/ 5 June 2009

Twenty-three against the world

There is no place for bad boys in the Bafana Bafana set up. Nasief Morris and Benni McCarthy can attest to this.

Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana has axed Morris, the Spanish-based central defender. It was reported on the Kick-Off website that Morris received the boot after Santana called into question his attitude — he was allegedly ‘confrontational” on his arrival at the training camp earlier this week.

The Brazilian coach was, however, cagey on Thursday about his reasons for dropping the Recreativo Huelva central defender, even after he played more games than any footballer in the recent La Liga season.

‘We have a code of conduct and a set of rules that all players must observe, regardless of who that player is,” was Santana’s response when quizzed about the shock omission of the in-form Morris.

‘It [dropping Morris] was a collective technical team decision. We follow rules in picking our players. It is important to understand that this is a team of 23 players and whatever we do, we do as a team or group and not one player,” he said.

Last month Santana axed Blackburn Rovers and former Bafana Bafana striker Benni McCarthy after he snubbed call-ups for friendlies against Norway and Portugal.

Discipline among players is important and players shouldn’t think they can just walk into the national team because they play in top football leagues around the world. Santana should be commended for his tough stance against indiscipline and we hope that it will contribute positively to the success of the national team.

Besides leaving out the Spanish-based star the coach announced a relatively experienced squad for the Fifa Confederations Cup, which gets under way on June 14. Veteran goalkeeper Brian Baloyi was included in the squad precisely for this reason.

‘Baloyi is an experienced and disciplined player. His exemplary behaviour rubs off positively on other players and it is this key quality that we cannot overlook,” said Santana.

The Brazilian mentor also defended the inclusion of Matthew Booth, despite the big defender not having seen too much action this season. ‘I think his big build at the back will be a great combination with Mokoena. If you think back to the Portugal and Chile game, we could have avoided those goals if we had had big men at the back. Booth and Mokoena will certainly limit the number of balls going over our defence,” he said.

The squad was trimmed from 30 to 23 players. According to Santana, the 23 were selected on the basis of technical ability, discipline, a medical assessment and physical condition.

‘I worked with the players for 21 days, except for the overseas-based players, who arrived gradually. We conducted hard physical training sessions because others arrived in camp after their season had ended, others had injuries, while others were not playing in their team or were changing teams. It was difficult to trim the squad to 23 players but we had to because of Fifa regulations.”

Other players who were left out of the squad include goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs, forwards Thulasizwe Mbuyane and Siyabonga Nkosi, defensive midfielder Masilo Modubi and left-back Mzuvukile Tom.

‘I hope that those in the team will now focus 100%. What is left for me is to try to find the best 11 to face Iraq. We will use the match against Poland to find combinations as we continue to prepare the team,” said Santana.

The squad will play a friendly match against Poland on Saturday at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto.

He has urged the players who were left out to keep fit as they will be called back into the national team should the need arise. ‘I have told them that if any replacement is needed they could be back in the team, but in the meantime they must continue training by themselves and also prepare for the future.”

Hosts Bafana Bafana take on Iraq at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg in the opening match of the tournament on June 14.

The full squad:
Brian Baloyi, Itumeleng Khune, Rowen Fernandez, Matthew Booth, Siboniso Gaxa, Morgan Gould, Tsepo Masilela, Aaron Mokoena, Bryce Moon, Bongani Khumalo, Lance Davids, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Teko Modise, Steven Pienaar, Macbeth Sibaya, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Benson Mhlongo, Elrio van Heerden, Innocent Mdledle, Bernard Parker, Katlego Mphela, Thembinkosi Fanteni and Katlego Mashego.