Tuesday, 20 April 2010

South Africa's World Cup preparations under a volcanic cloud in Germany

SOUTH AFRICA’S preparations for the World Cup may be going smoothly at home – but in Germany, where their team are currently lingering beneath the volcanic dust cloud, chaos reigns.

Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazilian boss of Bafana Bafana, always had his work cut out. In charge of the world’s 88th best side (that’s two better than Iceland, but they can blame volcanos), they are by some distance the lowest ranked host nation in the history of the tournament.

But then their weekend match against Second Division Greuther Furth was called off. Monday’s clash with Third Division SpVgg Unterhaching soon followed. And nobody would comment. A stony silence as worried media tried to find out what was going on, whether this week’s matches against Eintracht Frankfurt and Nuremburg would go on.

Today SAFA chairman Leslie Sedibe, always something of a compromise appointment when he was surprisingly elected ahead of Danny Jordaan last October, said: "We are working very hard in an effort to address these problems and those responsible will be called on to give accountability.

“We are attempting to resolve the practice match issue from here and with the people in Germany. Our coach is using his contacts in Europe to get us matches.”

Hmm. You would have thought from the day Sedibe got the job six months ago he would have been considering his nation’s warm-up opponents. He’d have had June 11 ringed in red on the calendar by predecessor Raymond Hack, surely? After all, they won the bid to host the World Cup in May 2004.

But this is the team which was planning to use Esselen Park Centre of Excellence near Johannesburg as their World Cup base. Then they discovered in January it needed R16m (that’s about £1,6m) worth of work done. A brief inspection revealed the Kempton Park site was “run down and shabby”. So the hosts became the last team to officially confirm their base in February – they were planning to use Sandown High School while the other 31 nations headed for their purpose built training camps.

Now South Africa will prepare alongside Holland at Wits University – but only after a last-minute plea which saved the job of Sipho Nkumjane, the BafBaf team manager who is coming under pressure again today following the fixtures debacle in Germany.

Bafana's camp in Germany – coming hard on the heels of a similar trip to Brazil - will cost SAFA about £4m (R30m). And their vital trio of Premier League players – Everton’s Steven Pienaar, West Ham’s Benni McCarthy and Portsmouth’s FA Cup final-bound Aaron Makoena – aren’t even allowed to be there.

Sedibe, who was supposed to fly home on Sunday night like so many others, added: “Now the situation has been further aggravated with clubs in Europe having to reschedule their travel plans, using road transport instead of air travel, to get from one match to another.”

Their planned fixture with fellow finalists North Korea fell apart because the Koreans wanted to play the game in Spain, not Germany.

And the fiercely Communist nation - ranked 105 by FIFA, the lowest of the 32 nations - were also demanding an appearance fee.

Instead, South Africa hope to play European minnows Estonia (ranked No100 in the world) on Saturday and China (84th) in Furth on April 29. But don’t hold your breath.

They return home to play Columbia (39th) – their first game with their Premier League trio – at Soccer City on May 27.

And their last warm-up before their World Cup opening Group A game against Mexico (17th) will be against Denmark (34th) at Africa’s biggest stadium on June 5.

Some good news though. Siyabonga Nomvethe, the Moroka Swallows striker recalled to the 23-man squad for the trip, says: “The atmosphere is great here but the training is tough. We are enjoying every moment of it and so far so good in terms of our preparations for the World Cup.”

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