Our boys

2010-06-02 00:00

THE 23 players who will carry the hopes of 49 million South Africans as part of the country’s Fifa World Cup squad were announced by coach Carlos Alberto Parreira in Johannesburg yesterday morning.

Bafana’s top scorer, Benni McCarth­y, is the surprise exclusion from the squad, and it appears the West Ham striker could not win the race to be fit for the World Cup.

Other surprises were the inclusion of midfielder Lance Davids, who has not featured in the side’s warm-up friendly matches, and 22-year-old Belgian-based right-back Anele Ngcongca, ahead of the more experienced Bryce Moon.

Maritzburg United goalkeeper Shu-aib Walters was preferred ahead of German-based Rowen Fernandez.

Overall, the squad is a competitive one, and should stand a chance of progressing past South Africa’s tough Group A that features Mexico, Uruguay and France.

The other two players dropped from the provisional squad were left wing Franklin Cale and left-back ­Innocent Mdledle.

Parreira looked glum during speeches that preceded the announcement, although he brightened up as the press conference wore on.

“If you see a bad face on me, don’t think this is because of the moment. My heart is jumping with happiness,” the coach said.

“It’s because of the difficult moment we went through yesterday. You might have noticed even during last night’s game [Bafana’s 5-0 win against Guatemala], I could not celebrate the goals. It’s because it was a difficult day for me and the technical staff.

“We have been living together for almost four years with certain of the players, and then the last three months as a family together with them not having a single problem — they really were outstanding and gave their best for the team.

“And that’s why I was so sad yesterday — because we had to split apart our family.

“The dreams were built, the players were there with the commitment and then suddenly their dreams were cut off.

“But I told them: ‘Put your heads up, life goes on. You will have another opportunity to be in the national team.”

Parreira said the growing support for Bafana, which could be felt in the atmosphere surrounding the side’s friendly warm-up matches, will be a big factor for the team’s chances of success.

“In November, when I returned to the job, people in the streets … approached me and said, ‘Coach, make us proud’.

“I started to deliver this message to the players because I thought it was a very strong one.

“And we are happy with the support the team has been getting. It touched us in the [2-1 win] against Colombia [at Soccer City]. It was not the best game we played, but it was the most emotional. The tension, excitement and fire were there from the first minute to the last.

“It was just like a World Cup game. That was why I wanted to play at Soccer City before the World Cup — to begin to experience the atmosphere.”

Bafana open the World Cup with their match against Mexico at Soccer City next Friday.

The South Africans have played a total of 18 warm-up games since January in training camps in Durban, Brazil, Germany and their current final stage in Johannesburg. These included eight games against Brazilian club sides, nine international friendlies and a training match against Swaziland.

“Our goal is to go as far as we can in the World Cup,” Parreira said. “We cannot ask for better. When the ball moves, anything can happen.

“Everybody knows that our group is a very difficult one. Even Brazil might have difficulty qualifying from it. But we are ready.

“I am happy with the improvement in the team. When we started with this last phase of preparation, I was very clear and said that we needed an identity. Today, this team has an identity and a face.

“We can see that everybody is fighting for the ball, and everyone is playing for the team and proud to be there.”

Bafana are unbeaten in 11 games. and since their return to South Africa, they have impressed in a 4-0 win against Thailand, a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria, a 2-1 victory over Colombia and a 5-0 thrashing of Guatemala on Monday night.

Asked if there was a point where the coach began to feel a turnaround, Parreira replied: “It started, really, in the training camp in Brazil, when we had the team together, for the first time separate from their families, and we joined and were put in a place which was quiet and we could concentrate on our work.

“And during this time we sold the idea to the players that, to do well at the World Cup, they would have to excel in every day’s training and work to be in a top condition physically … and technically.”

Bafana play Denmark in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, on Saturday.

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