More grey hairs for coach

Andrew Muchineripi soccer The honeymoon ended this week under the grey skies of Johannesburg for coach Carlos Queiroz as foreign-based players trickled into camp for an African Cup of Nations qualifier with Liberia at FNB stadium on Saturday.

There will always be a post in the diplomatic service for the widely travelled native of Mozambique, judging by the number of times he bit his tongue while the media hovered like vultures. Queiroz has insisted since his first visit to the country three months ago that he will not do his business through the media, which is a welcome change from the none-too-distant past.

Sometimes it seems the print and electronic media, and not the boardrooms of the South African Football Association and the Premier Soccer League (PSL), are the centres of debate.

If this humble scribe collected even R5 every time the club-versus-country issue has been aired, he would be sipping a gin and tonic while the waves caressed the Cape coast instead of toiling away on a laptop that has seen better days.

The simple truth is that until world football governing body Fifa introduces an international calendar, coaches like Queiroz are going to wake up each morning and discover a few new grey hairs. Being a professional, the man charged with getting Bafana Bafana to the 2002 Nations Cup in Mali wants his table laid properly with the dishes, plates, knives, forks and spoons set correctly.

As this week began, there was hardly any cutlery, never mind in the correct position, and Queiroz struggled at times to keep his clearly visible frustrations under control.

Perhaps the only consolation one can offer a man who has worked in Japan, Portugal, the United Arab Emirates and the United States is that most other national coaches around Africa suffer just as much.

What made the latest episode of the long-running club-versus-country soapie different is midweek matches did not keep the players in Europe when they should have been flying to South Africa.

One expected the foreign legion to board jets not later than Monday night and be available for training on Tuesday.
Instead, the technical team outnumbered the squad members.

An additional problem from an unexpected quarter was the withdrawal of five locally based players for domestic matches that should, surely, have been rearranged for another time.

While the PSL were understandably keen to replay the Rothmans Cup final between Orlando Pirates and Ajax Cape Town sooner rather than later, no one can convince me the Kaizer Chiefs-Wits University match had to go ahead.

I can see the future as I type this article in midweek ... Bafana Bafana will defeat consistently poor travellers Liberia and football officials will wonder why there was such a fuss in the first place. This will be followed by another attack on the “sensationalist” media for trying to create controversy where none existed. Sadly, an often gullible public may fall for the propaganda. The week leading up to a Bafana Bafana match should be a no-go zone, no matter how pressing the fixture, and a successful national team is in the interest of everybody, especially the PSL.

By the time Queiroz did his final roll call, everyone was present bar combative midfielder Dumisa Ngobe, who once again was refused permission to return home by maverick Turkish club Ankaragucu.

Fifa rules say a player must be released five days before an international, so perhaps the carrier pigeons have not reached the Turkish city of Ankara because Ngobe was also prevented from playing at the Sydney Olympics.

Turning to matters on the field, Queiroz at least has the healthy problem of who to leave out, starting with the close call between Andre Arendse and John Tlale for the number one jersey.

Expect Arendse, who has been displaying uncharacteristic temper tantrums lately as premiership leaders Santos hit a slump, to get the nod although Tlale has never conceded a goal on national duty.

A defence composed of Lucas Radebe, Pierre Issa, Frankie Schoeman and Bradley Carnell would satisfy me, with Sibusiso Zuma, Thabo Mngomeni, Quinton Fortune and Delron Buckley the likely midfielders.

The competition for places is greatest in attack, with Shaun Bartlett a certainty after heading two goals one a truly superb opportunistic effort for Charlton Athletic against Manchester United last weekend.

That leaves Philemon Masinga, back after a 13-month, injury-induced lay-off, and Benni McCarthy fighting for the other position and Bradley August sitting on the bench.

While Liberia dare not be under-estimated, one cannot pretend they are a major force in African football after losing a Cup of Nations prequalifier on the tiny Atlantic island of Cape Verde in mid-year.

The one-goal deficit was duly overcome at home and the Lone Stars made a bright start to Group 2 by walloping Mauritius 4-0 on the day that Bafana Bafana triumphed 2-1 against Congo in Pointe-Noire.

Experienced international hands James Debbah, Zizi Roberts and Kelvin Sebwe, all based in Greece, scored the goals that sank the Mauritians without trace in a surprisingly one-sided encounter.

All will be in South Africa to play beside famous striker George Weah, the 1995 world, European and African footballer of the year. Some say Abedi Pele is the greatest African footballer and others back Roger Milla. But had I been given the privilege of voting, former AC Milan superstar Weah would have got my tick, notwithstanding his short, unsuccessful stay with Manchester City.

However, Weah is a former star and no amount of spin doctoring can change that. If Liberia score first, it could be interesting; if Bafana score first, expect them to win by several goals.

l Ajax Cape Town scored one of the great upsets of this or any other season by thrashing Orlando Pirates 4-1 in the Rothmans Cup final replay on Wednesday night.

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