill confidence in Bafana’s fans and also help raise interest and hype in the World Cup.
With that in mind, a semi-final place, at the least, should be a non-negotiable goal.
BAFANA BAFANA SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Brian Baloyi (Mamelodi Sundowns), Rowen Fernandez (Arminia Bielefeld, Germany) Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs)
Defenders: Siboniso Gaxa, Matthew Booth (both Sundowns), Morgan Gould, Bongani Khumalo (both SuperSport United), Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth, United Kingdom), Bryce Moon (Panathinaikos, Greece), Innocent Mdledle (Orlando Pirates), Tsepo Masilela (Maccabi Haifa, Israel)
Midfielders: Steven Pienaar (Everton, United Kingdom), Siphiwe Tshabalala (Chiefs), Elrio van Heerden (Blackburn Rovers, United Kingdom), Teko Modise, Benson Mhlongo (both Pirates), Macbeth Sibaya (Rubin Kazan, Russia), Lance Davids (SuperSport United), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Golden Arrows)
Strikers: Terror Fanteni (Maccabi Haifa, Israel), Katlego Mashego (Pirates), Bernard Parker (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia) and Katlego Mphela (Sundowns).
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