BLACKBURN - Benni McCarthy admits he must recapture his status as one of the Premier League's most feared forwards before he can start dreaming of World Cup success with South Africa.
With less than a year until South Africa stages the sport's showcase event, McCarthy insists his focus is on emulating the kind of form that saw him take English football by storm.
If he can achieve that, the 31-year-old is confident of making up for the disappointment of his surprise omission from South Africa's Confederations Cup campaign to be part of a squad that ensures the hosts do themselves justice in the World Cup.
"I must admit the World Cup is not really in my thoughts at the moment," McCarthy revealed as he builds up to his fourth season at Blackburn, who kick off the 2009-10 season on August 15 against big-spending Manchester City.
After being frozen out by previous manager Paul Ince 12 months ago, the Cape Town-born forward has looked sharp in pre-season as he bids to cement a regular starting role under Sam Allardyce.
McCarthy's cause has been helped by Blackburn being priced out of finding a replacement for striker Roque Santa Cruz, who joined City in the close season.
It leaves Allardyce short of attacking options, and McCarthy, South Africa's 31-goal all-time top scorer, added: "Physically I'm feeling much better and the pre-season's been going well. I feel sharp and once I've got that side of the game sorted the goals will come.
"Last season I had a lot of niggles and it was frustrating because I was playing catch-up and that can be hard, but this time I'm at the same fitness level as everyone else and I feel good.
"People say the older you get the harder pre-season becomes but I'm not so sure about that. I feel okay and I'm managing well."
He said the high transfer fees demanded by clubs had made it difficult for Blackburn to attract top players.
"But I'm sure the manager has got the contacts to pull in a new forward before the season starts, and I'd welcome that as competition brings the best out of you."
McCarthy enjoyed a stunning introduction to life in the Premier League, hitting an impressive 24 goals in his first season. But the former Porto and Celta Vigo forward managed only 11 goals the next campaign, and 13 last season. Tellingly, 11 of those came in 24 games as Blackburn replaced the inexperienced Ince with battle-hardened Allardyce in December.
Before that, McCarthy struck just twice as he failed to win favour with Ince.
He added: "I'm looking to get a bigger and better start than I had last season, when I barely featured at the start of the season. I got my chance towards the end of Paul's reign and I don't want to start like that again. I don't know why he didn't pick me. Sometimes if you don't fit in then you don't play and it was hard, especially for a country that's hosting the World Cup."
McCarthy is unlikely to come under consideration by national coach Joel Santana for the friendly against Serbia in Pretoria just three days before the Premier League season kicks off.
But the forward will hope to do enough in the opening Premier League games to win a place in the squad for the away double-header against Germany and the Republic of Ireland in early September, in a bid to come into the reckoning for a third finals appearance next year. - Sapa-AP