A lack of goals continues to haunt hosts South Africa as the 2010 World Cup countdown reaches the 200-day mark on Sunday.
The first African country to stage the quadrennial international football showpiece managed just 10 in 18 games this year, with four-goal Katlego Mphela the leading scorer.
Mphela and recalled Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy were paired for friendlies against Japan and Jamaica this month with expectations high that they could end the goal drought.
But drab goalless draws in Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein reminded new coach Carlos Alberto Parreira of the mammoth task he faces to match his claim that Bafana Bafana can reach the quarterfinals next July.
Against a Jamaican team that failed to qualify for 2010 and lacked its best two players, South Africa created just one clear-cut chance, with Mphela foiled by the right foot of goalkeeper Dwayne Miller after breaking through.
Miller was also extended by a McCarthy free kick, but if that is the best they can do against experimental ”Reggae Boyz” opponents, what price goals against the giants of world football?
It was even worse against Japan, with a long-range drive from midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala that was comfortably parried to safety the best Bafana could manage over 90 minutes.
This dismal form in front of goal moved the South African Press Association to call McCarthy, back after an indiscipline-induced eight-month absence, an ”overweight, bombastic striker with a virtual non-existent work rate”.
Parreira, coach of the 1994 Brazil World Cup-winning team, puts on a brave face amid fears that South Africa will become the first host nation not to reach the second round.
”I am confident Benni and Katlego will develop into a good p artnership,” said the coach while stressing that the buck did not stop with the strikers.
”Our midfielders need to start creating chances and scoring and we also need our fullbacks to overlap more and make the crosses that can develop into goals.”
The 66-year-old Brazilian, who also coached Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia at the World Cup, is pinning his hopes of a turnaround on proposed training camps in Brazil and Germany next March and April.
However, his wish to have players like captain and Portsmouth defender Aaron Mokoena, Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar and Blackburn striker McCarthy present is unlikely to be fulfilled.
”I realise clubs are not obliged to release players as the period does not fall within official Fifa dates, but I am going to do my best,” insists Parreira.
Bafana supporters are divided, with pessimists believing a first-round exit is inevitable and optimists pointing to the stunning show of 2002 co-hosts South Korea, who reached the semifinals before bowing to Germany.
South African ”spin doctors” point to a fourth-place finish at the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup they hosted, but while holding Brazil for 88 minutes exceeded expectations, the sole win came against minnows New Zealand. — AFP