Benni’s back in business

In the end, all it took was a quick stop-off on the way home from not-so-sunny Scotland to sort out the Benni McCarthy problem once and for all.

After Bafana Bafana had lost 1-0 a fortnight ago in Aberdeen, somewhere close to the arctic circle, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira did what World Cup-winning coaches do when they want their nation’s best striker to play for them. He asked him.

And voila! Blackburn’s roving star Benni McCarthy flew out to Cape Town on Tuesday night, only a day later than his ordinary Bafana Bafana mates, prepared to end his self-imposed 19-month international exile.

Ironically of course, it’s opponents Zambia who need the big win at Newlands on Sunday to avoid elimination from the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, but British eyes will be focused purely on McCarthy, who last turned out in the disastrous 2006 defeat against Tunisia.

All this African Nations detail won’t matter to the rest of the watching world.

In their eyes, McCarthy was the sensation of the Premier League last season when he arrived from Porto and thumped his way to second place in the scoring charts with 24 goals, behind Chelsea’s Didier Drogba.

With the World Cup coming up in South Africa in three years, the nation desperately needs a talisman, a sales point, and McCarthy — who regularly teases unfashionable Rovers fans by suggesting he would be better off (in all ways) at Chelsea — would be the perfect fit.

McCarthy’s international career has always been a little tetchy, even after he finished as the joint top scorer in the 1998 Nations Cup in Burkina Faso with Egyptian star Hossam Hassan.

But Parreira’s brief meeting appears to have resolved years of festering nastiness and, if Rovers manager Mark Hughes is unhappy about McCarthy’s return to international football, he’s keeping it to himself after his troubled years in charge of Wales, where club-vs-country rows were all the rage.

McCarthy’s switch in attitudes probably has a lot to do with life at Rovers right now. He’s happy. They’re happy.

Unbeaten in 14 games and quietly moving towards becoming a serious threat, McCarthy has shrugged off a nasty head injury on the opening day of the season and is enjoying his partnership with new Paraguay signing Roque Santa Cruz.

He scored his first goal of the season in tandem with Santa Cruz in the 1-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday and said: ”I am convinced that Blackburn can achieve big things in the Premiership and the Uefa Cup this season.

”The key thing is that they don’t depend just on me. With Santa Cruz things are better and we are able to divide the work. I am sure we can become one of the best partnerships in the English game.

”Last season I was fighting for the top goal scorer and now I want us to fight for a trophy.

”I am slowly getting back into the rhythm of the Premiership and getting among the goals.

”We have got great players here now and it is far more difficult to get in the first 11. People love winners, nobody loves a loser.

”Whether you score or not, if your team is winning it is great. As long as I am playing I am happy.”

Hopefully McCarthy will be doing exactly that on Sunday.

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