BENNI McCARTHY is out of South Africa’s World Cup squad. It’s a shock for the hosts, but they were warned. On February 26, the Star in Johannesburg ran a story saying Benni McCarthy would not make it. At 32, South Africa’s top scorer had just moved from Blackburn to West Ham for £2.5m. Injured on his debut, he never really recovered as the Hammers battled for Premier League survival. Towards the end of the season he made a couple of substitute appearances but looked well short of his best.
South African readers may recall a few days after the “Injury set to rule Benni out of the World Cup” story, his agent Rob Moore told the Star’s rival, The Citizen, that Benni would be fit and that the story was “speculative” and a result of “lazy journalism”.
Big mistake. The story was written by me. Just google my name and Benni’s. The story is still there: http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=6&click_id=2871&art_id=vn20100226094021691C834936. I quoted a West Ham source as saying "Benni's not looking good. That knee is a problem. South Africa may be in trouble if they think he's going to be their major World Cup striker."
To his credit, McCarthy responded to the axe tonight by saying: "The final squad is a tough call for any coach to make and I am sure it was not made without heartache. My fitness level came into question after weeks recovering from my knee injury, but the coach still believed in me, as did I and the rest of the team , and I am grateful for that.
"No-one's place in the final squad is a given. We all gave it our best and pushed ourselves to our limits to make the cut. In the end it comes down to a head count. I am proud to have been given the privilege to have been capped in the South African national squad; unfortunately this time it was not to be.
"All the players who made the national call-up should be proud; we did not fail, we just didn't make the final 23. We are still a part of the team, if not the squad.
"We have a strong team that everyone will be proud of and I am in no doubt we will make our mark with the ground swell of support the team has been receiving of late.
"If the carnival spirit of the Super 14 semi-final and Final is a measure of the united support we are to expect for Bafana, then I see us excelling. My role now is to join in that support."
Today, sadly, McCarthy’s fate was sealed as South Africa named their squad in Sandton, four months after we broke the news. And I can finally reveal my source. West Ham’s first team coach Kevin Keen. His son Eddie and my boy Harry play in the same Chalfont Saints Under 15 team. He told me, quietly, that South Africa’s top striker was struggling. I didn’t want to use his name, he had spoken to me as a mate. That’s not lazy journalism, it’s fact.
McCarthy has been telling West Ham and South Africa he was fit. He wasn’t. Sad, but true.
Fresh from a record 5-0 thumping of Guatemala, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira told us: "A team in football is when somebody is sharing the same target. We are ready to make you proud."
The genial Brazilian World Cup-winner, unbeaten in ten games since his return to the hottest seat in football last November, added: “I am happy with our preparation. Our 1-1 draw with Bulgaria saw two good sides fighting eachother. Our bottle was only percent full when we first got together in Brazil two months ago. I told the players we have to fill that bottle.
“It is nearly full now. We beat Colombia, we have beaten Thailand and Guatemala who were easier opposition. But each time, we have put a drip in the bottle.”
The four players axed with McCarthy as Parreira cut his squad to the stipulated 23 were goalkeeper Rowan Fernandez, youngster Franklin Cale, as well as defenders Bryce Moon and Innocent Mdledle.
My video of Monday night’s friendly in Polokwane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjzwzNhaeTM
The squad in full: Goalkeepers: Itumeleng Khune (Kaizer Chiefs), Moeneeb Josephs (Orlando Pirates), Shu-Aib Walters (Maritzburg United), .
Defenders: Matthew Booth, Siboniso Gaxa (Mamelodi Sundowns), Bongani Khumalo (SuperSport United), Tsepo Masilela (Maccabi Haifa, Israel), Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth, England), Anele Ngcongca (Racing Genk, Belgium), Siyabonga Sangweni (Golden Arrows), Lucas Thwala (Pirates).
Midfielders: Surprise Moriri, Lance Davids (Ajax Cape Town), Kagisho Dikgacoi (Fulham, England), Teko Modise (Pirates), Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Siphiwe Tshabalala (both Kaizer Chiefs), Steven Pienaar (Everton, England), Macbeth Sibaya (Rubin Kazan, Russia), Thanduyise Khuboni (Golden Arrows).
Strikers: Katlego Mphela (Sundowns), Siyabonga Nomvethe (Moroka Swallows), Bernard Parker (FC Twente, Holland).