Benni and ‘Schillo’ lift Parreira’s spirits

2010-01-21 00:00

A GOOD weekend for two of Bafana Bafana’s most important players based in the English Premiership, Everton’s Steven Pienaar and Benni McCarthy of Blackburn Rovers, is an encouraging sign for the national team ahead of the 2010 World Cup, says coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.

After an injury earlier this season, Pienaar is approaching his best form for Everton and his machine-like performances in midfield, scoring three goals in his last three games, have been instrumental in the Liverpool club going six matches unbeaten.

While everyone knows an injury-free “Schillo” will be crucial to Bafana’s chances of progressing from a difficult World Cup Group A, if Mc­Carthy can find his form again too after two seasons largely warming the bench for Blackburn, then South Africa’s prospects will lift significantly.

Pienaar scored from a free kick in Everton’s 2-0 win over Manchester City on Saturday, while McCarthy played the full 90 minutes and had two assists in Blackburn’s 2-0 victory over Fulham on Sunday.

“So things are improving, huh?” Parreira joked when asked about the two players’ performances. “Things are improving. The guys are scoring. Benni played for 90 minutes in the last game for Blackburn, and he did well too. We are happy — we hope things will improve more and more towards the World Cup.

“It will help us in the preparation. We had a talk with the national team assessors [Clive Barker, Jomo Sono and Gavin Hunt] and they were saying 10 years ago all the players based overseas were stars in their clubs.

“It was easy for the national coach to select a team because players were playing. Now it has changed, and it doesn’t help us. So when we see Steven Pienaar scoring and Benni McCarthy playing well, we are happy.”

While Pienaar and McCarthy should continue to be given game time ahead of 2010, other players such as Fulham’s new signing, Kagiso Dikgacoi, continue to warm the bench.

Parreira said this could count against these players when the final World Cup squad is chosen.

“This is something we are going to deal with at the right moment, and that moment is the final camp in May. Players who are playing regularly like Tshepo Masilela [at Maccabi Haifa] are not a problem for us. The problem for us is players who have gone three months without a single game.

“Unless the player is 100% necessary we have to think twice. But we will not make any final decision before May.

“It happened to us with the Brazilian team, where we had a wonderful three-and-a-half years winning every competition, and then in the 2006 World Cup [where Brazil were knocked out in the quarter-finals under Parreira] two or three players did not come in good shape at all.”

The Bafana squad for the training camp in Brazil is set to depart on March 4. Parreira said it is unlikely the Bafana coaching staff will accede to a request from the Premier Soccer League to extend the league season by a week from February 28 to alleviate fixture congestion.

“We discussed this and we didn’t come to a final decision, but it is difficult for us. It’s not a question of us not allowing it — our programme has been put together since September.

“With this one week we would spoil our programme. In this country, what is the priority now? It’s the World Cup. We [Bafana] have already made so many concessions.”

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