Bonding against Bulgaria

2010-05-24 00:00

ANOTHER big game, with another big crowd expected, takes place in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup with Bafana Bafana’s friendly warm-up match against 39th-ranked Bulgaria at Orlando Stadium tonight.

This will be the South Africans’ se­cond of their five warm-up games. They started with a promising 4-0 thrashing of an admittedly weak Thailand last Sunday, and, after tonight, Bafana’s remaining games are against Columbia at Soccer City on Thursday, an opponent to be announced on Saturday, and Denmark at Soccer City on June 5.

The three games up to May 31 are crucial not just for the process of building a team, but also for coach Carlos Alberto Parreira to arrive at which seven players will be dropped from the 30-man provisional squad before the June 1 deadline.

Tonight’s match against far sterner opponents than the 105th-ranked Thais also begins the process of integrating the overseas-based players, who joined the training camp last week.

Parreira has said he will start with the team that played against Thailand, adding substitutes in the second half.

Steven Pienaar was the last player to begin training with the squad on Saturday, having been given a few days’ rest following a gruelling season for Everton in which he played 28 games in the last three months. If the midfielder is given a run tonight, it is likely to be a brief one, given the Bafana technical staff’s eagerness to rest South Africa’s key midfielder.

While the next week sees a crucial phase for the World Cup hosts of integrating foreign-based players with those who were part of month-long camps in Brazil and Germany, captain Aaron Mokoena this weekend appealed to the media to not overemphasise the issue of local and overseas-based team members.

Parreira last week invoked the slogan of the 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning team, “One Team One Nation”, and told the players that the terms “foreign” and “local players” will not be raised in the camp during the build-up to Bafana’s June 11 World Cup kickoff against Mexico.

Mokoena said: “I don’t like the term ‘overseas-based and South African-based players’ … We are all South Africans here and using that term is not good because, as players, we are here to represent our country.”

Mokoena was competing in last weekend’s FA Cup final — where his club, Portsmouth, lost 1-0 in a brave display against Chelsea and the Bafana captain was a star performer — on the day before Bafana played Thailand.

The defender said he was impressed with what he saw when he viewed tapes of the game.

“Many of the players have shown a lot of improvement, which means the camps in Brazil and Germany were good for us.”

Bulgaria will clearly offer South Africa tougher resistance, crucial in the process of building a competitive outfit.

“Bulgaria and every country that we will be playing ahead of the World Cup are very important for our preparations,” Mokoena said.

“These nations will want to make a mark because they will be playing the World Cup hosts — and that’s what we need, those tough games to help us prepare well.”

Bulgaria lost 2-1 to Belgium in a friendly in Antwerp in their last international on Wednesday, though they were leading by a goal until the last five minutes.

The Bulgarians suffered a blow ahead of the Belgium game when their captain and all-time leading scorer with 48 goals, Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov, retired from international football. Aston Villa midfielder Stiliyan Petrov has assumed the captaincy.

Not the force they were in the mid-1990s, coach Stanismir Soilov’s team are nevertheless sure to give Bafana a good workout, which is just what Parreira and his men will be looking for.

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