South Africa Camp Focus – McCarthy sets record straight as Bafana Bafana stretch unbeaten run

As the hosts continue to go about their preparation for the World Cup quietly, many can be forgiven for not knowing what to expect come June 11. It is no secret there were many financial and economic factors behind South Africa staging this year’s tournament, and Bafana Bafana have not exactly been known as a big team on the international circuit. But there is a long history of hosting nations over-performing on home soil, and if the press conferences held over the past week are anything to go by, the doubters could be in for a surprise.

As mentioned in the last SA Camp Focus, players like Steven Pienaar and Benni McCarthy will be key to the hosts producing any kind of success this summer. The latter in particular, whose influence up-front will be vital to spearheading what looks like a fairly blunt attack. McCarthy has of course had his fair share of controversies off the field. After reportedly snubbing the South African Press last week, he was determined to set the record straight: “I could not make it to the press conference due to some personal issues and all I needed was for the interview to be rescheduled, but the next thing the matter is blown out of proportion.”

Although having been criticised in the past for dubbing himself as a big fish in a small pond, the West Ham player then moved on to highlight his commitment to playing as a member of a team: “I am just an individual that is part of a group and I am nothing without the team. So I don’t think I am more important than the team and without me the team will still go on and win things. I am just one man who is trying to be part of the team that is looking to achieve some success.” Known for fallouts with both managers and players at various clubs, the comments made will hopefully help put his ego to rest. A clear interest of Coach Carlos Alberto Perreira who has already called for his stars to perform, or face being cut.

Another player in the news with slightly less to prove was the host’s talisman Pienaar. Not looking to erase the past or clear his name, but lift the spirits by announcing that he expected the team to even go past the group stages: “I rate our chances of doing well in the tournament very high, in fact I am very confident that we will go further than the second round.” The winger only joined up with the camp last Friday, but upon arrival immediately met up with the team for a light training session. Going into the tournament in superb form, Pienaar believes he could transfer his form to the international stage: “As an individual I have always believed in myself, and I hope in the national team I will carry on the way I finished the season at my club.”

Press conferences aside, the hosts have been dealt with a minor setback in the form of an injury to squad member Andile Jali. The midfielder was ruled out of the tournament last Saturday after it was announced he would be travelling to the United States for treatment on a possible heart condition. The news is not set to rock the camp however, with Jali’s role at the tournament set to be a minor one. If anything it will make the cuts to the 29-man squad easier for Coach Perriera who will now have to axe six players in preparation for the finals.

On the pitch however it seems things are going according to plan. Bafana Bafana drew 1-1 on Monday with Bulgaria at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto in what was described as a ‘confident’ performance by the South African media. Dominating the first-half, the home side opened the scoring with Siyabonga Sangweni’s header on 20 minutes. The lead was however short-lived, Valeri Bojinov equalising just 11 minutes later. Bafana Bafana even went on to come close to snatching a winner with Katlego Mphela going close late on. Going into the match 51 places below Bulgaria, there can be few complaints about the performance given. The result was followed by a 2-1 win over Colombia at Soccer City, Johannesburg, with goals (all three goals in the game were penalties) from Mphela and Tiko Modise defeating their 35th-ranked opponents. With an unbeaten run now at 10 games, it seems like the hosts are starting to get things together, and just in time.

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