There was good and bad news for Bafana Bafana head coach Joel Santana as the squad assembled on Monday and travelled to Rustenburg where they will meet Cameroon in the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge at Olympia Park on Wednesday night.
Kick-off is at 8.30pm local time.
The good news is that Blackburn Rovers and Bafana’s leading goal scorer Benni McCarthy has agreed to play despite burying his father in Cape Town on Saturday. There was much speculation about whether the Rovers’ striker would be in the right frame of mind after his sad loss.
But the bad news is that Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar is a non starter.
Pienaar, who was on the bench when Everton drew 1-1 against Middlesborough on Sunday, has apparently suffered a reoccurrence of an old injury and failed a fitness test according to his club.
McCarthy, who in the past was criticised by the media and public for lack of commitment, has shown that his heart is firmly with his country.
Said Bafana team manager Sipho Nkumane: “We allowed Benni to make his decision without any pressure. We understand what a loss he has suffered and would have fully understood if he decided not to play. But he has shown his commitment to Bafana and we are delighted.
“It is the coach’s final game of the year before he selects his squad for next year’s Confederation Cup. Benni’s decision is a huge boost for the squad and our chances of beating Cameroon.”
McCarthy’s presence against the highly rated Indomitable Lions is a major morale booster for a Bafana side that is slowly finding their feet after failing to qualify for the 2010 African Nations Cup finals in Angola.
But Nkumane is not too pleased with Everton. He explained: “I got a message from Everton on Sunday telling me that they want Pienaar to stay in England so they can assess his injury. They left it late so that we could not force him to travel to Johannesburg. Frankly our hands are tied. I just hope that Everton are not pulling the wool over our eyes. We will have something to say if he plays for his club at the weekend. But we have to accept what the Everton medical team tells us at face value.”
As per Fifa rules, Pienaar should have travelled to Rustenburg and had the injury assessed by the Bafana team doctors.
Pienaar, like McCarthy, is a key player on whom Santana will rely heavily during the build-up and in the Confederations Cup which kicks off in June. His non-appearance is disappointing as he would have played a big part in Wednesday’s showdown.
But Nkumane said they would not be calling up a replacement. Santana named 23 players for the clash against Cameroon, ranked 14th in the world, and feels he has enough depth.