'Big chance' for Bafana players to impress

Time is fast running out for Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana to get his under-performing players ready for the Confederations Cup on home soil next June.

Under-fire Santana, who replaced Brazilian countryman and World Cup winner Carlos Alberto Parreira in June, has warned his players they will be fighting for places in the Confederations Cup line-up when they meet Australia in a friendly international at the Loftus Road Stadium, the home of English Championship club Queens Park Rangers, on Tuesday night. Kick-off is at 9pm South African time.

The Confederations Cup is being used by world soccer governing body Fifa and the 2010 local organising committee as a dress rehearsal for the 2010 World Cup finals.

World champions Italy, Bafana as hosts and the six continental champions, including Brazil and Spain, will be competing against Bafana next June.

Said Bafana team manager Sipho Nkumane on Monday: “I have never seen players arrive for a Bafana camp in a state of excitement as we witnessed on Sunday. With the Confederations Cup getting closer, the players know this is a big chance for them to stake a claim for a place in the Confederations Cup squad.
The players need to impress, with Santana casting his net wide and keeping his promise of giving everyone a chance and building on the platform built by Parreira.”

The match against the Socceroos is being used by Santana as preparation for next month’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against Nigeria in Port Elizabeth. Bafana have to beat the high-flying Super Eagles to stand any chance of getting into the final phase of qualifying for the continental showpiece in Angola in 2010.

Even Bafana “bad boy” Benni McCarthy has honoured his call-up, and the Blackburn Rovers striker will lead the attack with veteran Mamelodi Sundowns star Sibusiso Zuma.

But Nkumane is angry at Sundowns for refusing to release striker Katlego Mphela, who was injured during the warm-up before Downs’ MTN 8 semifinal, first-leg clash against SuperSport United at the Super Stadium on Sunday. Downs won 2-1 and Mphela did not play after injuring a thigh muscle that coach Trott Moloto said would sideline him “for weeks.”

However, Nkumane got a second opinion and said there was nothing seriously wrong with Mphela. “After he missed the 8pm Sunday flight I rebooked him on the 11.30pm flight, but he was told by the club’s assistant coach, Harris Chueu, not to travel to London. I am disappointed by Downs’ attitude.”

But it shows the folly of Santana and his advisers in selecting only three strikers. Now both Zuma and McCarthy pick themselves.

Nkumane admitted there is not much the South African Football Association can do to punish Downs. “I tried to phone Chueu three times on Sunday night and he did not pick up my call. I wanted him to explain why he told Mphela not to travel to London. It is an opportunity lost for the youngster.”

But playing against Australia, who play a European style of soccer, is not the ideal way to prepare for the crack Nigerian side.

However, the national team manager explained: “Ideally we would have liked to play at home against a top African country. But all the top sides were booked and Santana decided that Australia would be a good test.”

Rock bottom
Santana’s popularity hit rock bottom when he decided to take a five-week “holiday” in Brazil to sort out his personal affairs after a dismal performance in the four Afcon qualifiers in June, where Bafana virtually crashed out of contention for Angola in 2010 after collecting four points from as many games.

But what is puzzling is why Santana selected captain Aaron Mokoena, who is suspended for the Nigeria qualifier. Mokoena has played 77 times for his country and his inclusion makes nonsense of Santana’s statement last week that he is using the game to have a look at players he has not seen.

Israel-based Bevan Fransman is likely to partner Nasief Morris at the heart of the defence. Morris, who recently join Spanish club Recreativo Huelva, missed the June qualifiers with injury.

Santana is set to give Glasgow Rangers’ new midfield signing Dean Furman and Norwich City’s Matthew Pattison their first caps.

Another new face in midfield is Moroka Swallows’ Lefa Tsutsulupa, who was outstanding for the South African development side last month. But at 28 Tsutsulupa is no spring chicken.—Sapa

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