Johannesburg - Gordon Igesund’s hope of resuscitating Benni McCarthy’s international career took a final blow on Thursday when the Orlando Pirates striker was prevented by injury from reporting for Bafana Bafana’s camp ahead of next month’s African Nations Cup.
The Bafana coach revealed the veteran striker had suffered another hamstring tear and thus did not team up with the national side for a crucial camp from which Igesund will select his final 23-man squad to represent South Africa at the continental finals from January 19 to February 10.
Also missing the tournament is Mulomowandau Mathoho, the central defender whose club, Kaizer Chiefs, told Igesund he would be out for “four to five weeks”.
“It’s really a blow to lose these two players,” Igesund said. “In Mathoho’s case, it’s an even bigger blow because he’s a young player who was fighting for a place in the team. I had been watching him in the last few weeks and he was Man of the Match on two or three occasions.”
While some will express empathy towards Mathoho, many will feel McCarthy’s withdrawal was a blessing in disguise, given his fitness challenges in the last three years, which saw him dropped from World Cup 2010.
In any case, Igesund had already suffered embarrassment by selecting a clearly unfit McCarthy, who holds a Bafana record of 31 goals, in the coach’s very first match in September, when he lasted only nine minutes after coming on as a substitute.
There was a bit of good news for Igesund, however, when all but two of the now 34-man squad reported for camp and trained at Orlando Stadium on Thursday.
Siyanda Xulu and Anele Ngcongca were set to land in the country on Thursday night, joining the team for two training sessions at the Soweto venue today.
Igesund was particularly pleased to have Thulani Serero in camp for the first time, banishing earlier fears that the Ajax Amsterdam playmaker would miss the Nations Cup after suffering serious injury.
“I had a chat with him and he’s fine. I thought he would play for 50-60 minutes, but he played for the entire game for his club (last weekend),” the Bafana coach said of Serero, who makes a return to the national team for the first time since June.
Igesund names his final squad on Sunday, but admitted he faces a tough time having to cut 11 players from the side.
He’s undecided as to whether he should tell the players he’ll drop before they leave camp after Saturday’s final training session, or if he should personally telephone them moments before naming the team on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s very tough … I haven’t decided how I’m going to do this,” Igesund said.
“If I tell players after Saturday’s session, this could be all over Twitter and social media before I name the team (on Sunday).
“I prefer this to be done as professionally as possible, have a one-on-one with a player and tell him why you excluded him. But I really still don’t know how I’m going to do this.”
Igesund, however, emphasised the time for experimenting was over. “At the end of the day, I have to make decisions. In my mind I know who’s going to be in my team.
“Right now, I can give you 19 certain names. It’s crucial that we get the right balance. If a player is not selected, that doesn’t mean he’s not good,” said Igesund.
Utility players who could play in more than one position, Igesund revealed, stand a good chance. “I might sacrifice a defender for a player who can offer more attack. But I will see how this camp goes,” he said.
Itumeleng Khune, Wayne Sandilands, Senzo Meyiwa, Darren Keet; Siyabonga Sangweni, Bevan Fransman, Bongani Khumalo, Anele Ngcongca, Ricardo Nunes, Thabo Nthethe, Thabo Matlaba, Siyanda Xulu, Tsepo Masilela, Siboniso Gaxa; Kagisho Dikgacoi, Dean Furman, Andile Jali, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Lerato Chabangu, Oupa Manyisa, Teko Modise, Thuso Phala, Sifiso Myeni, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Delron Buckley, Ayanda Patosi, May Mahlangu, Thanduyise Khuboni, Daine Klate; Bernard Parker, Lehlohonolo Majoro, Tokelo Rantie, Thulani Serero, Katlego Mphela