Bafana Bafana coach Joel Santana sprung another surprise on the unsuspecting soccer media on Thursday when he named a strange squad to play high riding Cameroon in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge at Rustenburg’s Olympia Park on November 19.
Santana named only three strikers in Benni McCarthy of Blackburn Rovers, Thanda Royal Zulu skipper Bernard Parker and SuperSport United’s Katlego Mphela.
The Brazilian coach, again speaking through an interpreter, failed to satisfy the media as to why the likes of Golden Arrows striker Richard Henyekane, or Israel based Terror Fanteni, had been left out of the squad for Bafana’s final match of 2008. Both have been scoring freely for their respective clubs.
South African Football Association CEO Raymond Hack, stated that McCarthy is doubtful after his father passed away in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Said Hack: “We have not spoken to Benni but we will respect his decision as to whether he can play after his tragic loss. There will be no pressure whatsoever on Benni to play and we will abide by his decision. It is up to him whether he feels he can play.”
It is unlikely that McCarthy, who was released by Blackburn to attend his father’s funeral and is already in Cape Town, will play.
Santana will likely bring in one of Henyekane or Fanteni should McCarthy decide to sit this one out.
But the media will treated to another of Santana’s conferences where he said little, except that he is happy and secure in his job and looking for a birthday present for his birthday on December 25, of ending the year with a win over highly rated Cameroon.
Another strange selection is that of Bloemfontein Celtic left back Thabo Nthethe, whose side are bottom of the Absa Premiership without a win in seven matches.
The good news is the return of Everton playmaker Steven Pienaar and the classy right wing Elrio van Heerden of Club Brugge in Belgium.
Both players have missed the last couple of matches through injury, and will beef up the midfield. But it is his attack where Santana needs to look long and hard at his selection.
“Some players were not available due to club commitments,” Santana said.
But the coach, who in six months has still not got a basic grasp of English, may have been misinterpreted as all clubs have to release players for this date which is an official Fifa match day.
Santana added: “I have got to know the better players and they are starting to play for me. I am confident we can finish the year with a win over Cameroon.”
Santana and his technical team will analyse videos of the Indomitable Lions and doe their homework on the likes of Barcelona superstar Samuel Eto’o.
“We all know the quality of Cameroon. They will be the perfect test for Bafana. I would like to start 2009 and prepare for the Confederations Cup (in June 2009) with four wins in a row under our belts.”
Bafana have climbed from 85th in the world to 80th after back-to back wins over Equatorial Guinea, Malawi and Ghana.
The squad will arrive in Rustenburg on Monday afternoon where they begin preparing for the Challenge.