Monday, 3 May 2010

Forget The Axe, consider the facts, Aaron and Co deserve your support!

HERE’S the problem I have with South Africans. I’ve been to the big city stadia, seen the work, seen the effort, the enthusiasm, the beautiful hotels, the game parks. Brilliant.

But when I write a glowing piece about their captain Aaron Mokoena (the Johannesburg Star picked up the same piece I wrote here last week, all I get is abuse. All the replies to the article were deeply negative, verging on the nasty. Their captain and youngest-ever player? Rubbish! It came on email, Facebook and Twitter, not to mention on the Star website. South Africans may get behind England, Spain, Italy or Germany, but they appear to stubbornly resist all calls to support their own team.

What rot. Didn’t they watch “The Axe” scythe down all-comers in the FA Cup semi-final upset against Spurs a couple of weeks ago at Wembley (above)? Don’t they hear the words of their skipper? See the work he’s doing on and off the pitch with education, gun crime, poverty?

Anyway, fortunately, Carlos Alberto Parreira is in charge, not the mob. And he’s named Mokoena, Steven Pienaar of Everton and, on no evidence at all, West Ham’s Benni McCarthy in his provisional squad of 29. Just 10 of those players are foreign based.

And there was Aaron this morning on Sky in Britain, with Uruguay’s Gus Poyet and Nigeria’s John Utaka, a real ambassador for his nation.

He said: “Every South African fan is up for the World Cup, it’s brilliant. Sport can change people’s lives as we saw in the film Invictus about the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Rugby was mainly a white people’s sport - soccer is the No1 sport in South Africa but 1995 was a moment when Nelson Mandela had to unify people. Rugby was the only way. We won it and it worked.

“I always say to people, realise South Africa has hosted rugby and cricket World Cups, Lions tours and the Confederations Cup, no problem. That’s enough.

“South Africa is a really beautiful country. But which country doesn’t have crime? People are trying to blow things out of proportion. Yes, we have crime in South Africa, but that crime will not jeopardise the World Cup. The President, Jacob Zuma, says the number one thing is the safety of the people.”

As for their chances in Group A against Mexico, Uruguay and France, Mokoena said: “The Vuvuzelas (African football horns) are our secret weapon! I think we have to do well. It’s a tough group. We’ve been drawn against teams that have been in the World Cup before. But we have to get into the quarter-finals, every group is hard to be fair.

“Steven Pienaar has done well at Everton, incredible. Steve went to Ajax from South Africa, one of the best, they have an incredible development structure - I came through there too.”

And on the inclusion of McCarthy, he argues: “I always say Benni has been one of the best strikers we have produced in South Africa. He won the Chmapions League with Porto. Knowing Benni, he’s a quality striker, no doubt about him, when he’s really happy, he can get you goals.

“Unfortunately at the moment it’s not working that well for him at West Ham. To be fair with Benni, if he’s not playing, it happens to everyone, he easily puts weight on. It’s happening at the moment with him.”

Parreira himself, after tours to Brazil and Germany with his home-based players, says: "This is going to be difficult. We don't know what condition the foreign players will arrive in - physically and technically.

"Some of them have played too many games - like Steven Pienaar who has played 27 games since November, some have played half of what Pienaar played while others started in one or two.

"So they will come here in different fitness levels, which will give our physical trainer a lot of headaches to put them in good shape for the competition.”

Parreira should chill a little. With Mokoena and Pienaar as his spine, he has every chance of proving his side are better than their current lowly ranking of 90th in the world.

Neal leaves for the World Cup on Tuesday, where he attends the pre-tournament Indaba 2010 in Durban. He'll be available for any questions from Bleacher Reporters through his website

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