Booth: Bafana threw it away in 2010
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Matthew Booth admits that he was actually lucky to “feel it and be there”, considering that it took an unfortunate situation to one of his teammates for him to make the final cut.
As Bafana Bafana prepared for their first World Cup on home soil early in 2010, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira's plans suffered a blow when the hottest property in South African football at the time, central defender Morgan Gould, was ruled out with an ankle injury.
The towering defender was fresh from inspiring SuperSport United to their third successive top-flight league title. But as Bafana jetted out to Brazil for their training camp ahead of the global showpiece, Gould had to be left in the medical room.
In a race against time to find Gould’s replacement, Parreira settled for the experienced Booth, who had played in Russia for FK Rostov and KS Samara in the last six years, while he was also with Bafana when they reached the semi-finals of the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup under Joel Santana.
“It was a bitter-sweet moment for me because I was actually lucky to make the final squad. I think if Morgan Gould wasn’t injured, which was unfortunate for him, I probably wouldn’t have made the squad,” Booth told IOL Sport.
Given that Booth made the final squad based on availability rather than on merit, Parreira preferred the partnership of Bongani Khumalo and captain Aaron Mokoena for all three group stage matches against Mexico, Uruguay and France.
Despite knowing that he wasn’t the 1994 World Cup winning coach’s favourite at the time, the 43-year-old says that he didn’t drop his head at training as he had to be ready for any eventuality, while some of the young players looked up to him for guidance.
“When I made the squad, it was kind of the fact that I was one of the few guys that had played in four intercontinental competitions. So, it was a case of giving my experience to the younger players,” Booth explained.
“I never put my head down at training though. I was very determined. I trained the way that I played. I think that kind of attitude rubbed off to the rest of the squad. When you try not to have a funeral face everywhere you go, that also helps.”
Booth continued: “Once you start putting your head down, should you get a chance, you won’t be ready. So, it’s important for guys to persevere so that when they get a chance, they are 100% ready, physically and mentally, for the opportunity.”
Having Bafana become the first nation to crash out of the group stage of their own World Cup, following the draw with Mexico, loss to Uruguay and win over France, Booth cannot shake off the feeling that they let themselves, and the nation, down.
“In hindsight, most of the teams at that World Cup would have beaten that French team. There was actually a time when we went 2-0 up, I thought we could have scored the four goals that we needed in order to qualify for the knockout stage,” he explained.
It was always going to be a tough ask to beat Uruguay, who finished fourth in the tournament, but South Africa’s lack of a killer instinct against Mexico, especially having led through the Siphiwe Tshabalala screamer, and France, who were a broken unit, was due to their own doing.
“We should have put our foot on the accelerator and went for a kill against France. I think the turning point in our team was allowing Mexico to equalise. A win there would have given us the courage and confidence to compete against Uruguay,” Booth suggested.