Matthew Booth: It'll be a cauldron out there

2009-06-20 00:00

MATTHEW Booth may have been the only wit ou on the field for Bafana Bafana in this Confederations Cup, but his contribution has far outweighed his representation.

Booth, the tallest player in the tournament at 1,98 m, has also been the only player with his own cheer bestowed on him, though in characteristically inverted South African fashion this has sounded more like a boo as the crowd cries “Booooth” at every challenge, header and touch of the ball by the defender.

Asked ahead of the tournament if, a la the chants of “Feeesh” for Mark Fish in the victorious 1996 African Nations Cup campaign, he thought this might have an effect lifting crowds and his team-mates, Booth said he thought it could, though hoped he would have more role to play than as a cheerleader. He has, and then some.

Apart from being a fiery though composed presence in central defence, Booth has also geed up Bafana with his spirit and passion. And he’s added a third dimension — that of spokesman.

Booth came out strongly in support of the players after the bonus dispute scandal ahead of the Confed. And yesterday he summed up tonight’s crucial game against Spain at the Free State Stadium in honest and forthright fashion.

After drawing 0-0 against Iraq in their opener, South Africa are back in the hunt for the semi-finals thanks to their fired-up 2-0 win over New Zealand in Rustenburg.

Booth did not mince words when asked what it would mean for Bafana to be knocked out before the semi-finals.

“I think it would a disaster,” he said yesterday. “For us its helluva important to get to the semi-finals — we’re not even thinking about going out. We don’t want it to happen and the South African public don’t want it to happen.

“Tomorrow obviously we need one point but we must go into the game with a positive attitude and think about three points. And more importantly [about] entertaining the massive crowd.”

Asked if he fears the massive groundswell of support that has been generated in the Confed might dissipate if Bafana do not reach the semis, Booth replied: “It probably all depends on how well we play tomorrow. After the result against New Zealand we’ve created a great spirit.

“It’s amazing what one game can do. After the Iraq game the players felt a bit negative and the atmosphere wasn’t so good.

“But after the New Zealand game we can see the difference in the eyes of the public and their attitude towards us.

“If we can put up a good performance against the Spaniards and still end up losing, well, there still might be a good attitude.

“In fact, to be honest we’re not even thinking about that. We are going to qualify. We realise it’s going to be a tough task to get the result we need but none of the players are thinking about not qualifying for the semi-finals.”

For Bafana, the game against Spain has come at the right time. Unlike New Zealand, who had to take a 5-0 thrashing to the world’s No.1 team in their opener, Bafana have had a chance to grow in confidence.

“We’ve just got to try and stay as calm as possible, and not think about the names in the Spain team. If we stick to our gameplan individual performances will come up,” Booth said.

“New Zealand were perhaps a little bit naive at the start of their game against Spain whereas Iraq played a lot more defensively right from the start — they got players behind the ball and tried to smother the Spanish, which seemed to work.

“Spain are a quality team and if you give them one chance they’re going to take it. That’s the strength of the Spanish strikers. The Iraqis lost concentration for a couple of seconds and they got punished.

“And we can’t afford to do that when we come up against Torres and Villa and company.”

The crucial game is also being played at the right venue for Bafana. The huge crowds in their first two games have played a huge motivating role, and Bloemfontein’s soccer supporters are known as the best in the country.

“Most of our players have been looking forward to this game mostly for that reason,” Booth said. “It’s going to be a cauldron out there.

“The players are bound to enjoy it and without doubt the crowd is going to be our 12th man, just as at Ellis Park and in Rustenburg. The crowds have been fantastic and we expect no different tomorrow.”

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