Mokoena surprised by Benni’s exclusion from Bafana squad

2008-01-09 00:00

BAFANA Bafana captain Aaron Mokoena admits he was surprised when he heard that Blackburn Rovers team-mate Benni McCarthy was not included in South Africa’s squad for this month’s African Nations Cup.

By yesterday, the entire squad had reported for Bafana’s Nations Cup training camp. The last missing member, Steven Pienaar, arrived too late to take part in the afternoon training session at Chatsworth Stadium, having initially been held back by his club, Everton.

Blackburn striker McCarthy was the shock omission by coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who opted for a squad slanted towards youth for the Nations Cup, which begins in Ghana on January 20.

"Benni’s one of the best strikers we have in the country and I was surprised," Mokoena said of the omission of the second-top scorer in the Premiership last season. McCarthy was lured back from international exile by Parreira in September.

"But Carlos made it very clear that he knows what Benni can do, and that he wants to give these youngsters a chance. As you know we’re building for 2010. But really I was a bit surprised."

Mokoena will be playing in his fourth Nations Cup, though he missed Bafana’s last finals campaign in Egypt after being unceremoniously axed by caretaker-coach Ted Dumitru. The Bafana skipper said he hopes the team will improve on their performance two years ago, where an inexperienced side lost all three games and failed to score a goal.

"I don’t really know what went wrong at the previous Cup of Nations as I wasn’t there. I have played in three Nations Cups and I know how hard it is. I believe that Ghana is going to be a really good experience for the talent we have."

Bafana have been dogged by reports of a contractual dispute. Asked about the spirit in the team now that the issue, according to Safa, has been resolved, Mokoena replied: "We feel well. We have worked hard for the second day now and I am impressed at the attitude."

The injury to right-back Vuyo Mere, who has been replaced by Bloemfontein Celtic’s Tumelo Nhlapo, has thrust the spotlight on Ajax Cape Town’s Bryce Moon.

Pietermaritzburg-bred Moon, an up-and-coming fringe national team player a few months ago, who forced himself into the reckoning with some inspired performances for Ajax, will now go to Ghana as Bafana’s number one right-back.

"I didn’t say to myself I was going to be in the team, but I did have expectations of making it," Moon said. "I left home at 12 years old to go to the School of Excellence and now all the hard work is paying off slowly. It’s my first tournament of this calibre and hopefully I am going to do well."

Moon said of Bafana’s chances: "We’re a young team, but we want to show the world what we are capable of, so I think we are going to do well. We’re going for gold."

Bafana play friendlies against Mozambique (January 12) and Botswana (January 16), before departing for Ghana on the 18th.

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