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Heavier Things

Heavy Expectations

by Dave Durbach / 03.05.2010

“Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.” Old William Shakespeare’s words from King Henry IV probably ring true for Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira as he returned with his squad from their training camp in Germany and almost immediately called for South Africans to manage their expectations. “Be realistic,” he said.

But despite some obvious frailties, as D-Day draws near for Bafana Bafana, many are feeling pretty upbeat about the host team’s chances. The team touched down at OR Tambo on Friday, back from a month in Brazil and two weeks in Germany, culminating in a morale-boosting 2-0 drubbing of Jamaica. Despite a dearth of willing opponents in Germany due to league commitments and air travel restrictions, coach Carlos was still upbeat at the press conference in Sandton. “I think concerning training preparation, the country was perfect. We have nothing to complain about. The players were really committed, and everybody gave their best. The game we played against Jamaica gave us a good opposition. I’m happy.“

Bafana now turn their attention to the third and final stage in their World Cup preparations. Parreira announced a 29-man squad to compete in warm-up matches scheduled for May 16th (against unconfirmed opponents), May 24th (vs Bulgaria), May 27th (vs Colombia) and the 5th of June (vs Denmark). The squad will ultimately be whittled down to 23. The objective of this month’s training, says Parreira, is “to give the final shape to the team” – not an easy task, he admits, when the squad’s overseas-based players (including skipper Aaron Mokoena) will only be arriving later, some as late as the 23rd of May. Local players will convene this week on May 4th, and will make up the team for the first two matches, before being joined for the final two matches by the rest of the squad. Which gives the team, with it’s full compliment of international players, just over 2 weeks to gel.
“It’s not going to be easy at all. We know we’re going to have difficulty in joining the overseas players,” said Parreira of incorporating the late arrivals into the Bafana set-up. “It will be a good challenge” for the overseas players, he said, “especially some players who will come only on the 23rd or 24th. They have to prove that they are good physically. Otherwise it’s so difficult.”

The Brazilian emphasized the importance of all players getting sufficient game time against quality opposition. Benchwarmers in European leagues could find themselves at a distinct disadvantage when the axe falls. In the past 22 weeks of European football, Kagisho Dikgacoi has only started five games, Benni McCarthy nine and Mokoena eleven. Everton’s mercurial midfielder Steven Pienaar, upon whom much of Bafana’s hopes rest, has notched up 27 games in the past 22 weeks – “the ideal situation”, according to Parreira, although he acknowledged that Pienaar will have to be rested before the Cup kicks off on June 11. “We should give him at least 5 or 6 days break, to have him fresh mentally and physically relaxed for the World Cup. Otherwise he’s going to be a failure.”

Leslie Sedibe, Carlos Alberto Parreira and Xolani Mtumtum

He emphasized that the upcoming matches were against the toughest teams available. “The preparation is vital. I would always prefer to play strong teams. I have talked personally with the coaches of England, Italy, Holland, Spain – all of them. They arrive here on 6th or 7th of June. That’s why we could not play any of them.”

The squad contains few surprises. 10 of the 29 are based overseas, with the majority of local players coming from Kaizer Chiefs (3), Orlando Pirates (4) and Mamelodi Sundowns (6). Maritzburg United’s Shu-Aib Walters has been included as a fourth goalkeeper to cover for Rowan Fernandez, still sporting an injured wrist, while old hands like Matthew Booth and Siyabonga Nomvethe find themselves back in favour.

With 90th-ranked Bafana carrying the hopes of a nation in the face of imposing odds, a determined Parreira urged supporters not to put undue pressure on the team to make it through to the next round. “We hope South Africa will be in the final. But what credentials do we have to be in the finals of the World Cup? Let’s be very realistic. Let’s not put pressure on our boys. Myself as a coach, I want to win all the games. I want to lift the trophy on the 11th of July. My staff, my officials, my country, my players (want to)…But do not put the pressure on them that they have to be there. We have to give our best. We have to fight for the country. We have to be proud of them. This is what we are doing.”

Bafana pre-WC squad:

GOALKEEPERS: Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs); Moeneeb Josephs (Orlando Pirates); Shu-Aib Walters (Maritzburg United); Rowen Fernandez (Arminia Bielefeld, Germany)

DEFENDERS: Matthew Booth (Mamelodi Sundowns); Siboniso Gaxa (Sundowns); Bongani Khumalo (Supersport United); Tsepo Masilela (Maccabi Haifa, Israel); Innocent Mdledle (Sundowns); Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth, UK); Bryce Moon (PAOK, Greece); Anele Ngcongca (Racing Genk, Belgium); Siyabonga Sangweni (Golden Arrows); Lucas Thwala (Pirates)

MIDFIELDERS: Franklin Cale (Sundowns); Lance Davids (Ajax CT); Kagisho Dikgacoi (Fulham, UK); Andile Jali (Pirates); Thanduyise Khuboni (Golden Arrows); Reneilwe Letsholonyane (Chiefs); Teko Modise (Pirates); Surprise Moriri (Sundowns); Steven Pienaar (Everton, UK); Macbeth Sibaya (Rubin Kazan, Russia); Siphiwe Tshabalala (Chiefs)

STRIKERS: Benedict McCarthy (West Ham, UK); Katlego Mphela (Mamelodi Sundowns); Siyabonga Nomvethe (Moroka Swallows); Bernard Parker (FC Twente, Netherlands)

All images © and courtesy Dave Durbach.

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