SA wary of early Bafana Bafana exit

When South Africa was awarded the right to host the 2010 World Cup football officials in the country embarked on an ambitious plan.

When South Africa was awarded the right to host the 2010 World Cup football officials in the country embarked on an ambitious plan.

Not only did they want to ensure that the World Cup itself would be a huge success, they also wanted to make sure that they would be able to field a strong team at the showpiece of international football.

To facilitate the latter, the South African Football Association (Safa) spared neither effort nor money and in 2006 they proudly announced that Carlos Alberto Parreira had signed a contract to coach the team.

The arrival of the Brazilian World Cup-winning coach had South African football fans dreaming of World Cup glory.

Two years down the line, the dream has become a bit of a nightmare, with Parreira back in Brazil, the national team eliminated from the Africa Cup of Nations at the first hurdle and the weaknesses of the Bafana Bafana even a topic of debate among members of parliament.

Parreira nominated his own successor, but his friend Joel Santana has given no indication that he is the man to take the team to a higher level.

The 1-0 defeat against Nigeria, that saw South Africa crash out of contention to qualify for the finals of the 2010 Afcon in Angola robbed the country of the chance to play up to 12 competitive matches before the World Cup.

Santana's statements after the defeat in Port Elizabeth did very little to instil confidence among football fans.

"You can't live on regrets. Life is all about learning. I don't own the truth, I'm also learning," the coach said.

Similar statements by Safa chief executive Raymond Hack, who described the defeat as a blessing in disguise, also rang false.

After losing to Nigeria, Santana's only opportunity to test the team in a competition will be during the June 14-28 Confederations Cup, where South Africa will be participating in Group A, playing their first round matches in Johannesburg, Rustenburg and Mangaung (Bloemfontein), where they will face Spain, Iraq and New Zealand.

Some observers, though, take pity on Santana, arguing he is expected to perform miracles with mediocre players. Unlike many other African countries, South Africa has very few overseas-based professionals and of those, hardly any play regularly for top clubs.

Benni McCarthy, whose presence in the team remains controversial after the striker has retired and returned to international football nearly half a dozen times, spends most of his time sitting on the bench for English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers.

His teammate Aaron Mokoena often fails to even make the bench, while players like Mathew Booth (Krylia Sovetov), Bradley Carnell (SC Karlsruhe), Siyabonga Nkosi (Arminia Bielefeld) or McBeth Sibiya (Rubin Kazan) all play in clubs that are not considered in Europe's top bracket.

Much though is expected from Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar.

But the 26-year old former Ajax player is also injury-prone and should he not be at his best in the run-up to the 2009 Confederations Cup South Africa could face another early exit. - Sapa-DPA