/ 13 August 2008

Bafana squad row averted

A club-versus-country row over Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana’s squad to play Australia in a friendly international at Loftus Road Stadium, London, next Tuesday has been averted.

The South African Football Association (Safa) used its ”quiet diplomacy” and made a compromise to allow players featuring in this weekend’s lucrative MTN8 to travel a day later on Sunday to the English capital to join up with their national teammates on Monday.

Earlier this week, Mamelodi Sundowns coach Trott Moloto had threatened not to release his Bafana players as the friendly was in the middle of his preparations for both legs of his MTN8 semifinal against their Pretoria neighbours and reigning Premier Soccer League champions SuperSport United.

But as the friendly is played on an official Fifa date, Safa could have forced the issue and demanded the players be released at least 48 hours before the match.

However, Bafana team manager Sipho Nkumane said they were aware of the importance of the new top-eight cup, of which Downs are the defending champions and which carries a record R8-million winner-takes-all prize.

It means that the three Downs players Surprise Moriri, Sibusiso Zuma and Katlego Mphela plus United’s defender Bongani Khumalo will be allowed to play in their first-leg cup tie at Atteridgeville’s Super Stadium on Sunday, but they will only return to their clubs next Thursday — 48 hours before the second leg, which will be played on August 23 at the same venue.

That is a point that has annoyed Moloto, who said the fact the players would arrive home on Thursday would badly affect his preparations for the second leg.

Santana has come in for criticism for taking a holiday for the whole of July after taking over the hot seat vacated by fellow countryman Carlos Alberto Parreira at the end of May to get ”his affairs in Brazil in order”.

Bafana ”bad boy” Benni McCarthy is named in his 24-man squad. The smart money will be on McCarthy ignoring his call-up as he has done repeatedly in the past.

McCarthy did not play in the four African Nations Cup qualifiers in June, citing ”family reasons” ahead of his country.

He also criticised the way players were selected for Bafana in a weekly newspaper, claiming that players had to be from either Kaizer Chiefs or Orlando Pirates to get into the team and had to be either a Zulu or Xhosa to get selected.

Nkumane said they had written to McCarthy demanding an explanation. But, he said: ”We have not heard from McCarthy and hopefully he will respect this call-up.”

In Santana’s absence, assistant coaches Pitso Mosimane and Jairo Leal selected the squad.

They have named a couple of surprises and welcome additions in the form of British-based midfielders Matthew Pattison, who plays in England for championship club Norwich City, and former South Africa Under-20 and Under-23 star Dean Furman of Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers.

Another welcome player to be brought back is experienced left back Bradley Carnell, who plays in Germany for Karlsruhe, and Zuma, who missed Downs’s 1-0 win over Free State Stars in the MTN8 quarterfinals last weekend due to an injury.

Explained Nkumane: ”We are in touch with the Sundowns medical staff and will examine Zuma when the players assemble at the OR Tambo [International] Airport hotel on Saturday. But we have been told he will be fit to play.”

Santana said he was using the match to evaluate players ahead of the crunch Afcon qualifier against Nigeria in Port Elizabeth on September 6. It is a must-win match for Bafana, but even victory will not guarantee them a place in the next qualifying round for 2010 in Angola.

It would have been better for Bafana to have played a top African side than the hard-running Socceroos who play a more European style of football. But Safa slipped up on this issue.

Said Santana: ”The friendly against Australia is part of my plans for 2010 as well as preparations for Nigeria. I have used the bulk of players that played in the four June Afcon qualifiers and we have brought in other players who Parreira had identified as Bafana material.” — Sapa

The squad
Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs), Moeneeb Josephs (Orlando Pirates).

Defenders: Aaron Mokoena (Blackburn Rovers, England), Bongani Khumalo (SuperSport United), Nazeer Allie (Ajax Cape Town), Bryce Moon (Panathinaikos, Greece), Nasief Morris (Recreativo de Huelva, Spain), Bevan Fransman (Maccabi Netanya, Israel), Bradley Carnell (Karlsruhe, Germany), Innocent Mdledle (Pirates).

Midfielders: Lance Davids (Djurgardens, Sweden), Macbeth Sibaya (Rubin Kazan, Russia), Thulasizwe Mbuyane, Teko Modise (both Pirates), Matthew Pattison (Norwich City, England), Surprise Moriri (Mamelodi Sundowns), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Golden Arrows), Siyabonga Nkosi (Arminia Bielefeld, Germany), Lefa Tsutsulupa (Moroka Swallows), Dean Furman (Rangers, Scotland), Siphiwe Tshabalala (Chiefs).

Strikers: Sibusiso Zuma, Katlego Mphela (both Sundowns), Benni McCarthy (Blackburn Rovers, England).