Sport

Brazil friendly a blessing and a curse

Mark Gleeson

Hosting the five-times world football champions in an international friendly is bound to be a spectacle, even if they show up Bafana.

Manchester City star Fernandinho will be hoping for a place in the Brazilian line-up. (AFP)

The prestige friendly against Brazil at Soccer City on Wednesday is a measure of the ­considerable contacts book that Danny Jordaan has at his disposal after his high-profile organisation of the World Cup.

Last year, the new South African Football Association (Safa) president managed to get Spain to travel to Johannesburg for another international match designed to help to fill the coffers of the cash-strapped association and add some international prestige at a time of serious decline for the national side.

But Soccer City was not filled for the visit of the world champions and, by the latest accounts, will not be sold out on Wednesday either, despite the presence of a full-strength Brazil – every football fan's next-best team.

Unfortunately, the match will once again serve to highlight the absence of South Africa at the upcoming World Cup and it comes at a time of much flux in Bafana Bafana structures. Coach Gordon Igesund has been given a temporary reprieve, but remains in close proximity to the often-used guillotine.

The next competitive cycle for the national side starts in September with the African Nations Cup qualifiers, by which time, in all likelihood, a new coach will be in place. Safa is actively seeking alternatives to Igesund, but any appointment is likely to come after the current coach's contract expires in June.

Nations Cup preparation
That will leave time to prepare for the intense six-game qualifying programme, which is jammed into a three-month period at the end of the year as South Africa seek to qualify for the next Nations Cup tournament in Morocco.

It would have been better for a new man to start now and have longer to work with his new charges, but Safa is hostage to its precarious financial position.

The only real winner on Wednesday can be Igesund, whose survival chances would be given a major lift if he could get his side to match the well-earned win they had over Spain in November.

Public sentiment sways on the winds of success, and soccer administrators have always been notoriously sensitive to the views on the street. Igesund could once again become a figure of affection if his side beats the five-time world champions.

Essentially, this sort of game is meaningless – the nonsensical fuss about stupid rankings points notwithstanding – but it can still serve up a decent spectacle. It is not often Brazil are in our backyard.

Good intentions
Bafana will want to do well, even if many of the established choices are struggling to find club form at the moment, and the much-anticipated return of Thulani Serero will probably be stymied by injury.

More importantly, Brazil will arrive on a mission. It is essentially the last chance for many of their players to solidify their place in either the starting line-up or the squad fort the World Cup and for coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to run his eye over candidates.

He has picked his first choices to travel to Johannesburg, and they will be intent on showing what they can do, plus he hands an opportunity to two players who have done well at club level in Europe in past months.

Manchester City's Fernandinho, who made his debut for his new club on tour in South Africa last July, returns, and Bayern Munich's Rafinha gets a first call-up to the senior squad at the age of 28.

Both are proof that club form remains the leading criterion for national side selection among the world's best teams, a lesson South Africa often forgets.

Club performance
"Fernandinho's been playing really well for Manchester [City]. Rafinha's also been playing really well for Bayern. He's had experience of playing for the national team at other levels," the Brazilian coach told reporters last week.

Brazil are pleased to play South Africa at this stage, believing Bafana will approximate the style of Cameroon, who are group opponents for the hoists at the World Cup in June. That is, of course, an ill-informed generalisation.

Scolari is likely to learn little in that sense, given the many differences such as altitude, style of play and lack of physical prowess that Bafana have in comparison to the bruising approach of the Indomitable Lions.

Probably the only thing Cameroon and South Africa have in common is their continent.

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