Bafana desperate to halt Nations Cup slide

South Africa head for Ghana desperate to arrest a slide in African Nations Cup fortunes.

Since that amazing day in February 1996 when Nelson Mandela presented the trophy to Neil Tovey, Bafana Bafana have performed worse at each subsequent edition.

A Benni McCarthy-inspired second-place finish behind Egypt in the next edition of the biennial tournament was followed by third place in 2000, a quarterfinals exit two years later, and two first-round departures.

President Thabo Mbeki was among those who joined the chorus of disapproval after the 2006 fiasco in Egypt where Bafana lost to Guinea, Tunisia and Zambia without scoring a goal.

“At least it cannot get any worse,” joked coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who took charge last year with a main aim of building a team capable of reaching the knockout phase when South Africa host the 2010 World Cup.

But while the Brazilian emphasises that team building takes time, patience is not a virtue among South African football officials craving a return to the good old days that included qualification for the 1998 and 2002 World Cup.

Parreira has been told a quarterfinals place is the bottom line—no easy task in a Group D that includes 2004 champions Tunisia, 2006 semifinalists Senegal and shock 2006 World Cup qualifiers Angola.

While other pools may boast some stronger title contenders, the Tamale-based mini-league seems the tightest with all four countries capable of a top-two finish and a place in the knockout phases.

Parreira surprisingly left star striker Benni McCarthy out of his squad and other senior players omitted included fullback Bradley Carnell and midfielders Delron Buckley and Macbeth Sibaya.

Reports that South Africa agreed to leave Benni at Blackburn rather than join the English Premiership exodus to Ghana were denied and Parreira has not explained why a player he fought so hard to lure into the team is not going.

McCarthy has been in and out of the team regularly owing to clashes with officialdom since bursting on to the international scene by scoring seven goals at the 1998 Nations Cup in Burkina Faso, including four against Namibia.

Aaron Mokoena, a Blackburn teammate of Benni, leads a team that will do well to reach the last eight given a suspect defence, the lack of midfield ball winners, and generally goal-shy strikers.—Sapa-AFP

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