Time to score

2007-11-17 00:00

BENNI McCarthy, South Africa's most prolific goalscorer, and Sibusiso Zuma, their most creative, reunite for the first time in almost two years in Bafana Bafana's Nelson Mandela Challenge match against U.S.A. at Ellis Park today.

McCarthy and Zuma last played together in the dismal African Nations Cup finals campaign of 2006 in Egypt. That South Africa failed to score a goal, and consequently to win a game, though, was more down to the general make-up of an experimental, under-strength side chosen by caretaker-coach Ted Dumitru than a lack of understanding between the classy pair.

Now, on the eve of another Nations Cup final in Ghana, starting in late January, Bafana are in considerable need of of some creative spark up-front. Since a 4-0 Afcon qualifying thrashing of a weak Chad in Durban in June, the goals have dried up and the national team have scored just three times in their last seven games.

McCarthy and Zuma's partnership may not have yielded goals in Egypt 22 months ago, but Zuma did score twice in Bafana's last victory in normal time against Chad (Bafana's only other victory in their last seven games was the penalties Cosafa Cup win over Zambia). The Arminia Bielefeld striker carried South Africa's goal-scoring and creating hopes during McCarthy's self-imposed exile since the campaign in Egypt.

Zuma has been prevented from reuniting up-front with McCarthy since the Blackburn Rovers striker's return to the national team because of the injury the former Orlando Pirates and African Wanderers striker picked up early in the 1-0 friendly defeat against Scotland in Aberdeen in August. During that time, McCarthy has looked a little isolated as a lone striker in coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's 4-5-1 formation, and the results of his partnership with Zuma will be watched with keen interest today.

Parreira has said Zuma's return does not mean the scrapping of the 4-5-1, because the coach wants the German-based striker in a deeper role behind McCarthy and for both forwards to “move around”, rather than being picked up easily by hanging around up-front.

A second development for Bafana has been the dropping of 33-year-old Kaizer Chiefs right-back Cyril Nzama, with talented young Mamelodi Sundowns defender Vuyo Mere finally set to be thrown in at the deep end.

Ungainly Nzama was initially favoured because Mere was perceived as being suspect defensively. However, the Chiefs man's poor showings even in defence, particularly in the drab 2-0 defeat against an Italian B side last month, and Mere's improved defensive showings for Sundowns and Bafana B in the Cosafa final, have given the skilful, offense-minded full-back the nod.

Generally, the South African youngsters' offensive, invigorating showing in the Cosafa win over Zambia has shown the senior team the way. The full-strength Bafana have too often been dull and unimaginative against admittedly stronger opposition.

Parreira's main task is to build a team for 2010, though he would still like to put in a convincing showing in Ghana to build confidence for a Bafana side that has sagged to 83rd in the world rankings. From that point of view, he needs his experienced players with European experience.

Delron Buckley and Steven Pienaar, though, need to be more convincing offensively. Parreira is likely to start with the pair on either wing again, but if Bafana are failing to break down the organised Americans, he has the youth and exuberance of Siphiwe Tshabalala and Bryce Moon to call on from the bench.

Equally, Nasief Morris and skipper Aaron Mokoena need to tighten up in central defence. They were organised against Italy for 75 minutes, then fell apart in the last 15, when the Azzurri scored twice and there were shades of Chris Katongo's hat-trick in the qualifying debacle against Zambia.

Parreira has begun to weed out the chaff ahead of Ghana, and will continue that process in today's friendly with a full-strength Bafana, and Tuesday's against Canada in Durban with a local-based combination. Apart from Nzama, Siyabonga Nomvete has already been discarded, though Benedict Vilakazi can count himself unlucky to have been dropped, having been lively as a substitute in his last game against Uruguay.

After Canada, a local-based Bafana face Lesotho in a training match, with a friendly scheduled against Mozambique in South Africa on January 13 as a final warm-up in the month building up to the Nations Cup finals. South Africa open their Group D campaign against Angola on January 23, play Tunisia on January 27 and Senegal on January 31 - all the matches in the inland city of Tamale.



Goalkeepers: Rowen Fernandez (Arminia Bielefeld, Germany), Moeneeb Josephs (Wits University)

Defenders: Aaron Mokoena (Blackburn Rovers), Vuyo Mere (Mamelodi Sundowns), Nasief Morris (Panathinaikos, Greece), Tsepo Masilela (Maccabi Haifa), Benson Mhlongo (Mamelodi Sundowns), Bradley Carnell (Karlsruhe)

Midfielders: Bryce Moon (Ajax Cape Town), Macbeth Sibaya (Rubin Kazan), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Lamontville Golden Arrows), Lance Davids (Djurgardens, Sweden), Brent Carelse (Mamelodi Sundowns), Siphiwe Tshabalala (Kaizer Chiefs), Teko Modise (Orlando Pirates), Delron Buckley (Borussia Dortmund), Steven Pienaar (Everton), Siyabonga Nkosi (Arminia Bielefeld)

Strikers: Sibusiso Zuma (Arminia Bielefeld), Lerato Chabangu (Mamelodi Sundowns), Benni McCarthy (Blackburn Rovers), Terror Fanteni (Ajax Cape Town)


Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Tim Howard (Everton)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Dan Califf (Aalborg, Denmark), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

Midfielders: Freddy Adu (Benfica), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers), Michael Bradley (Heerenveen, Holland), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA)

Strikers: Josmer Altidore (New York Red Bulls), Clint Dempsey (Fulham)

Possible Bafana line-up: (4-4-1-1) Fernandez – Mere, Mokoena, Morris, Carnell – Pienaar, Sibaya, Modise, Buckley – Zuma – McCarthy

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