/ 11 June 2009

Bafana’s Booth hits back over players’ ‘strike’

The alleged Bafana Bafana players’ strike ended before it began, according to central defender Matthew Booth.

Speaking at a media briefing after Bafana head coach Joel Santana worked behind closed doors with his players at the Orlando Stadium on Wednesday in preparation for the Confederations Cup, Booth denied the national squad had ”held the South African Football Association [Safa] to ransom” over extra bonus money.

Explained Booth: ”As players we have been on the wrong end of somewhat disappointing media coverage from the start, and what happened with the so-called strike was that a website knew the players were negotiating with management [Safa] last week. The matter had been sorted out by the time the story broke on Tuesday.”

Booth, one of the elder statesmen of the squad, added: ”At no stage did we threaten to strike. We accepted the offer on the table last week.”

Booth said that the players were now even more determined to beat Iraq on Sunday in the opening Confederations Cup clash at Ellis Park. Kick-off is at 4pm.

”The players cannot wait for the tournament to begin. We have worked hard for four weeks in camp and there would be no ways we would jeopardise our chances of playing in a major Fifa event like this over money.”

Striker Katlego Mashego was in solidarity with Booth, stating: ”The mood is good and this [strike] is not an issue.”

But Bafana players have a bad habit of repeating their mistakes and, while Booth and his teammates may feel indignant, what this episode showed was the public are no longer going to accept any Bafana strike action on the eve of a major event. The public backlash has seriously dented the players’ image — denials or not.

Meanwhile, Booth is looking forward to partnering Bafana skipper Aaron Mokoena at the heart of the defence against the Asian champions.

”I thought we combined well together against Poland here [Orlando Stadium] last weekend. I felt comfortable playing alongside him and we tried to make it as difficult for Poland as possible,” said Booth.

Bafana won that friendly international 1-0.

Booth conceded Poland were not at full strength, but added: ”I do not think people give us enough credit for a good performance. We go into the difficult opening Confederation Cup match against Iraq on a high.”

Mashego, who did not play against Poland, said that playing at home gave Bafana a big advantage. ”We are ready to play but badly need the fans behind us to make us succeed.”

The Orlando Pirates striker added that he was hoping to get a chance to show his skills against Iraq and added: ”If I get a chance I will take it.”

Santana worked hard with different combinations in midfield. He said starting midfielder Steven Pienaar, who plays in the English Premiership for Everton, was recovering from an ankle injury sustained against Poland and was rested for the second day.

Said the Brazilian coach: ”I am confident Pienaar will be fit by Sunday. But I used Siphiwe Tshabalala [in place of Pienaar] and Teko Modise in midfield at practice. I will think hard about my midfield combination as that holds the key.”

Santana’s assistants, Jairo Leal and Pitso Mosimane, were in Cape Town on Tuesday night to watch Iraq and Poland draw 1-1 in a warm-up friendly.

Said Santana: ”They told me Iraq are a tough side to beat. They have quality in midfield and pace in attack. I watched the DVD of that game and will watch it again with the players on Thursday to show them what they are up against. But while I have respect for Iraq, I feel that my team will be too skilful for them.” — Sapa