Reading the tea leaves

2010-05-01 00:00

EVEN before Carlos Alberto Parreira named his 29-man provisional squad for the 2010 World Cup yesterday, it would have been possible to begin to put together something close to the final 23 the coach will choose to carry the hopes of a nation in 40 days’ time.

The big daddy of South African football writers, Mark Gleeson, put his neck out a few weeks ago and chose his starting XI for the opener against Mexico at Soccer City on June 11, challenging the rest of us to follow suit. So the time has come for the one from the KZN midlands to respond. Parreira’s 29 he named yesterday doesn’t leave too much more guesswork for the final 23, though a final XI is a little more tricky in a few key positions.

Beginning with the easiest position, goalkeeper, Itumeleng Khune is South Africa’s naturally most talented gloveman and his form in the training camps in Brazil and Germany has certainly sealed him not just a squad place but, barring injury or spectacular sudden loss of confidence, a sure start against Mexico. He could be a star performer at the World Cup.

Moeneeb Josephs’s experience and excellent performances for Orlando Pirates in the past PSL season will see the Bucs’ toothless wonder on the bench at Soccer City, and South Africa couldn’t ask for a more spirited and technically solid backup. It’s a simple decision between the two remaining ’keepers in Parreira’s 29 for the third-choice spot. If Rowen Fernandez is adjudged fit during the final camp, his experience will earn him the nod over Maritzburg United’s Shu-aib Walters.

Most of the defence picks itself. Aaron Mokoena is Parreira’s trusted skipper and the man the coach sees as the natural leader of the team, despite his unpopularity with the fans. He has rediscovered his form late in Portsmouth’s run to the FA Cup final and, with almost 100 caps, is Bafana’s most experienced player by far.

Mbazo needs to summon all his experience to ensure he has a mistake-free tournament at the heart of the defence. Who to partner Mokoena with is one of the trickiest decisions for Parreira, and one Bafana’s chances could hinge on.

With Nasief Morris out in the cold, Morgan Gould, who had a string of impressive performances for the national team before his injury, and has been the revelation of the PSL season for SuperSport United, could be the man for the job.

If he doesn’t recover in time for the tournament, Siyabonga Sangweni, the cultured centre-back from Lamontville Golden Arrows, has been a favourite of Parreira’s in the training camps, with Matthew Booth offering a solid if slow alternative.

Tsepo Masilela is Bafana’s World Cup left-back, no questions asked. But at right-back the contest is set to be frantic between the defensively more solid Siboniso Gaxa, who struggles to cross, and the pacier Bryce Moon.

The right combination in midfield is Parreira’s second big conundrum. With Elrio van Heerden surprisingly left out of the provisional squad, in-form Siphiwe Tshabalala would seem the natural left-wing. But both Steven Pienaar and Teko Modise play there for Everton and Orlando Pirates, while Franklin Cale is likely to be used as an impact player off the bench.

How to use Pienaar and Modise — assuming the latter has indeed been rehabilitated from his exhaustion in the training camps — is the question in the middle of the park, as both are also comfortable at playmaker and on the right.

Parreira preferred Modise at playmaker in his first stint in charge of Bafana, and might opt for Pienaar on the right.

The Tshabalala-Modise-Pienaar trio would operate in front of two strong candidates for defensive midfield in Kagisho Dikgacoi and Macbeth Sibaya. Since Parreira’s return, the coach has been trying to regain the spark that saw the Bafana engine suddenly go from a splutter to a healthy growl with a 3-0 win over Paraguay in Pretoria in his last game in charge, a match that saw Dikgacoi and Modise combining superbly — which could see “KG”, a creator as much as he is a destroyer, shade Sibaya for the role just in front of the defence.

That leaves the position of striker, and Parreira’s high estimation for the value added by the the experience of Benni McCarthy is no secret, although he also wants the West Ham striker brought somewhere near fitness ahead of the World Cup.

Katlego Mphela is the emerging hope for Bafana’s toothless attack, and could play just behind McCarthy in a shadow role.

Gleeson’s starting line-up was Khune (in goal); Moon (right-back), Masilela (left-back), Gould and Mokoena (central defence); Dikgacoi (defensive midfielder); Pienaar (left), Van Heerden (right), Modise (centre); Parker and McCarthy upfront. I’d make just one change, with Mphela at striker instead of Parker. I too would have picked Van Heerden ahead of Tshabalala, even though the former’s exclusion from the provisional squad now seems to reduce his chances of being at the World Cup.

Marc Strydom’s final Bafana 23-man World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune, Moeneeb Josephs and Rowen Fernandez.

Defenders: Matthew Booth, Siboniso Gaxa, Morgan Gould, Tshepo Masilela, Aaron Mokoena, Bryce Moon, Siyabonga Sangweni and Lucas Thwala.

Midfielders: Franklin Cale, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Teko Modise, Surprise Moriri, Steven Pienaar, MacBeth Sibaya and Siphiwe Tshabalala.

Strikers: Katlego Mphela, Benni McCarthy, Siyabonga Nomvete and Bernard Parker.

STARTING LINE-UP AGAINST MEXICO ON JUNE 11

Khune — Moon, Mokoena, Gould, Masilela – Tshabalala, Dikgacoi, Modise, Pienaar – Mphela, McCarthy

Agree or disagree? Email your starting line-ups or 23-man squads to sport@witness.co.za and The Witness will print those we can.

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