booooth the new 'fiiiiish'

ONE player who, more than any other, will literally stand out when South Africa face Brazil at Ellis Park in tonight's Confederations Cup semifinal, is defender Matthew Booth.

ONE player who, more than any other, will literally stand out when South Africa face Brazil at Ellis Park in tonight's Confederations Cup semifinal, is defender Matthew Booth.

Shaven-headed Booth cuts a distinctive figure as he is the only white player in coach Joel Santana's regular first 11. He is also, at 1,98m, the tallest player in the entire competition.

The skyscraperesque 32-year-old is adored by the home fans. Every time this towering defender goes in for a tackle supporters stop blowing their vuvuzelas and shout "Boooooooth, Booooooth".

This can take the uninitiated by surprise on first hearing because it sounds like the fans are booing one of their own. A Spanish newspaper actually wrote a story on this curious phenomenon and Santana too was caught out when he succeeded Carlos Alberto Parreira.

"The first time I heard the shouts in the stadium I just couldn't understand what was going on. I was under the impression that the fans loved Matthew but there they were seemingly booing him for no apparent reason," said the Bafana Bafana coach.

The man himself told Fifa.com: "I've lost count of the number of times I've had to explain to foreigners that there's nothing wrong, that people love me really.

"When Mark Fish played for Bafana Bafana it was the same. The fans shouted 'Fiiish, Fiiish' at him and it sounded like they were having a go. I think it's got something to do with my commitment. The fans can see that I take games seriously. Or maybe it's just because I look like a nice guy to them."

After a spell in the international wilderness Booth, who is married to what one local journalist described as a "drop-dead gorgeous" South African model, has muscled his way into the national reckoning at a crucial time.

He may not be the quickest but Booth's height, strength and defensive nous have played their part in South Africa's advance to the last four and against set-piece specialists Brazil he is going to be one of the hosts' key players.

Booth has just returned from seven seasons in Russia, where he first played for FK Rostov and then Krylya Sovetov Samara. He is now back with Mamelodi Sundowns. And he's relishing his time in the international spotlight.

Booth has his heart set on making it into Santana's squad for the 2010 World Cup, all the more so as he was robbed of a chance to compete at the 2002 edition in Japan and South Korea, when he suffered a knee injury in the run-up to the first game. - Sapa-AFP

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