/ 25 June 2009

Fast-talking Santana in attack mode for Brazil

If South Africa play as well as coach Joel Santana talks, then Brazil are in for a hiding in Thursday’s Confederations Cup semifinal.

The Brazilian was in loquacious form at the eve-of-match press conference at Ellis Park on Wednesday, handling questions as deftly as a seasoned ANC politician.

After speaking eloquently about the honour of meeting Nelson Mandela earlier in the day, Santana assured Bafana Bafana fans that South Africa would turn out against the five-time world champions with one thing on their minds — attack.

”It’s impossible to go out and defend for 90 minutes against Brazil,” he stated.

”We’re going to take the game to them. We might lose but we’d prefer to lose honestly, playing attacking football.

”We learned a lot in the 2-0 defeat to Spain, now we are facing almighty powerful Brazil. We are going to try to at least match them as much as possible and to play football as beautiful as theirs.

”Not to be afraid is important, we want to produce a spectacle.”

Earlier, Santana had overseen his troops’ final training session at Johannesburg’s Rand Stadium, the Brazilian barking out instructions in ”Engluese”, his sometimes hard-to-decipher but charming mix of English and Portuguese.

After a training game lasting half an hour, Santana called over the team’s security officer, possibly the largest man in the world, to get him to clear the stadium as he put the finishing touches to his master plan to beat Brazil in secret.

Striker Bernard Parker failed to complete the session after picking up a minor knee problem, and the forward who scored both goals in the 2-0 win over New Zealand is uncertain for Thursday’s game.

He was due to undergo medical tests on Thursday before a decision is taken on whether he will be fit enough to face Brazil.

At the press conference, Santana tackled the question of divided loyalties in leading South Africa out to play his native country coached by a man he used to coach.

”Note this, playing against Brazil is a professional occasion, South Africa has accepted me and given me an opportunity to coach the national team for the Confederations Cup, and next year the World Cup.

”It’s an historic moment facing Brazil. I know some of the Brazilian players personally but the important thing is we are going to do our best against one of the top teams in the world.

”I thank South Africa with a lot of humility for giving me this chance,” said the man who played against Pele in a previous life.

Captain Aaron Mokoena said there was an air of excitement in the Bafana Bafana camp.

”We’re expecting a very, very tough game but for the players it’s an exciting moment. We’ve been waiting for this game for a long time.”

Mokoena was part of the South Africa team that beat Brazil 3-0 at the Olympic Games in Sydney nine years ago, and he revealed: ”I spoke to the boys last night [Tuesday] about the feeling of beating ‘the giants’. For sure tomorrow is different, Brazil want this badly, but so do we.”

Madiba magic
Meanwhile, Bafana sought inspiration for Thursday’s semifinal by meeting Nelson Mandela on Wednesday.

”We got goose-bumps when we met Mr Mandela, a supremely charismatic person, someone who is so calm, his presence and the way he spoke to us, made us calm,” Santana said.

”As each of the players greeted him, he wished each good luck. It was an historic moment for us, to meet such a worldwide symbol. It was a very proud moment for our team,” he added.

Madiba has often tried to inspire South African sporting teams.

The story of his interaction with the 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning side, including wearing a Springbok jersey to the final, is being made into a film by Clint Eastwood. — AFP, Reuters