Tense time today for the coach

2009-10-10 00:00

JOHANNESBURG – Brazilian coach Joel Santana could be dumped as Bafana Bafana coach if the national team suffer defeats in Norway today and Iceland on Tuesday.

Santana has been under public, media and official fire after six losses in seven outings with the sole success coming via a goal against Madagascar at home last month.

The national football association reacted by naming three “assessors” — former national coaches Clive Barker and Jomo Sono and top South African Premiership coach Gavin Hunt — to report on the national team.

This heightens a rumour mill already awash with names of possible new coaches, including Santana predecessor Carlos Alberto Parreira and recently fired Poland coach Leon Beenhakker.

While some believe it is far too late for the South African ship to change skippers, they ignore a history of last-minute upheaval ahead of World Cup tournaments.

Fiery Frenchman Philippe Troussier replaced Barker just three months before the 1998 World Cup in his homeland and Sono succeeded Portuguese Carlos Queiroz 12 weeks ahead of the 2002 tournament.

South Africa were eliminated after the first round on both occasions, failed to reach the 2006 finals, and made it to 2010 because the host nation qualifies automatically.

National association spokesman Raymond Hack attempted to douse the flames of discontent this week by saying the future of $200 000 -a-month Santana had not been discussed.

But well-placed sources speaking on condition of anonymity suggested the 60-year-old Brazilian, who rarely speaks English publicly, is already on the plank, sharks are circling, and what happens in northern Europe is irrelevant.

Experienced midfielder Benson Mhlongo raised a serious concern: “The players are aware of the pressure. I can handle it but I’m worried about the younger squad members.”

Striker Katlego Mphela conceded Santana media speculation is affecting morale: “Talk about the coach has become a distraction for us. Things are so intense sometimes we do not know what to expect the next day.”

Anger at the coach with no national team experience before taking charge of Bafana Bafana in mid-2008 soared after losses in Germany and Ireland last month.

No realistic South African supporter expected a team ranked 73 to win in Leverkusen, but the timid 2-0 surrender only emboldened the anti-Santana brigade, as did a one-goal defeat in Limerick three days later.

The “charge sheet” against Santana, whose victories in 11 games have come against Equatorial Guinea and New Zealand, centres on a defence that cannot keep clean sheets and an attack blunter than a rusty knife.

Lady luck jilts Santana too. When Mphela scored twice against mighty Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup third-place play-off, uncharacteristic blunders by goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune condemned the host nation to a 3-2 loss. — Sapa-AFP.

ON TV

Kickoff: 4 pm (SA time) – live on SABC1 from 3.15 pm

Countries jostle for 2010 places: pages 49 and 51

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