Euro dreams

2009-03-27 00:00

South Africa seek their first win in seven games against European opposition when they host resurgent Norway at Royal Bafokeng Stadium here today.

Since defeating Slovenia through an early Siyabonga Nomvete goal at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, the 2010 hosts have fallen to Spain, England, Iceland, Germany, Scotland and Italy.

After winning in Germany last month for the first time since 1936, the Scandinavians bring the same team to South Africa under colourful new coach Egil Olsen confident of inflicting further misery on their hosts.

The same evening a Christian Grindheim goal stunned Germany in a Dusseldorf friendly, South Africa received a football lesson from Chile in Polokwane and were lucky to escape with just a 2-0 defeat.

A record five consecutive wins against largely second-string African rivals lulled Bafana Bafana into believing they were on track for an impressive showing when they stage the Fifa Confederations Cup during June.

But the pace and pressing of Chile left South Africa bewildered and once again raised fears that come 2010 they are in danger of becoming the first hosts not to survive the opening round.

Adding to the problems facing Brazil-born national coach Joel Santana ahead of Norway, and another friendly against Portugal in the Swiss city of Lausanne next Tuesday, was the failure of leading scorer Benni McCarthy to appear.

Blackburn Rovers claim the player was fit to travel, but McCarthy disagreed, saying he is still experiencing pain from a hamstring injury suffered against West Ham last weekend.

McCarthy has driven various South Africa coaches to distraction since bursting on to the scene at the 1998 African Nations Cup as he quits and returns to the international scene while trading verbal blows with officials.

The South African attack tends to be a blunt instrument without him and with 66-year-old Olsen preaching blanket defence and swift counterattacks, the home team could face a frustrating time. In McCarthy’s absence, it is time some of his pretenders in waiting, such as Orlando Pirates striker Katlego Mashego and Bernard Parker, a transfer from Thanda Royal Zulu to Red Star Belgrade, begin taking responsibility in front of goal.

Former Manchester United championship-winning defender Henning Berg is a fan of compatriot Olsen. “His defensive structure is the most important thing. He will focus on making Norway difficult to beat.”

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