Friday, 7 September 2012

Brazil and South Africa name their starters for tonight: Khumalo to lead Bafana, Neymar in, Hulk out

Brazilliant: Neymar isn't scared, it's just his hairstyle
Confirmed: Bafana Bafana starting line-up to face Brazil in Sao Paulo tonight (live on SABC1, 8.45pm): Khune; Gaxa, Khumalo (capt), Sangweni, Masenamela: Dikgacoi, Furman, Tshabalala; Serero, Chabangu, Ndlovu.

Brazil : Diego Alves, Dani Alves, David Luiz, Dede, Marcelo, Oscar, Ramires, Lucas Moura, Romulo: Neymar, Leandro.

So, as the South African joke goes, there is nothing Kaka about this Brazilian side who will turn out against Gordon Igesund's first Bafana line-up.

Bongani Khumalo, the former SuperSport United title-winning centre-half, will captain South Africa in the absence of Everton's "injured" Steven Pienaar with Siphiwe Tshabalala as vice-captain. Khumalo arrived late in Brazil from PAOK, the financially-strapped Greek club he joined after a disastrous year at Tottenham Hotspur.

Under FIFA international friendly rules, both sides can sit their entire squads on the bench for tonight's game, with six substitutes allowed each, allowing Igesund to call on his untried youngsters - or veteran goal-poacher Benni McCarthy.

Khumalo lines up next to my preferred choice as skipper, Orlando Pirates player of the season Siya Sangweni, with Sibuniso Gaxa and Punch Masenamela filling the full-back slots ahead of Peterborough's emerging 18-year-old Kgosi Nthle.

Though the side trained in a 4-4-1-1 formation, Igesund has plumped for just three in his midfield: English Championship pair Kagiso Dikgacoi of Crystal Palace and Oldham's Dean Furman, who will make his debut. Siphiwe Tshablala plays wide.

Cape Town-born Furman, an unused sub for Joel Santana against Australia in 2008, said: "I've always dreamt of this, it's a great honour. I lived in South Africa until I was five, my family are still there. It's a very proud moment. I hope I can do myself justice."

Thulani Serero, who moved from Cape Town to Amsterdam with Ajax and scored twice against Herenveen last Saturday, is named as a striker, though he may also fulfil a wide role if Igesund does as promised and attacks down both flanks.

That leaves in-form Moroka Swallows goal-getter Lerato Chabangu and Maccabi Haifa's top-scorer Dino Ndlovu up front. It's an attacking, innovative side, if offer no critique of Gordon's first selection. Hard to say how they'll gel together.

What we do know is that, in Brazil, it's Sete de Setembro, the biggest public holiday of the year. We also know only about half of the 67,000 tickets for the Estadio do Morumbi have been sold as boss Mano Menezes attempts to lift Brazil from an all-time low of 12th in the FIFA world rankings.

Still, with England - who play Moldova tonight in a World Cup qualifier - ranked third, perhaps we shouldn't worry too much about a ranking system which puts South Africa down in a gloomy 74th.

In his effort to prove himself capable of running the five-times World Cup winners at the Brazil World Cup in 2014, Menezes has picked a side around the fabulous Neymar da Silva Santos Junior.

Better known simply as Neymar, there is no question the 20-year-old South American Footballer of the Year will soon be right up there with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the galaxy of global dominators.

Still plying his trade locally with Pele's old club Santos, he scored a hat-trick against local club Sao Paulo in April and will be up front with Internacional striker Leandro attempting to dismantle an South African defence dominated by Orlando Pirates player of the year Siya Sangweni.

That means there's no starting place for the incredible Hulk, the record-breaking Porto striker who has just completed a R360m move to Zenit St Petersburg.

The 26-year-old (real name Givnildo Vieira de Souza) insists: "I won't be hiding just because I'll be playing in Russia, these days all league are very visible. I'm sure Mano will be watching the Russian League, just as he does the English, Spanish and Italian.

"I just have to keep doing my job and taking my international chances."

Menezes's team boasts a total of just 170 caps - Barcelona's experienced Dani Alves passed a fitness test on his dodgy thigh to take his place a right back with Real Madrid's Marcelo at left-back. In the centre of defence, Chelsea's David Luis will be joined by Vasco Da Gama's Dede.

Sao Paulo's sought-after Lucas Moura, the local hero, dominates the midfield selecao with Chelsea pair Ramires and Oscar along with Spartak Moscow winger Romulo. Valenicia's Diego Alves takes his place in goal.

Look, it's a good side. But it's youngish and still developing. This is not the best bunch of Brazilians we have ever seen. And with Igesund's camp cheerful in the face of adversity, I'm hoping Bafana Bafana can begin the post-Pitso era with a vibrant draw or even a dramatic last-gasp Benni McCarthy winner.

The truth is, a 3-1 Brazil win feels about right. But as long as every South African player on show recognises the moment, grabs their opportunity on one of the greatest footballing stages, even defeat wouldn't be a disaster.

Before Mocambique receive a sound whipping in Mbombela next week.

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